Empowering and creating partnerships with local actors is a longstanding tenet of effective development projects. When those in need rely too heavily on outside influences, regardless of their intentions, they risk losing control of the resources and decision-making best left to those closest to the problem. Partnership with local actors gives development projects the best chance of being effective and sustainable. Here are three examples of how partnership drives development.
In 2009, the community of Agra, India — home to the iconic Taj Mahal — suffered from a water sanitation crisis. Waste collection and disposal became nonexistent and a large majority of residents practiced open defecation. As waste flowed into the Yamuna river of which locals relied for irrigation and drinking, residents risked exposure to polio, typhoid, dysentery and cholera.
In partnership with the Center for Urban and Regional Excellence, a USAID-supported non-governmental organization (NGO), Agra’s governing municipality constructed a wastewater treatment plant to protect the water source used by the 2,000 community members living in Agra.
The plant employs natural processes requiring minimal power and maintenance; however, the true indicator of the project’s success came in 2017, when Agra’s municipality took over all operations from outside actors and ensured clean drinking water for the people of Agra for years to come.
In another example of how partnership drives development, the Human Resources for Health in 2030 (HRH2030) program is partnering with the government of Malawi to recruit and hire 300 medical workers to combat the HIV epidemic. In Malawi, more than 900,000 people currently live with HIV. To add to the problem, the country suffers from a severe shortage of healthcare professionals needed to address this issue.
While the program only started in November 2017, facility managers from the HIV-freighted Lilongwe and Zomba districts have already noted the positive impact of the increase in workers. Furthermore, the local government has signed an agreement to take on financial responsibility for the new workers by 2020, committing to self-reliance and sustainability.
In addition to increasing access to a network of health professionals, the community of Tabora, Tanzania highlights the effectiveness of another way of combating HIV — male circumcision. Studies suggest that male circumcision reduces transmission in heterosexual men by near 60 percent, and is a powerful preventative tool, especially in combination with other approaches.
In an example of how partnership drives development, The USAID-funded Strengthening High-Impact Interventions for an AIDS-free Generation (AIDSFree) project is partnering with the Tabora regional health administration to increase access to voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC). A standard bearer of the cause, traditional healer Albert Cosmas acts as a VMMC ambassador, encouraging other men to have the procedure and thereby helping reduce the HIV footprint in Tabora.
When development agencies make top-down decisions without partnership with local actors, they risk harming the communities they aim to serve. Indeed, “acting in collaborative partnership” is explicitly included in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These three stories illustrate the powerful impact of a bottom-up approach that empowers local actors with the capacity to carry progress into the future.
– Whiting Tennis