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From Seedling to Full Bloom: What I Learned from Watching Partnership Grow

By - Aug 13 2015

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A while back, we published a post that begged the question “what’s in a partnership?” Today, I’ll take this question a step further and ask “what’s in a successful partnership?” Though the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has been in the partnership business since 2008, it’s not often you work on a partnership from beginning to end, let alone get the chance to reflect on results and lessons learned. This makes it hard to define exactly what qualities characterize a successful partnership, and subsequently hard to replicate successful partnerships once they do occur. The Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) Initiative in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), however, was an exception to the rule, allowing us to assess, reflect upon, and publish its findings in “It can be done: an integrated approach for controlling and eliminating Neglected Tropical Diseases.” Drawing upon the lessons learned through four demonstration projects in Brazil, Guyana, Haiti and Mexico we learned, ultimately, that it can be done! That an integrated approach to NTDs can be implemented, and that partnerships can be the foundation of such success.

So what truly set this NTD partnership apart? First, it was guided by the Center for Global Development’s (CGD) recommended framework (outlined on page 22), which identifies the characteristics evident in successful partnerships that have contributed to positive health outcomes. We ensured that, per the CGD, ours featured “strong global, regional and local political leadership; collaborative efforts…in design and implementation; ongoing funding…even after goal is achieved; the implementation of proven cost-effective interventions; programmatic approaches to support health system infrastructure; and the participation of households and communities in designing, executing, and monitoring activities.”

Building on these recommendations, the partnership structure also followed what “Shaping Global Partnerships for a Post-2015 World” has called “the five conditions of success of collective impact,” encouraging strategic coherence around a common agenda, creating shared measurement and knowledge sharing systems, ensuring coordination and mutual reinforcement among various partner activities, and facilitating continuous and open communication. Moreover, the partnership followed these conditions strategically, building upon existing work in the field and working to coordinate with partners operating on an international scale.

In particular, the common agenda was shaped by PAHO resolutions and publications released in 2009. In Resolution CD49-R.19, LAC health ministers pledged to eliminate or reduce neglected diseases and other poverty-related infections for which tools exist, to levels such that they would no longer be considered a public health problem by 2015. PAHO also published “Epidemiological Profiles of Neglected Diseases and Other Infections Related to Poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean,” which mapped out “hot spots of disease overlap.” It was accompanied by “Control and Elimination of Five Neglected Diseases in LAC, 2010-2015,” which helps health authorities plan their strategy to meet the goals of Resolution CD49-R.19. Given its regional scope, the Initiative also complemented the advocacy and funding efforts carried out by other partners at the global level, including those that committed to NTD control and elimination in the London Declaration of 2012.

In the area of mutually reinforcing activities, the Initiative proposed the creation of a Multi-donor Trust Fund to pool partner resources into one account to finance integrated activities. The IDB would provide partners with technical and fiduciary oversight of projects in addition to monitoring, supervision, execution, and evaluation services, and also offered a platform for transparent and competitive procurement and strict social and environmental compliance standards. PAHO would assist countries with technical advice in preparing their national NTD plans.  The Global Network/ Sabin, in turn, would lead advocacy and resource mobilization efforts.  As part of the preparatory activities for establishing such a mechanism, the partners formed a working group to create common monitoring and evaluation guidelines as a critical input for achieving shared measurement.

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Here at the IDB, we are careful to define partnerships as engagements in which all parties bring something to the table. The LAC NTD Initiative was an example of this in action, as each core partner clearly brought a particular strength to the effort. The Global Network/Sabin provided global advocacy expertise and initial funding, PAHO provided technical capacity and experience engaging national health authorities, and the IDB provided experience implementing large scale projects across sectors, including water and sanitation, education, and health.

Furthermore, by offering initial seed funding for demonstration projects, the Initiative successfully convinced local governments in Brazil and Mexico to make significant investments in NTD control and elimination programs. It also secured contributions from private corporations and foundations such as PepsiCo Foundation, Fundación FEMSA, and Fundación Cinepolis for individual projects, with the integration of NTD components into projects from other sectors proving highly successful from a corporate engagement point of view. In one example, the Initiative secured funding for deworming campaigns in Haiti and Guyana by attaching health components to existing water and sanitation loans.  By refocusing on demonstration projects, the LAC NTD Initiative was effectively able to illustrate the advantages and drawbacks of integrated NTD programs, produce important lessons that will improve such programs in the LAC region, and build an effective partnership around this topic that sets the stage for further successful collaborations in the NTD space.

Was the partnership successful? Yes! Did we demonstrate that an integrated approach is possible? Yes! What did I learn from watching this partnership go from a seedling to a fully bloomed collaboration? That building a structure around proven frameworks, strategically financing certain projects to gain further support, and ultimately working to prove the feasibility of an innovative approach to a traditional development challenge is a sure way to build both a successful partnership and a successful development solution.

Are we done? No way! We currently started a Chagas project in the southern cone, with the Government of Japan (Japan Special Fund, JICA, and the Embassy of Japan in Argentina), Fundacion Mundo Sano, PepsiCo, Fundacion Newlands, and the Health Ministries of Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay. Want to know more? Check it out here!

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