Strengthening of national and local institutions can be challenging in the most advanced settings, and it can become a monumental task in some developing countries. Finding the right balance between long-term measures to create added value while allowing for results on the ground can prove a challenge even for the most seasoned specialists. This includes compliance with the IDB’s safeguards policies.
While any approach has to take into account the specific context, below are some useful tips for that could come in handy when working in emerging institutional environments.
I.Identify key actors & establish a personal connection / It always takes two
In a challenging institutional environment, knowing the key persons for preparing and implementing your project is crucial. If you want an answer or need input from counterparts, don’t rely solely on emails to the front desk. Establish a direct wire to key actors that is built on mutual trust and maintain it. On the ground, the line between work and private life often is blurred, which is why a personal connection may come in handy. While maintaining a professional focus, establishing a relationship of trust builds on getting to know the person and letting them know that there is more to you than the institution you represent. Things may go more smoothly from there.
II.Listen, learn and proceed
Local expertise is of immense value and it is essential to actively listen to the views and the perspectives of local counterparts and stakeholders. Often, they have worked with a number of international donors and know the drill, including potential pitfalls and previous lessons learned in similar projects.
III.Documentation, record-keeping and institutional capacity-building
A lack of funding and/or clear responsibilities (or overlapping ones) can lead to shortcomings in documentation and record-keeping for counterparts. When the first contact is made, it can take some time and effort to establish a thorough system. Ideally, this is part of a wider, systematic capacity-building effort with the executing agency. While it may seem tedious and time-consuming to spend time on this in the beginning of a project, this will be a time saver later when you are in need of this one specific document. Further, solid documentation will be a cornerstone for providing the evidence to showcase successes as results of all the time and effort spent you spent on ensuring the sustainability of the project.
Clocks often tick at a slower pace in our target countries. Manage your expectations as to what you can achieve and how long it will take you to get there, also to avoid frustration on you part. Consistent follow-up, paired with continuous offers to support, sends the message that you are following certain standards and are to be reckoned with. Following point I. will provide the basis for this and enable a fruitful dialogue with the executing agency.
Naturally, this list could be expanded and is only supposed to share a glimpse of what a catalogue of best practices could look like when it comes to working with counterparts in challenging institutional environments. It may, however, provide a starting point for the attentive reader and provide guidance to avoid some of the major pitfalls when starting to work on the ground.