Alex Jacobs is currently Director of Programming & Effectiveness at Plan International and author of the blog NGO Performance.



Tell me a bit about your experience with partnership working in international development?

Some years ago, I worked with a local NGO in South Africa called Akanani that was on the receiving end of ‘partnership’ agreements from various donors & INGOs. Since then I have worked with Oxfam and seen many INGOs managing ‘partners’ from the other side. Last year, with Keystone, I managed the Keystone Partner Survey, in which we got feedback from 1,000 southern NGOs on their views of 25 INGOs who provide them with funds, advice and support.

What do you think are the key things that need to be in place for a partnership to work well?

Honesty, clear and shared aims, mutual respect, shared risk and – most importantly – shared values.

Can you tell me about an experience you’ve had which you felt was partnership working at it’s most effective?

The Keystone Partner Survey identified various aspects of good practice. Local organisations sent a clear message. They did not want to be treated as sub-contractors, carrying out international agencies’ projects. They wanted agencies’ help to become strong, independent organisations in their own right, responding flexibly to local people’s priorities.

Are you willing to share an example of something that you were involved in that didn’t go well?

When I was visiting a big INGO’s office in Sri Lanka in 2008, they were still spending the tail end of funding raised after the Tsunami. They persisted in talking about working ‘through partners’ – which seems to say it all about their views of power and decision making. I attended a meeting where partners were reviewed using the criteria of how much money they had spent within the artificial donors’ timeframes. There was no equivalent discussion about what results they were achieving. They had become an administrative unit, simply existing to spend money in line with the INGO’s commitments to donors.

What are the key things you think need to happen to improve partnership practice across the sector?

I think the African Centre for Humanitarian Action sums it up well:

“We bring an all important African voice to the otherwise northern dominated international humanitarian field. Confident that Africans have what it takes to deal with the challenges facing the continent, we advocate for:

• Increased support and empowerment of indigenous organizations;

• Flexible, timely, predictable, and needs based funding;

• Genuine partnerships based on equality, transparency, complementarity, and shared-responsibility;

• The acknowledgement and integration of African CSO’s agenda and strategy;

• International recognition of African CSO’s value, contribution, and expertise;

• Continued improvement in humanitarian delivery through enhanced accountability, sustainability, and use of the participatory approach; and

• Increased capacity development for African CSOs and vulnerable populations.”


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