4.1 Partner Selection
A partner selection process should be objective, transparent and fair. The main reasons for having a proper selection process in place are to:
- Identify the best matching partner and avoid unsuitable partners
- Getting to know potential partners and understand strengths and weaknesses
- Identify potential financial, reputational or security risks for CARE
- Ensure all potential partners have a fair chance and the process is transparent
- Comply with donor and CO rules for procurement or selection of sub-grantees.
It is essential to consider donor rules on partner selection and contracting. These should be stated in donor agreements and guidelines-the contract manager or member representative can advise. They can also help to contact the donor for confirmation-often a good idea, as it can help to clarify how flexible rules are. Also seek approval from donors on plans to partner, as not all donors will approve this.
Most COs have sub-granting procedures in place. The selection process during an emergency should always be in line with these procedures as well as with donor regulations. Where possible, these procedures should be simplified and relaxed during an emergency in order to save time.
Partners are usually selected through a competitive bidding process. Occasionally however, they might be appointed (sole-sourced) if there is a good justification to do so. The checklist below lists the standard steps in the selection process.
Selection process Checklist
- Develop eligibility criteria
- Publish a “call for partners”, or approach potential partners directly and invite them to apply
- Short-list applicants by scoring against eligibility criteria
- Visit potential partners and do a quick-organizational capacity assessment
- Conduct reference checks
- Pre-select best partner(s)
- Conduct due diligence assessment (to establish risk rating); only with pre-selected partners
- Conduct Bridger check
- Convene selection committee and make final decision
- Document selection process and justify decisions
It is important to know what you are looking for in a partner. Besides, scoring partners against eligibility criteria will increase the objectivity of the selection process. Eligibility criteria may vary depending on the context and specific situation of your response. The following criteria are often considered:
- Proven track record in emergencies: partner has experience working in emergencies
- Proven track record in core sectors: partner has expertise in CARE’s core sectors (sectors of your response strategy)
- Geographical coverage: partner has presence in CARE’s target areas
- Institutional capacity: partner has adequate policies, procedures and systems in place to support the work of the organisation
- Finance & compliance: partner has adequate control mechanisms in place to ensure sound financial management and minimise financial risks
- Scalability: the partner has a balanced portfolio size; it has the ability to absorb more funding in a short time but at the same time is not being overfunded by donors
- Reputation: partner has a good reputation and is well accepted in the communities and areas of operation
- Relations with authorities: partner is seen as a legitimate party – and has good relations with the authorities
- Compatible values & principles: partner has compatible beliefs, values and principles to CARE
- Humanitarian principles: partner is neutral, independent and impartial and is guided by the humanitarian principles
- Partner diversity: the group of CARE’s partners should be a cross section of society, reflecting ethnic as well as possible partisan affiliations
Good practise would be to agree upon criteria prior to publishing a call for partners. The eligibility criteria should be documented and agreed upon by the selection committee.
The choice of new partners should usually be confirmed by assessment of suitability, and programmatic, operational and financial capacity. The process also offers an opportunity to discuss expectations and to identify areas where assistance might be useful.
Usually, a short visit (2-3 hours) to a partner is sufficient. Filling out a capacity assessment questionnaire as well as direct observation should be enough to give you a first impression. Assessments can be time consuming so be sure to keep it short. The size of the grant, duration of the program as well as the fact if the partner is known to you, will all determine the length and depth of the capacity assessment.
As an organization whereby gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is at the center of our work, having gender sensitive partnerships is a priority for CARE. As part of our assessment of partners for value addition, effort should be made to determine the following:
- Does the partner have experience implementing gender sensitive programs?
- Can we work with our partners to build their capacity, or learn from them, in gender sensitive programming?
- Do CARE staff and partners have the attitudes, knowledge and skills they need to interact with marginalized groups such as women?
- Do CARE and partner staff reflects a balanced ratio of male and female staff, including at senior levels?
Key issues to assess
• Legal status, governance, office locations
• Staffing and management structure
• Capacity to programme: experience, expertise, and size and quality of programmes
• Procedures and staff capacity to manage finances, procurement and logistics
• Amount of funds normally handled and quality of previous reports
• Credibility and reliability-‘reference check’.
Methods and sources
• Explain clearly the purpose of the assessment, to avoid suspicion.
• Interview various partner staff (including program and finance staff).
• Check background documents, financial statements and audit reports.
• Visit project sites and talk to beneficiaries if possible.
• Consult other stakeholders-previous donor, government and local stakeholders.
• Consult INGO colleagues. Do they know of the partner? Do they intend to work with them too? Coordinate to avoid overloading local agencies. Remember, local agencies are sometimes unrealistic about commitments.
The annexes below can serve as a guideline and inspiration to develop your own tool. Your assessment tool should be adjusted to fit your specific context and operations.
Assessments should also consider ‘due diligence’ issues that might make an agency ineligible as a partner. While the context can call for heightened awareness, it is often possible to get enough sense on these from normal inquiries. Concerns can include:
- political affiliation or involvement of the agency and its key officers
- corruption, perhaps indicated by bad bookkeeping, audits or past donors
- nepotism, where key staff have close family links to CARE employees, or where nepotistic hiring clearly compromises the agency’s integrity
- partiality to beneficiaries on grounds such as ethnicity, religion or clan politics
- abuse of power in the field, including for money or sex
- unsuitable mission-for example, a mission to spread religion can be an issue
- links to warring factions or insurgent movements
- links to terrorism-a big issue for some governments and CARE Members.
In recent years, many governments have begun to demand more efforts to ensure that funds are not channelled to terrorism-among them Australia, the United States, Canada and the European Union. The focus is often on financial transparency. But demands can extend to certification, and staff and sub-contractor vetting-including against terrorist watch lists. Country Offices should check requirements with Lead Members and funding offices.
Check with your Lead member and relevant donors if there is any requirements related to due diligence or terrorism legislation. Standard procedure for CUSA offices is to conduct a “ Bridger check”. The bridger check will conduct due diligence on fraud, anti-money laundering, foreign corruption and terrorist financing. CUSA offices also often uses a due diligence tool, which is focused on assessing the financial risks of working with a potential partner.
While the capacity assessment is focusing on existing capacities, due diligence is focusing on establishing a risk rating. Due diligence (or risk) assessments should only be conducted to pre-selected partners.
Decisions around selection of partners are usually made by a selection committee (partnership committee or Decision Making Committee), which is overseeing transparency and fairness of the selection process, and ultimately has approval authority. The aim of this committee is to objectively review and verify the partner identification and selection process, as well as to address critical challenges related to the partnership over the course of project implementation. Typically, such a committee is chaired by the ACD, and includes relevant program, finance as well as safety & security staff.