‘Promoting Local Content Solutions’

It’s always good to chat

I want to unpack local ownership and leadership which is critical to the success of development intervention. Donors invest billions on development interventions, often wondering whether national ownership and leadership will emerge; whether the intervention will be sustainable… basically whether any resulting change will last beyond the programme’s duration.
International development programmes are like a fleeting moment in the lives of intended beneficiaries.  During my career, I have encountered two types of beneficiaries: 
- Drivers: people who engage for the right reasons, because they see development interventions as an opportunity to really contribute to the development of their community or country. They withstand enormous challenges and continue to demonstrate themselves as citizens.  
- Passengers: people who engage to the extent to which they can extract benefits for themselves alone.

It is important to distinguish which kind of beneficiaries are involved to avoid disappointment and waste valuable resources. Generally, you will find that “drivers” are always in motion – advocating and trying their hardest in challenging conditions and with meagre resources.  “Passengers” generally hop from one foreign aid wagon to the next.

But often development practitioners fail to create the conditions for “drivers” to emerge because they approach development with fixed views about how implementation should occur. They draw experiences from other country contexts.  I refer to such individuals as being from the “When I” Club: “When I was in Afghanistan” or “When I was in Bangladesh”.  Practitioners are often guilty of this, myself included, but I always remember that context matters more.

The point I really want to get to in this blog is that practitioners should be prepared to listen more to potential beneficiaries and trust the power of local content solutions.  This means setting aside pre-conceived ideas about what works and what does not and reflect on how, where and on whom value is placed…. or not as the case may be.

For me, it is pretty basic, national ownership and leadership can only emerge if as development practitioners we allow nationals to own and lead from the outset, valuing their ideas, opinions and solutions to their development challenges.    Donor and beneficiaries need to carefully think about the power dynamics within development interventions.   Donors talk about beneficiary monitoring and feedback loops. But what does this really tell us once the power dynamics have been set? What donors often hear through such mechanisms is what beneficiaries think they want to hear, rather than how beneficiaries really feel.

Don’t start the conversation with: "How can I help?" But rather:  "How do you think your situation can be improved?"  "Ok, so where can I add value, if at all?"  "Let’s chat…because I want to hear more about what you have to say….."