Phase 4: Implementing in Partnership
Operationalising and Sustaining Equitable Partnerships and Furthering Localisation Commitments
One of CARE’s global programming principles is that we work with others to maximise the impact of our programs, build alliances and partnerships with those who offer complementary approaches, and adopt effective programming approaches on a larger scale. We commit to working in ways that support and reinforce, not replace, existing capacities.
In addition, there is an ongoing conversation in the humanitarian sector on localisation, decolonisation and anti-racism. The recent big humanitarian crises have highlighted deep inequalities and injustices in our societies and surfaced the fact that these are also built into our organisations and structures.
This toolkit helps us confront the deeply entrenched structural inequalities, racism and power imbalances built into our ways of working as international development and humanitarian actors. Changing our approach to a more inclusive and participatory engagement with partners has become one of CARE’s top priorities.
Some inclusive practices to operationalise and sustain equitable partnerships
Program & Internal Systems
- Set clear roles and responsibilities. Be clear on the division of labor – which functions will be handled by CARE, which by partners, and what technical assistance will be provided. Define this in contracts and project documents.
- Plan ahead of time with partners. Use emergency preparedness planning as a key entry point to strengthen CARE and partners’ collective disaster response capacity.
- Budget adequately. Overhead and staffing costs are very real issues for CARE and the partner and this can hinder a fair partnership agreement. While partners are doing the bulk of the implementation, CARE often has not allowed partners to adequately cover their operational costs. Investing in the partners staffing structure and overhead/core costs is a critical success factor for any response and key for a successful partnership.
- Involve partners in all phases of the project cycle. Partners should be involved in the response strategy, needs assessments, program design and proposal development to avoid misunderstanding and increase ownership.
- Accept and manage risk and imperfection. Partnerships can be marred by risk aversion and perfectionism. Intense questioning of details can delay contracts, disbursement, program design and implementation.
- Make sure support systems are responsive to partnership. Heavy paperwork and reporting are not conducive to rapid emergency work; even less so when engaging and working with partners. Simplify procedures where necessary and keep things light for our partners where possible thus still meeting donor’s and auditor’s requirements.
Collaboration & Communication
- Designate a collaboration-oriented partnership focal point. One locally-based program staff member should be the focal point for all dealings with a partner. Support and finance staff should also be placed in the area of implementation for assistance with the work. Designate a local staff with technical ability, good attitude, and strong communication and negotiation skills. Ensure that they are mandated to take decisions, as well as to consult and inform senior managers.
- Consult and be transparent. Decision-making should be as transparent as possible between CARE and partners, including on budget and finances. It is also important to share information and seek input on decisions but without over-consulting.
- Have good internal coordination. Confusion on roles and authorities can lead to too many people getting involved in internal decisions and procedures, causing delays and mixed messages. Be clear who must be consulted and who signs off on what. Use a management model where a locally-based team, fairly representing both CARE and partners, coordinates routine matters, and a senior management team meets to resolve policies and issues.
- Ensure the value addition for both parties is clear. A clear decision-making process on whether and who to partner with will examine and clarify what value the partnership brings to both parties.
- Share power. We recognise that CARE and partners have equal yet complementary strengths, a dynamic that must be reflected in leadership and decision-making. The support or management that CARE provides must be mutually agreed upon with local partners.
- Act as equals. Local partners often complain of being treated as servants by INGOs. CARE by virtue of organisational capacity may take on the role of resource mobiliser, donor manager, and/or technical expert, but we must understand and acknowledge that these roles are only part of what makes a project effective. Partners provide indispensable value to the project with their own skills and experience, indigenous knowledge, and established relationships with local government and community stakeholders. CARE’s attitudes must reflect equality.
- Accept and manage different roles and tasks. Working in partnership requires a different skill set among CARE staff. Moving away from that of direct implementer, the role for CARE staff will focus more on building relationships, monitoring, capacity strengthening and contract management.
- Invest in building interpersonal relationships. People need to trust and respect each other if they want to establish a fruitful relationship. The representatives of organisations are individuals, and therefore interpersonal relationships are central to a successful partnership between organisations.
Learning & Ways Forward
- Learn from partners. Partners have rich knowledge and expertise about the operational context we are working in, that CARE does not always tap into. CARE should engage in strategic and programmatic discussions with partners, discuss developments and scenarios of the context, and engage in joint preparedness as well as strategic planning processes. There is a lot more we can learn from our partners that can enhance the quality and effectiveness of our response.
- Prepare and nurture partnerships outside of emergencies. Pre-emergency is the prime time to invest in partnership. It is difficult to establish trust and build relationships during the height of an emergency when the focus must be on saving lives and alleviating suffering. Ideally, CARE will develop partnership relationships during times of non-emergency. Long term investments in capacity strengthening will enhance the quality and effectiveness of response. It is important to have access to committed and consistent funding for capacity strengthening for partners (or for CARE from partners) in topics including security management, financial management, humanitarian standards, emergency preparedness and gender in emergencies.
- Advocate with donors regarding budget amendments or flexibility. Since CARE is in direct contact with the donors, make efforts to negotiate with donors on certain budget concerns especially if these affect partners.
- Continue to be a thought leader with partners. Proactively engage partners in local, national, or international dialogues on localisation. Intentionally bring partners to the table to influence change at local and global levels. Where possible, provide the support that they need to meaningfully participate in these spaces.
- Measure and report progress towards delivering on our commitments (including 25% of our humanitarian funding to local actors and communicating our partners’ contributions to the media and public).
- Seek new and flexible funding. Strategically redirect new or existing resources to support localised responses, including partners from the Global South. For example, use or seek development or unrestricted funding that supports partners’ institutional development, especially for emergency preparedness and pre-crisis.
Common Mistakes in Partnerships:
- Creating inflated expectations.
- What to do? Discuss expectations with partners from the start. It can be dangerous if a partner sees a simple partnership contingency agreement or Memorandum of Understanding as something more than it is, or if promises to strengthen capacity are not delivered. It is good to have realistic visions for relationships.
- Delaying payments and deliverables.
- What to do? Ensure that the Country Program’s financial and administrative systems are flexible enough to allow for real-time transaction of funds, resources, and other support as required by the partner, to set them up for success.
- Overfunding or overstretching the partner
- What to do? It is important to have a clear sense of other projects and overall capacity of the partner to carry out the agreed upon work. Good partners are likely working with other NGOs and an effective balance needs to be maintained.
Communications and Media Relations
Communications work plays a vital role in raising awareness of an ongoing emergency. Working with partners helps CARE amplify messages to our target audience and support fundraising and resource mobilisation activities.
It is important to have a clear understanding of media protocols, sign-off procedures, and visibility requirements during the partnership. A partnership may provide some confusion and frustration on this at times. Both partners want to be recognised for their work. But a partnership also provides an opportunity to complement each other’s communications and media efforts.
Ways to Improve Communications Work with Partners during Emergencies
- Involve the partners in developing a communication plan or strategy. Ensure media and communications are in your Emergency Preparedness Plan.
- Agree on how visibility of CARE and the partner will be handled in printed and online materials, accessories, activity branding, etc. Before conducting an emergency relief distribution, make sure to include CARE and partner’s logo (as well as donor logo if applies). This will send a message to the public that CARE and partners are already on the ground responding to the needs of the affected people. Also, have the same size of all logos in communication materials.
- Identify you partner spokespeople. This will likely be the Executive Director and Emergency Coordinator. Ensure they have undergone media training.
- Identify a media focal point of partner/s. The person will work closely with CARE in handling media requests or gathering photos/videos.
- Keep partners informed on communications strategy and activities. This ensures that all communications activities are well coordinated with partners especially if there are media visits, interviews and documentation that need partners’ participation.
- Train partners on how to deal with the media, particularly on interviews with international media. Ensure the partner knows what to do if they are approached by a journalist. Monitor national news for information relevant to CARE and partner’s work.
- Ask partners to share communication material (photos, videos) from the areas of implementation. Give the proper credit to them when sharing the materials internally and externally.
- Assist partners to develop profiles or communication materials as needed.
Monitoring & Evaluation
Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) help in understanding how the assistance and support that CARE and partners provide to disaster-affected communities. It is therefore a critical part of CARE’s Humanitarian Accountability Framework (HAF). CARE recognises that crises impact women, men, and vulnerable groups (children, persons with disability, elderly, indigenous peoples, persons of diverse gender identity and sexual orientation) differently. To ensure we do no harm and provide quality, gender-responsive and life-saving assistance, our MEAL systems with partners must reflect this basic gender in emergencies principle.
While monitoring aims to ensure that activities meet the project goals and funds are used in compliance with partner funding agreements, it is not meant to be an exercise in ‘policing’ partners. In fact, CARE should promote mutual monitoring of performance by CARE and partner staff. Instead, it is an opportunity for both to learn and improve. Partners often welcome this approach, and some even ask CARE to monitor more, to better understand their challenges.
Ways to Improve Mutual Monitoring and Evaluation with Partners
- Develop an M&E plan, including clear and simple formats at the start of the project to ensure that CARE and partner are aware of the M&E standards and roles of each other. Agree on key indicators, data tracking sheets and reporting requirements. Agree on modes of monitoring and level of engagement.
- Use simple and user-friendly tools. Focus on getting essential data only including sex, age and disability-disaggregated data. Complicated tools and heavy protocols are not suitable for emergencies. Overburdening the partner with paperwork and too many data to gather can cause delays in program implementation.
- Share data protection guidelines and mechanisms for launching formal complaints. These may differ per country or context, so it’s best to check what is most updated in your area.
- Provide M&E capacity strengthening activities for both CARE and partner staff.
- Periodically evaluate the performance of both CARE and partner(s) towards the achievement of intended outputs/outcomes and the respect of commitments in terms of partnership.
- Develop a feedback and accountability mechanism with partners that covers feedback from project participants, stakeholders, CARE and partner staff. Also, ask proactively for feedback and solutions to challenges. Partners often have great ideas on how to improve programming.
- If the context does not allow for local visits (e.g. Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia), use third-party monitoring or contract external consultants. Video live-streaming or social media can provide another solution to keep in touch with partners in remote areas.
- For remote monitoring, maximise the use of online communication platforms. Be strategic in using online media and make sure that the partner also has the same resources such as proper equipment and Internet connectivity. Also, be mindful of not draining partners with too many calls and online appointments.
Monitoring the Partnership
Monitoring the partnership itself is as important as monitoring program activities. If there are challenges in partnering together, this should be identified and addressed. If issues between the parties are not addressed adequately, this may become an obstacle for responding effectively during an emergency.
Continuous monitoring of the partnership relationship therefore is critical. CARE should be open to receiving feedback and complaints from partners and a systematic process needs to be in place to facilitate this and track performance. Some recommendations that could help to monitor and evaluate the partnership itself include:
- Make time during face-to-face program meetings with the partner to discuss the partner cooperation and ways to improve this.
- Appoint one focal person within your office (usually the partnership advisor or someone who is not the budget holder of the grant) to function as an “ombudsman” and who hears and investigates feedback and complaints in the interest of the partners.
- Conduct a partnership review/survey (during implementation and after close-out) to understand better and act upon feedback from the partners.
Strengthening CARE’s Accountability with Partners
Being accountable to our partners means that we have a shared commitment to achieving our goals together, ensuring each other’s safety and learning from our experiences and expertise. We acknowledge that both CARE and partners have responsibilities and accept these for our actions and their implications.
Factors that Contribute to Strong Accountability
- Communication, openness, and information-sharing: Good communication is at the heart of successful partnerships and should be taken very seriously. It can make or break the partnership. Communication challenges are often amplified in remote partnerships.
- Equity, respect and mutual accountability: Equity in partnerships is critical and involves being valued for what each party brings, enjoying equitable rights and responsibilities, having a say in decisions, benefiting equitably from the partnership, creating mutually-beneficial value. Equity is built by truly respecting the views, attributes, and contributions of all those involved.
- Shared capacity, organisational development & learning: Competitiveness can easily break a partnership. Agreeing to explore and build on the added value of collaboration and understanding the right of all partners to gain from their engagement in the partnership is an important starting point to build commitment to the joint initiative. An effective partnership should deliver mutual benefit.
- Shared vision, mission, and goals to achieve better impact:Partnerships are often marked by real (or perceived) anxieties about working with organisations that are different from us. A commitment to exploring each other’s motivation, values and underlying interests will build understanding and appreciation of the added value that comes from diversity, quelling fears that differences may lead to conflict or relationship breakdown.
- Existence of mutual monitoring and evaluation mechanisms for efficient feedback and participation:While it is common to assess the outcomes of the joint initiative, assessing the health of the partnership to deliver on these outcomes is as critical. This can also provide key information on the effectiveness of the partnership and its value-add, and generate lessons learned on good partnering.
Supporting Partners for Increased Voice with Donors, Humanitarian Stakeholders and Media
When requested by our partners, and when the context allows it, we should be willing to step up and stand side-by-side with partners to advocate and raise awareness of certain issues. Advocating with partners will help us position our stand and add value to continuing discussions on topics we care about.
CARE should analyse and use the possibilities to lobby with governments in the Global North (e.g. at EU level) using its international network within and outside of CARE, in coalition with peers and other civil society actors.
Also, during emergencies, many humanitarian cluster meetings take place to discuss identified humanitarian needs and gaps. This type of engagement is a good way for both CARE and partner to advocate, speak up and share.
CARE can be a convener of meeting spaces where we can bring our local partners, individual advocates or ambassadors we work with and volunteers. Sometimes, it is also more effective to hold informal spaces that are particularly important in contexts where formal spaces do not exist or where the existing spaces are unsafe, not inclusive to grassroots organisations (especially women’s rights organisations, as well as trade unions) or not efficient. Where spaces cannot be created locally, facilitating access to regional platforms can be an alternative. Our role is to
CARE can be a convener of meeting spaces where we can bring our local partners, individual advocates or ambassadors we work with and volunteers. Sometimes, it is also more effective to hold informal spaces that are particularly important in contexts where formal spaces do not exist or where the existing spaces are unsafe, not inclusive to grassroots organisations (especially women’s rights organisations, as well as trade unions) or not efficient. Where spaces cannot be created locally, facilitating access to regional platforms can be an alternative. Our role is to “enable effective and inclusive relations and negotiation between concerned actors”.
Advocating with Donors about Partners’ Role
As one of our global commitments to the Charter for Change, we emphasise the importance of local and national actors to humanitarian donors. We advocate to donors to make working through national actors part of their criteria for assessing framework partners and calls for project proposals, and to increase local actors’ direct access to funding. To support this advocacy, CARE needs to invest in strengthening evidence-based documentation and research showcasing the added value and role of local actors in humanitarian response.
Closing out a partner funding agreement is a phased process. Identify at the inception stage the key activities to ensure there will be a smooth close-out. Closing out a partner funding agreement is not the same as closing out the collaboration. If the cooperation was mutually satisfactory, the partnership can continue through a contingency agreement (non-project based), or by starting a new partner funding agreement for another project.
Ways to Effectively Close a Partner Funding Agreement with Partner
- At least 30 days prior to the end of the partner funding agreement, conduct a close-out meeting with the partner to plan close-out activities
- Verify all project activities have been completed
- Review and approve final financial and narrative reports in accordance with donor requirements
- Conduct partnership survey evaluation
- Invite partner to co-facilitate the After Action Review (AAR)
- Recognise and celebrate achievements of the project
- Send close-out letter to partner, project participants and involved stakeholders
- Transfer remaining funds/balance if owed to the partner for eligible costs
- Consider donating project assets to partner (refer to donor guidelines if permissible and procedures)
- Archive final records and project documents
- Consider new project with the same partner