Lessons from Civil Society and Operational NGOs on Strategic Country Transitions for US Development Assistance

Introduction

Lessons from Civil Society and Operational NGOs on Strategic Country TransitionsTo best facilitate the lasting impact of development efforts, operational non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society regularly prioritize effective and sustainable transitions of programs to local actors and country governments. Through experience and practice, these organizations have learned to manage transitions by working within communities, planning for challenges, building capacity, and implementing programs across sectors in ways that institutionalize positive social change. As the US Agency for International Development (USAID) develops policies and practices to help build local self-reliance and establish metrics for strategic country transitions, InterAction has compiled operational lessons learned from development and civil society member organizations to highlight existing best practices and tools. InterAction members, many of which are USAID implementers, work in nearly every country in the world and boast a combined donor base of $15 billion per year.1 These lessons complement existing principles and guidance for strategic transitions by adding operational experience to the conversation.

The primary lesson is that effective transitions take time and must be coordinated inclusively well in advance. Experience shows that it takes at least 10 years to go from initial mobilization to full program self-reliance, and that transitions themselves can take anywhere from two to five years with post evaluations following drawdown. Another common thread is the need for development programs to consistently improve the social contract between citizens and their governments, with the ultimate goal of creating conditions where foreign assistance is no longer necessary.

In contrast, transitions not executed strategically are detrimental to US interests and investments and devastating to local developmental progress. Quick dismantling of assistance can leave people and regions worse off than before, dilute trust between local partners and government actors, and leave communities vulnerable to shocks. Regardless of any pressures to reduce foreign assistance, country transitions are only strategic when they uphold the primary principles of good development practices.

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