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A vision of thriving global communities is one of the core tenets of international development. Yet inherent in this work is a gnawing sense that equality and sustained prosperity are unattainable unless communities at the forefront of change are not the ones informing, shaping, and driving how progress is achieved. The values that drive development — equity, trust, community, fairness — are values we must lead with and act upon. Like everything in life, however, talk is talk. A mindset toward development that is informed by local communities and grounded in possibility, flexibility, and openness is the foundation of sustained and equitable change. So what can we do? How do we, as development practitioners, funders, civil society leaders, government representatives, corporate executives, or entrepreneurs, work in concert with local communities to ensure these visions become a reality? 

During our panel discussion at the 2021 Concordia Annual Summit on how local, diversified partnerships can be the key to long-term global development, we evaluated these questions. What we landed on is that while we continue to seek out solutions to accelerate development at all levels of engagement, forming strong and diversified partnerships, ensuring flexible locally-relevant funding, and supporting locally-defined development criteria are key. There are certain elements that must be in place to make this a reality, however:

1. Recognizing the role a local partner plays is critical. Having established local leadership, it’s crucial to define agreed-upon decision-making structures and alignment in communities about what makes for a successful impact project. This is consistently a key characteristic when donors, like Imago Dei Fund, are looking for partners to fund. Imago Dei Fund provides highly-flexible resources, recognizing that trust in its partners is paramount. 

As a supporter of global and local partners around accessible, quality health care and the sexual and reproductive rights of women, girls, and other vulnerable groups, PAI also advocates for flexible funding approaches. Guided by trust, flexibility, and long-term commitment to local partners, and by building relationships through dedicated funding, civil society actors can ensure development is relevant at the most local levels. 

Corporates, like Diageo, are shifting the way they look at their local partnerships. For them, a local partnership helps enable a replication of ambition across regions where they maintain a footprint in order to achieve longer-term goals. A deeper understanding of the complexities drawn from political, social, and environmental standpoints is critical in determining which partners to leverage to ensure accountability to corporate stakeholders. Diageo has also realized the importance of working with agility and cutting through red tape to accommodate strategic partnerships that leverage local expertise. Working with partners to transfer knowledge and capabilities across and within communities can create motivating peer-to-peer learning networks that help corporations invest in development more readily. 

2. Flexible funding starts to break down the complexities, challenges, and burdens often experienced at the local community level. It also helps donors invest with multiple partners and around a number of issue areas. Imago Dei Fund has found that a streamlined process, and systems to get grants out of the door efficiently, give their staff ample time for ongoing relationship building with partners. This allows them to hear what’s happening on the ground year to year, and create an open, trusting environment where partners can call on them at both good and not-so-good times. This flexibility helps avoid making assumptions about whether something is or isn’t going to work for a local partner, and alleviates concerns around funding being pulled. In this way, a partner chooses what works best for them, including grant cycles and types of reporting frameworks.

3. For organizations like PAI, bringing diversity of thought and listening to the insight of local partners helps deploy the strength inherent in each local partner. Maintaining good intentions, leveraging technology, sharing information, and replicating best practices are all grounded in transparency, trust, and co-creation and, therefore, become key assets and priorities for long-term global development. 

Relying on locally-led leadership and leveraging partnerships, which is a growing priority in international development, will require bringing many voices and stakeholders together, along with sustained support to achieve gains for local, vulnerable communities around the world. One thing we can all agree on: development is more productive and achievable when we approach it with a big tent, and a colorful brush of possibility.

To learn more about Connective Impact, visit: https://www.connectiveimpact.com