Locally-Led Development: Moving the Agenda Forward

by Kyra Buchko and Alyson Lyons

The resounding call for locally-led development by USAID Administrator Samantha Power resonated deeply with us at PartnersGlobal. In her speech from May 2022, Administrator Power reiterated USAID’s commitment to locally-led development as an approach that “prioritizes and elevates the roles of organizations, institutions, and people of the countries we serve” and is “the key to delivering the kind of results that will be visible years and years in the future, long after our programs have wound down.” At PartnersGlobal, we couldn’t agree more. 

For more than three decades, our mission and vision for a more peaceful and prosperous world has centered on and assumes a preeminent role of local leadership and locally-led problem-solving. It is the reason we founded The Partners Network of 20+ local, independently operated nonprofits based in Central and Eastern Europe, the Americas, Africa, and the Middle East. We all share what we call The Partners Way – a collective commitment to locally driven development that brings together people, communities, and institutions to jointly reach decisions and take action that build peace and transform conflict. At its core, The Partners Way adheres to the values of inclusion, accountability, resiliency, justice, and nonviolence.  In practice, we focus on process guided by principles of locally-led development and centered on the role of local leadership – no matter the issue, topic, or thematic area.

As we begin to feel a real shift across the international donor community, and specifically US government agencies, to adopt a more locally-led development agenda, we are optimistic and hopeful about the next chapter of development assistance. And since we’ve been doing locally-led development for some time now, we’d like to share a few insights from our experience.

Shift Your Mindset to Shift the Power

The first step toward embracing locally-led development is to shift your mindset from one dominated by Western values and priorities to one guided by community-driven needs. The movement to decolonize aid is intricately connected with this idea. The purpose of decolonizing aid is to transform unequal power structures rooted in colonial constructs that prioritize Global North mandates and perspectives, impacting resource allocation and perpetuating discriminatory norms and practices in the international aid system.

So how do we shift our mindsets? First, we must start by asking questions and listening actively to local organizations and partners about THEIR priorities and needs. While it may sound easy, active listening is one of the hardest soft skills to do effectively because it requires that you pay attention, put aside judgment, and withhold opinions or criticisms. Practice, practice, practice active listening and ask for feedback from partners.

Second, we need to reimagine our relationship to our partners by engaging local leaders as peers and colleagues instead of ‘primes and subs’ to our programs. In this way, we can reorient ourselves to learning from each other, valuing everyone’s inputs and experiences. Further, we need to facilitate diverse and equitable participation and involvement in decision making. This means reaching out to amplify and integrate the voices of women, youth, and indigenous communities and peoples to ensure there is meaningful consultation, as detailed in the Global Fragility Act Coalition’s recommendations on local consultation processes. For project-based collaboration, it is critically important to engage all partners consistently and equitably before the program begins, throughout implementation, and well beyond the project’s end date. 

Third, let’s be intentional about the language we use when communicating to donors, partners, and peers. Language matters. At Partners, we seek informal and formal input from our partners about the optics and impressions created by the language we use in proposals, discussions with peers, and other communications.  This helps ensure that our messaging about our work and our values – including how we talk about local leadership – resonates with and is authentic to local perspectives. And it requires that any new or improved terminology and messaging are translated accurately in local languages and placed into appropriate context.

Progress through Partnership, not Programs

At the end of the day, trust is built and strengthened when we focus on partnership over projects. And trust is a necessary prerequisite for sustaining a locally-led development agenda. Partnership transcends transactional cooperation based on specific activities and forms the basis for continued connection well past the end of a project.  Not only do we work toward sustainability of project results and impact, but we view durable and resilient organizational and personal relationships as an ongoing benefit for all parties. 

One way to build and maintain trust over time is to collectively design your process for collaboration rather than focus on specific project activities or objectives. The end goal is important, but how you get there matters more in the long run. Ask your partners HOW they view and approach collaboration. What is important to them in terms of process? Where is collaboration needed and not needed? How can systems for program implementation be set up that encourage and foster inclusive participation and input? The emphasis on collaborative process helps to decentralize power and facilitates shared responsibility. It places decision-making more equitably in the hands of the local partners and communities impacted by a development or peacebuilding program.

The locally-led development agenda calls on all of us to be far more ambitious in expanding who we work with, and changing how we work so that collectively we drive the sustainable, lasting change that we all seek. This is how we at PartnersGlobal will continue to support local leadership to inspire and guide communities to peacefully manage change.

by Maliza Bonane of PartnersGlobal and Hadiza Usman of Partners West Africa Nigeria (aka Rule of Law and Empowerment Initiative)

In Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT), more than 80% of the prison population is currently awaiting trial. Many detainees are held in overcrowded pre-trial custodial facilities for extended periods of time, with little to no provisions or access to legal counsel. This issue is not unique to the FCT. Custodial center overcrowding is an issue throughout the country. In 2004, a Police Duty Solicitor Scheme (PDSS) was developed by the Open Society Justice Initiative in collaboration with the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria (LACON) and the National Police Force (NPF) and piloted in several states across the country. This program placed young lawyers in police stations as part of their compulsory national service and tasked them with providing legal services to pretrial detainees in order to reduce detention rates. However, the FCT was not part of this program and those stuck in pre-trial detention found themselves in a situation with seemingly no solution.   

Partnership and Persistence

Things changed in 2021, when the Reforming Pre-Trial Detention in Nigeria (RPDN) project began implementing the PDSS for the first time in the FCT. The RPDN is a project of PartnersGlobal and is carried out in partnership with Partners West Africa – Nigeria (PWAN), Network of University Legal Aid Institutions Nigeria (NULAI), and New-Rule LLC. The goal of the program is to uphold the principles of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) – a law that guarantees detainees speedy trials, humane treatment, and other human rights. As such, partners work to institutionalize a system of detainee registration, representation, and processing that demonstrates rule of law, respect for human rights, and duty of care for victims, the accused, and their families in the Federal Capital Territory.  

RPDN project partner PWAN worked in collaboration with LACON, NPF and the Nigeria Correctional Services (NCoS) to integrate resident pro bono lawyers in 10 different police stations in the FTC – Nyanya, Karmo, Gwagwalada, Garki, Utako, Wuse, Gwarimpa, Jikwoyi, Mabuchi, and Kubwa. The lawyers are responsible for verifying and reinforcing the ACJA detention time limits and conditions. They also assist the first interview of the detainee with the police officer or file bail applications on behalf of detainees. 

Impact of PDSS in the FTC 

The free legal services provided as part of the PDSS are making a significant difference in preventing unlawful detentions and enacting releases before detainees are transferred to the custodial centers. Since the project started in April 2021, a total of 488 detainees had their first interview with PDSS lawyers, 339 were released on bail, and 75 were released outside of the bail process. In the latter case, the lawyers used conflict resolution skills to engage in dialogue with the police and explain the principles of ACJA, which lead to the releases before suspects formally enter the system. The availability of free legal services at the primary stage allowed the service to be at the disposable of any detainee who wishes to use it.  

Furthermore, police officers increasingly refer cases to the lawyers and grant them access to initial interviews with detainees.  According to, a Divisional Police Officer currently based in Garki Police station, the presence of the lawyer has reduced the number of detainees that stay above 48 hours in the police station.  

“The scheme has positively aided me in my duties of checking the cell daily since I receive feedback as to the condition of the cell from the duty solicitor [lawyer] and my presence has boosted the public confidence in the police station and has reduced litigation against the police from the general public.” 

The Seeds of Change

Justice actors in the FCT have taken notice of the impacts of the Police Duty Solicitor Scheme under the RPDN project and are eager to sustain them. Going forward, the Administrative Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee (ACJMC), an interagency government body that oversees the implementation of the ACJA in the FCT, recently made a commitment to deploy lawyers at ten additional police stations under the direction of RPDN project partner PWAN. The ACJMC is also considering setting up telephone call centers of pro bono lawyers that respond to requests for detainees outside of the PDSS stations. Additionally, the police made a commitment to continue its collaboration with the National Youth Service Corp to receive lawyers beyond the RPDN program to ensure lawyers are assigned to police stations for continuous legal services. 

Beyond reducing the number of detainees in custodial centers, RPDN’s PDSS activity fortifies the sustainability of our pre-trial services goal. Building on this past experience, PartnersGlobal is looking forward to implementing the activity for another year to ensure rule of law and respect for human rights to more victims, accused, and their families in the FCT.  

Rasha Abdel Latif, Director of MENA and Civil Society Strengthening at PartnersGlobal, was recently appointed as a member on the Board of Directors at Amnesty International – USA (AIUSA). We could not think of a more deserving person to step into this leadership role at one of the most well-established and well-respected human rights organizations. In this leadership role, Rasha will contribute to the development of a clear vision for AIUSA and provide stewardship for the organization, establishing appropriate and constructive working relationships with staff and ensures the financial health of the organization through fiscal oversight and fundraising.

Rasha brings nearly seventeen years of experience to this leadership role, working in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region with local and international organizations and activists to amplify citizen voices, increase participation in decision making processes, advocate for human rights, and create innovative solutions to social problems. Throughout her career, Rasha led and coordinated many local and national human rights campaigns and initiatives.

“I strive every day to be a catalyst for change and am driven by making a difference through advocating for human rights issues and for safe environments for women, youth, human rights activists, and marginalized communities.” – Rasha Abdel Latif

Rasha is Arab-American and was born and raised in Jordan. She has Palestinian roots and a passion for global citizenship. Rasha started her journey with The Partners Network in 2009, working at PartnersJordan for eight years. In 2019, she joined PartnersGlobal as the Director for MENA and Civil Society Strengthening where she oversees a portfolio of regional programs focused on social accountability, governance, transparency, anti-corruption, and protecting and defending civic space. Based in Washington DC, Rasha is an active member of the Arab American community and loves the opportunity to showcase and share her cultural heritage and customs with others. You can follow Rasha on Twitter at @RashaAbdelLatif.

At PartnersGlobal, we believe ordinary citizens have a right and a role to shape the decisions and outcomes that affect them. We know that building a resilient civil society is essential to achieving inclusive, just, and prosperous societies based on democratic principles that respect the rights of all citizens. That’s why we work in service of local leaders and organizations to bring about peaceful change to their communities. Because locally led change leads to more sustainable outcomes. And a resilient civil society is a catalyst for change.

As the humanitarian crisis unfolds in Ukraine, now is the time to have a conversation about global peace and peacebuilding. The FrameWorks Institute, Alliance for Peacebuilding, and PartnersGlobal joined forces to deliver evidence-based recommendations for more effective narrative strategies that build public understanding and support for peacebuilding. The new brief includes:

  • Existing mindsets around peacebuilding
  • Research-based framing recommendations
  • Ideas for applying these frames in discourse & debate

The ongoing work of building bridges across divides must continue if we hope to create a world where conflicts are addressed without resorting to violence. Shifting the narrative of peacebuilding won’t happen overnight. But aligning messaging and consistency within the peacebuilding field will help the public and policymakers better understand what peacebuilding looks like in practice and why it is a productive mindset and policy option. | For access to the full report, please click HERE or read below:

FWI-31-peacebuilding-project-brief-v2b

Each morning, fourteen-year-old Fairouz woke up early to take the long walk to get water from a spring outside Al-Manwar, a small village surrounded by hills and green terraced fields in Ibb governorate in Yemen. After she completed 8th grade, Fairouz left school to help her family with everyday errands, such as collecting water and firewood.

“In our village, girls have to fetch water, collect firewood, or tend sheep. My father insisted that I stop going to school in order to help get water for the family… I used to get up in the morning to get water and see other girls going to school. I burst into tears seeing them going to school. I used to ask myself, ‘Why do I not do that? Why does my father not let me go to school?’”

The Roots of Community Level Conflict

Al-Manwar is located about 200 kilometers from Sana’a, on a remote clifftop at the end of a series of dilapidated roads connecting the village to the city of Jeblah. Life in Al-Manwar can be difficult for residents of the village – particularly young girls. For years, they trekked across unpaved roads to reach their school, located 1200 meters from the village. Despite this distance, many girls were able to attend school until the country-wide conflict began in 2015. The war waging across Yemen took a toll on the area’s economy and the ability of its people to access basic services. After the conflict began, the electricity that powered local water pumps stopped flowing to Al-Manwar and families started connecting a haphazard network of private pipes to the local spring.

This created tension in the community, with some unable to afford the equipment to build the pipes. In 2016, a group of young men who saw this system as unfair destroyed many of the pipes, disrupting the flow of freshwater to village residents. Since then, young girls have borne the brunt of collecting water for drinking and washing, dropping out of school in order to carry out this task. Throughout each day, girls from Al-Manwar walk more than a kilometer along the long path to the spring and carry water back to their families’ homes. Carrying the containers on their heads, these girls walk down narrow and difficult paths fraught with danger, scared of what they might encounter. Many face sexual harassment from young men when they walk alone.

After several years of conflict within the community, local residents and community leaders of Al-Manwar were desperate to find a solution to repair the social fabric, bring water back into the homes of villagers, and help the girls go back to school.

Then in 2021, local organization Al-Shaimaa Foundation, together with PartnersYemen, designed an initiative centered on community dialogue and building support for a new water system. At the heart of the initiative was the creation of a seven-member Conflict Resolution Committee that included local sheiks, authority officials, and other influential community members and whose mandate was to peacefully resolve community issues in Al-Manwar.

Employing Dialogue to Find Sustainable Solutions

An initial dialogue was facilitated by Al-Shaimaa Foundation and PartnersYemen to assist the committee in finding a solution to the water crisis. The committee proposed the establishment of a consolidated water supply network to deliver water equally to all local households. Using their enhanced dialogue and facilitation skills, the Committee was able to secure an agreement with all the relevant parties, including a man who lived near the spring and had benefitted the most from the status quo. The negotiated compromise included extending a water supply pipe to his house.

Shortly thereafter, the villagers signed a reconciliation agreement that set the terms for access to the water supply network, formed a maintenance committee for the system, and established a mechanism for dealing with any future conflicts around water management in the village.

Two weeks later, fresh water reached Al-Manwar’s village center.

Today, Fairouz is back in school and excited about the opportunities now open to her in the future. Fairouz’s new reality only became possible after the intervention of Al-Shaimaa Foundation and PartnersYemen, who helped create and then worked together with the Conflict Resolution Committee to address a set of issues that had plagued the residents of Al-Manwar since 2015. Young girls like Fairouz, who had disproportionately suffered before the project, now benefit the most from the new water system. In all, the 23 girls who had dropped out of school were able to go back and continue with their studies.

“Had water not been delivered to the village, my father would not have been convinced to send me back to school… Thank God, I have resumed classes and I go to school regularly,” Fairouz said. “Now, water is in the vicinity of our home. We no longer need to fetch water from that faraway source.”

PartnersYemen’s Work with Communities

Since 2016, PartnersYemen has set up over 90 similar community committees in 18 governorates across Yemen. These committees have served as essential links between community members and local authorities by resolving conflicts that provide more equitable access to local services. Some committees have even established their own new civil society organizations, sustainably advocating for changes at the local level.

In recent years, PartnersYemen and its local civil society partners have found that such committees – when provided with guidance and technical support for facilitation and dialogue – can play key roles in resolving conflicts, forging multiple community reconciliation agreements over resources and service delivery issues.

Partners’ local network of CSOs, of which Al-Shaimaa Foundation in Ibb is a key member, is an important local link to communities across the country. These organizations use their knowledge of local community dynamics to select the local CRC members, develop the Committee’s scopes of work, and provide guidance to help mediate reconciliation sessions with conflicting parties.

While Fairouz and her classmates have benefited greatly from this initiative, important work remains to be done both in Al-Manwar and other underdeveloped rural areas across the country that have suffered under the pressures of the conflict. By utilizing similar conflict resolution and dialogue tools, and with support from Yemeni-led civil society organizations like PartnersYemen and Al-Shaimaa, other communities may be able to work towards sustainable solutions like Ibb’s water system to strengthen their communities and provide opportunities for the most vulnerable.

This piece was co-written by Saddam Al-Dhelaa, PartnersYemen and Matt Ciesielski, PartnersGlobal. For more information on our work in the Middle East and North Africa, please visit our website HERE.

Photo Credit: Girls in School by Julien Harneis

Taiz, the second most populated city in Yemen, has been under siege for almost seven years. Ansarallah forces are exercising tight control over all three entrances to the center city, which is controlled by Republic of Yemen Government (ROYG)-backed forces. Only two rugged, one-lane dirt roads with heavy traffic lead out of the city to the North and South. Overcrowded vehicles carry travelers and commuters between the two sides of the city along with trucks and pickups loaded with supplies – including potable water – that rarely reach residents.

The situation has left Taiz residents in a dire situation with limited water supply. This was further exacerbated when nine water reservoirs inside the city came under the control of an armed group that sold the water for profit.  In response, the government-run Water Authority cut the supply completely, inadvertently depriving residents in three districts – Al-Mudhafar, Al-Qaherah, and Salah —of water. Women, girls, and children were forced to travel long distances on unsafe roads to fetch water, putting them at risk for gender-based violence and sniper attacks.

Challenging Gender Norms

Ola Al-Aghbari is a young Yemeni woman and civil society leader from Taiz who heads the Sheba Youth Foundation. In 2016, Ola participated in a series of trainings that PY conducted with youth and community leaders in partnership with the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy and UNDP, and developed skills in conflict mitigation and mediation, gaining practical experience to identify and address community needs and resolve conflict. She founded the Sheba Youth Foundation shortly thereafter to continue serving her community.

In 2021, Ola observed the dire situation in Al-Mudhafar, Al-Qaherah, and Salah and approached PartnersYemen with a proposal to resolve the water crisis. Through the support of a small grant, as well as coaching and mentoring provided by the PartnersYemen team, Ola started working on the issue. Soon after, however, several radical mosque preachers spoke out against her efforts claiming, “People who allow a woman to lead them are doomed.” Traditional gender roles in Yemeni culture frown upon women taking the leading role in certain situations, especially when it comes to anything political. Ola knew she had to get in front of the situation and ensure her legitimacy – and her organization’s – remained intact.

Ola adopted a new strategy to counter the influence of the conservative leaders and build credibility. Ola consulted with local figures and political party leaders in the city and formed a committee with members who were selected based on their status and influence. They included a prominent tribal leader, a local government representative, a Chamber of Commerce representative, a local female mediator, and lawyer, and a highly-respected local caricaturist. With Ola facilitating, the group managed to convince the military commanders to hand over nine water reservoirs to the Office of the Ministry of Water and Environment (OMWE) in Taiz. To date, there are formal agreements to hand over control of six wells, one of which is now officially run by OMWE. This initiative not only gave access to clean water to 41,000 residents in Al-Mudhafar, Al-Qaherah, and Salah districts, but it also supported governance structures in Taiz to deliver services. As the director of OMWE noted,

Thanks to the successful mediation by Ola, taking control of the water reservoirs is a first step to revive the role of the Water Authority so that it can better serve the people.”

Ripple Effects

With PartnersYemen’s support, the Sheba Youth Foundation further developed an interactive map of the water sector in Taiz that will set the stage for future efforts to resolve water-related conflict and improve water delivery to residents in the besieged city. Ola’s efforts spawned demand and support for similar interventions throughout Taiz. Several civilians and community leaders asked the Sheba Youth Foundation to continue its mediation efforts to bring public facilities under the control of the local authority. Toran Al-Hadad, one of the beneficiaries from the initiative shared,

There were several local initiatives to free the water facilities before, but all of them failed. However, there are tangible and sustainable results on the ground led by Sheba Youth Foundation and we hope that continues.

Sheba Youth Foundation was invited to share the story of their successful mediation efforts at the UNESCO conference that took place at the end of September 2021.

A small island situated in the middle of the Persian Gulf, the Kingdom of Bahrain is touted as one of the most progressive countries in the Middle East for women’s equality and advancement. It is a diverse and more religiously liberal country in comparison with some of her neighbors. Legally, Bahraini women are recognized in the Bahraini Constitution as equal to Bahraini men in “political, social, cultural and economic spheres of life, without prejudice to the provisions of the Islamic Shariah.” Bahrain is also a member of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and in 2017, adopted the unified Personal Status Law (PSL – known also as the Bahrain Family Law) – an important step in the protection of both Sunni and Shi’ite women under an inclusive legal framework, following trends in the region. Throughout 2020, the Supreme Council for Women took measures to protect these advancements and mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.   

Persistent Challenges for Bahraini Women

Despite the gains made in the past 20 years, systemic barriers to women’s legal equality and empowerment continue to exist. For example, Bahraini citizenship for children is determined by the citizenship of the father. Bahraini women who are married to non-Bahraini men cannot pass their citizenship onto their children, leaving their children effectively stateless and without legal protection.

Some barriers were exacerbated by the restrictions put in place to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. For instance, due to mandatory lockdowns and curfews in Bahrain, victims of domestic abuse were forced to reside with their abusers for long stretches of time. One such woman—who for security reasons will remain nameless—wished to obtain a divorce due to domestic abuse she was suffering during the pandemic. However, in Bahrain it is difficult both legally and culturally for a woman to divorce a man, including due to domestic violence. Legally, when a woman files for a divorce due to abuse, the process requires this same woman to first provide proof of the abuse or harm; her word alone is not sufficient. Therefore, women who are subjected to violence—including the woman mentioned here—are forced to first file a police report and a obtain a medical report, following a medical examination, to prove the harm in court. Additionally, the pandemic has delayed court hearing processes and prevented lawyers from meeting with clients.

Culturally, domestic violence is seen as a household issue. There is no official database with domestic violence statistics in Bahrain.  The stigma around reporting domestic violence exists, dissuading anyone from formally moving forward with the process. A man, on the other hand, can submit a request for divorce without even informing his wife and without any cause. 

An Opportunity to Advance Further Legal Reforms

Adopting the unified Personal Status Law in 2017 was a positive step towards women’s equality in Bahrain. Yet there are still improvements to be made, as was revealed by the impacts of the pandemic. Women-led local civil society organizations (LCSOs) are in the driver’s seat and are demanding further reforms. Since 2019, Bahrain’s women-led local civil society organizations have taken the lead on drafting amendments to the unified Personal Status Law and, in December 2020 they finalized a list of amendments to ultimately be presented to the Bahraini parliament for adoption in the future.

In the coming months, these LCSOs will launch a series of advocacy efforts aimed at the amendments’ adoption. This will begin by publishing the proposed amendments and meeting with relevant Bahraini authorities. The work of Bahraini women civil society leaders in the context of shrinking civic space demonstrates the power of long-term, collective efforts. The persistence, resiliency, and determination of this group drive the transformative change for a more inclusive, equitable, and prosperous society.