It’s a rare event when four Chiefs of Party (CoP) are at Counterpart’s headquarters on the same day, and I had the pleasure of visiting with Ellie Valentine (Yemen), Hassan Baroudy (Morocco), Clive Bacon (Zambia) and Eduardo Flores-Trejo (an incoming CoP). While all of them would rather be in the field with their program teams than in a conference room in Arlington, Va., everyone appreciated the time to sit back and reflect on their work.
“We’re like an orchestra conductor,” Ellie said when asked about the role of a CoP. “You’re pulling together all these various talents to create something.” Hassan agreed that putting all these talents together was most important because, “There’s no way to run a program on your own.” With funding from USAID, Hassan added that, “We are like ambassadors, we’re implementing partners.”
“And Counterpart is trying to help organizations work together to accomplish change,” noted Eduardo.
Clive noted that, “We’re also the technical lead.” For the Zambia program, Clive brings experience in HIV, healthcare, disability issues and gender. Overall, “You’re a development practitioner.”
“You also have a role in integrity and accountability, and interpreting the right way. Being good stewards of donor’s fund – of the American taxpayers’ money,” said Ellie.
“Oh yes,” I asked, “What about the American taxpayer? Why should the American people care about Zambia, or Morocco, or Yemen?”
“If you’re contributing to global development and stability, peace and economic growth, advancing democratic principles and human rights, you’re circumventing problems that arise when these don’t exist. Not doing development work has repercussions. If you let go of the goal, you see a lot of deterioration,” said Ellie.
How does Counterpart do global development work?
“We call it the Counterpart Way,” Hassan said.
“Yes, and that’s an emphasis on local solutions, as opposed to driving the program design and implementation ourselves,” added Eduardo. “The Counterpart Way stresses local organizations driving the efforts, where Counterpart is a catalyst for change, but not necessarily defining or running the agenda. And that’s a good mix – because when we leave, as we expect to do, local organizations can take over and be effective.”
“We travel with them for only part of their journey,” noted Clive. “They continue on, but we have the privilege and opportunity to journey with them, and hopefully add some value and learn from them also.”
And being with them on that journey, Ellie added, “Is about both providing insights and asking the right questions. Being able to be with someone through that period of discovery is incredibly exciting.”
And because Counterpart is about accelerating partnerships, working with individuals, communities, and governments, the group talked about Counterpart’s role in building partnerships to create more systemic and sustainable change.
“We need to build coalitions, to bring people together. Sometimes they’re competing for resources, or attention, but if we can build those coalitions and join those voices together, it becomes much harder for the government to ignore them,” Clive pointed out.
“Or,” Hassan interjected, “We partner with the government. We work with the government to find that common denominator.”
“Yes,” added Ellie. “We are highlighting accomplishments of civil society organizations to their own constituents, and helping their government see and understand what a critical role they are playing.”
Nodding, Clive added, “We find those win-win situations as much as possible. There are a lot of vested interests, so we have to understand what those are and find a way to overcome differences without alienating. We have to have enough insight and discernment to know how to do that.”
“You have to be as informed as possible about all the varieties of players, and to understand what motivates them, because if you don’t, you risk missing the mark,” said Ellie.
Ellie, here in Arlington now for several months due to the deteriorating circumstances in Yemen, emphasized that there are “still hundreds of CSOs that are still doing their work on behalf of the Yemen people, even under the most difficult circumstances. To be with someone who’s made sacrifices, with so much courage, it’s really inspiring.”
“Absolutely,” added Clive, with all heads nodding in the room. “One of the privileges we have as CoPs is that we interact with heroes, just like those we are honoring through the #50FORWARD Heroes. We get to know these people, they become our friends. We cry with them, rejoice with them. That’s an incredible privilege.”