Here at Global Integrity, we’ve been excited to see the direction which USAID is taking under the leadership of Ambassador Power (See for instance, the Ambassador’s November 2021 presentation of a “New Vision for Global Development”). The agency’s revitalized emphasis on supporting locally-led – but not locally-isolated – development is hugely welcome.
This approach reflects an emerging consensus that local actors need to be center-stage in efforts to diagnose and address development challenges. Put simply, as the causes and dynamics that give rise to development challenges always have important local dimensions – particularly when those dynamics are shaped by patterns of power and incentives – and the consequences of those challenges are often felt most sharply by local people and organizations, the best way that external actors can help is to support these frontline actors to take the lead.
As USAID is well aware, declaring support for locally-led development doesn’t make it happen. With significant inertia and vested interests favoring the status quo of not-so-locally-led development, there are plenty of barriers that need to be overcome. Not all of these barriers are local; some are about USAID’s procurement processes, and the sorts of organizations – predominantly from the global north, and too often from within the Washington DC Beltway – that get selected to manage major programs. However, there are local issues to address, and local strengths to build on. So, we were pleased to see USAID’s bold and ambitious draft policy on local capacity development, an important element in USAID’s approach to locally-led development.
There’s much to like. The clear vision of local capacity development improving the performance of systems, in order to contribute to better development outcomes. The recognition of the importance of the relational capacities that make systems what they are. The shift beyond blueprints and towards tailoring. The emphasis on the capacity of actors and systems to learn and adapt. The importance attached to listening to the system. And, the thoughtful consideration given to questions of monitoring, evaluation and learning.
We had questions too. First, about whether the focus on the local risks obscuring the important role that international actors play in causing development challenges, and the value they can bring to efforts to address them. Second, about whether the draft policy might interrogate more fully the question of whether and how having greater capacity will enable local actors to shift a status quo that serves the interests of other, perhaps more powerful, actors. And third, about whether there might be value in differentiating amongst types of development challenges – from more simple to more complex, and more technical to more political – and exploring what sorts of capacities are needed to address what types of challenges.
Overall, we are excited to see USAID’s emerging approach to local capacity development. There’s a lot to like, as well as some important areas for further exploration. We look forward in particular to seeing how the policy on local capacity development will be applied to support local actors’ efforts to address complex challenges such as corruption, and its underlying political economy dynamics. With our strategy addressing similar issues, we are keen to be part of the conversation, and to support USAID’s efforts to learn, in locally-led ways, about how local capacity that delivers can be developed most effectively.
If you are interested in diving deeper into our feedback, please see our longer note.