By Joan Parker, President and CEO

One of the pillars of locally-owned development is that the priorities of national and local stakeholders – government, civil society, businesses and individuals – are at the core of any effort. But what happens to an international development program when its national and local stakeholders need to make adjustments – such as expanding into new areas of work – because of changing conditions on the ground?

Let me highlight how Counterpart and its donor used an existing initiative and modified a portion of it to respond to a truly locally-driven initiative.

The USAID-funded Responsive Governance Project (RGP) in Yemen – which is implemented by Counterpart, along with Research Triangle Institute and the National Democratic Institute – was first conceived a year ago to improve the capacity of the government to serve its citizens.

In a short amount of time, the RGP team made progress in the program’s core work of holding the government accountable to its citizens and addressing issues related to health, education, economic growth, agriculture and water.

As Yemen’s political environment became increasingly volatile, officials in key government ministries asked if the project could expand its focus to accommodate a new activity: A partnership to achieve priorities designed to improve the welfare of their citizens despite disruptions.

Counterpart and its donor said yes. While a majority of RGP’s focus continues as previously planned, a portion of the initial RGP funds was re-directed to support selected “rapid-response initiatives,” which are activities in support of service delivery across multiple sectors. Counterpart is now working as a partner with the ministries to accomplish their goals. The result is development dollars programmed jointly by USAID and national entities that produce immediate and measurable results for distressed populations.

For example, the Education Ministry asked Counterpart to help launch a back-to-school campaign telling parents that the academic year would start on time. Parents were concerned that the street protests would force all the schools to close, postponing their children’s education.

With only four weeks to launch the campaign before the first day of school on September 17, Counterpart worked with a Yemen-based civil society organization named the All Girls Association, USAID and two local media companies to produce a series of television spots, newspaper advertisements, street banners and mobile phone messages. UNICEF and CHF International also participated in the nationwide campaign.

Just a few days into the school year, officials said students were heading back to their classrooms. Even with the early success of the initiative, the campaign will continue through October 17.

The campaign gave education officials a chance to drive home two additional messages to parents – children are better off in school than working, and girls should be educated.

This “just-in-time” support is needed by local leaders, not only to build their capacity over months or years, but to help them be successful, responsive leaders on a day in, day out basis.

Counterpart’s RGP continues to work on long-term government capacity development goals with the majority of the project funds, including constitutional reform and elections. Although these efforts have been slowed by the political turmoil, when the opportunity arises to re-engage government on these challenging issues there will be a foundation of partnership to build upon.

I leave you with a question: Could each traditional development project include a window for locally-led development? What would be the harm? Just imagine the potential.

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