by Joan Parker, President and CEO

“Local ownership” is today’s hot topic in development and recognized as a key element to sustainable development results. Unfortunately, good strategies like this can come and go like fads or become empty slogans that many people employ but few skillfully implement.

How do we keep local ownership from suffering a similar fate?

At Counterpart, we are all about “locally-owned development.”   Indeed, our mission is to empower people, communities and institutions to drive and sustain their own development.

So let me share three elements of how Counterpart partners with – and empowers – the local owners of the development process, which may be a useful guide to others pursuing this goal:

  • We are catalysts and facilitators: Our role is to offer temporary guidance and resources that provide options and incentives for new ways of thinking and working. Re-aligned incentives determine whether people will try changing traditional behaviors; and they are even more essential for maintaining and spreading new behaviors.
  • Link local partners to resources: Our task is to facilitate linkages that allow people, communities or institutions to access  key resources (partnerships, information, markets, finance and more).
  • Be the “angel investor”:Our resources are initial (and short-term) investments that generate proof of concept for the long-term investors. We work with local partners to identify where that ongoing investment will come from, whether public or private sector. And then we ensure that potential investors are at the table from the get-go.

I would like to share a small example of how we served as a catalyst, delivered a missing ingredient and identified mutual incentives for local stakeholders.

In the Azerbaijan municipality of Zarrab, citizens believed that the local budget was derived from local land sales and that the proceeds were being diverted for personal gain rather than community purposes.  Distrust and unwillingness to pay taxes abounded.

To remedy the situation, Counterpart’s project provided a range of options to the local community and municipal leaders drawn from best practices in other settings.  From these options, the local leaders decided to create a Budget Control Commission comprised of citizens and municipal officials. The Budget Control Commission prepared internal rules and controls, followed by public meetings and budget hearings.  Simultaneously, Counterpart provided technical assistance to municipal officials on how to incorporate citizen input; and to civic groups on how to constructively engage government.

The new transparency and skills were put into action – and the results were immediate.   More citizens paid their taxes, and they became increasingly aware of their own role in the successful delivery of municipal services. Increased tax revenues are now used to meet a variety of community priorities, such as road work, bridge repairs and the construction of a new water supply system.

I like the fact that those who made decisions on how to proceed were local. And those who institutionalized the change were local. We were catalysts and advisors – temporary players in their development process.

If local ownership is an interest of yours, keep an eye on this column in future issues of Counterpart Connections. We will explore government ownership, community ownership and combinations thereof.

Stay tuned!