Partnerships in peacebuilding: 9 takeaways from working with grassroots groups


Rosemary Forest


As calls to include local voices grow, here’s what we learned

We’re hearing more and more from aid agencies and international NGOs about supporting ‘locals’ and ‘locally led’ approaches. It makes sense, because local people know the problems in their communities best. But what does it mean exactly, and how can we best provide that support?

Here’s what we at Peace Direct learned from working with local peacebuilding groups for 15 years:

1. Shift the power. Local peacebuilders in various countries tell us all the time how power imbalances often arise with international partners and end up hampering their efforts. International partners need to recognise these inherent power imbalances and address how they affect the nature and success of partnerships.

2. Confront prejudices. International partners must confront their own prejudices in order to develop meaningful partnerships.Local peacebuilders are often perceived as particularly susceptible to violence and corruption. This prejudice results in international partners viewing local partners as actors that need to be carefully managed and perpetuates the idea that peace can and should be externally driven.

3. Locals must be in charge. Local organisations should set the strategic direction of peacebuilding programmes – with international partners playing a supportive, accompaniment role and acting as a critical friend. Peace Direct challenges the dominant assumptions about the roles of outsiders and insiders – particularly the belief that local peacebuilders are ‘lacking’ in knowledge or skills, and that international peacebuilders fill this gap.

4. Accountability – on both sides. The onus of accountability should not be placed only on local organisations, reporting upwards solely on donor requirements. Rather, international and local organisations should be mutually accountable and transparent. Peace Direct, for example, reports to all its partners quarterly, sharing key updates, publications, staff changes and highlighting the impact of different partners on a rotating basis.

5. Go the distance. The most effective peacebuilding partnerships represent long-term relationships, which do not begin and end with a specific project.Peace Direct has three-year partnership agreements with most of its partners. The agreements provide a framework for a relationship that is not limited to a specifically funded project, for example, to support partners to raise their own funds or raise awareness where relevant.

6. Unrestricted funds. Funding is increasingly short-term and project-based. But the sustainability of local partners depends on more than project costs. International partners should recognise that local partners need, and are entitled to, the same forms of core support and unrestricted funding they seek.This type of funding ensures that partners can continue to pay staff and cover essential costs during crises.

7. Promote flexibility. Local organisations’ ability to adapt financially and programmatically to rapidly changing contexts or risks is crucial for achieving impact and keeping local actors safe. Peace Direct, for example, has an emergency fund to provide flexible and unrestricted financing to enable partners to respond to life-threatening situations.

8. Resources are about more than money. Non-financial resources such as office space or training opportunities allow partners to remain resilient against shocks, increase their skill set and gain autonomy over their work. This resilience enables our partners to engage in long-term planning, be more effective in their work, and have greater ownership of the peacebuilding process. For example, we found that local organisations maximising the use of land is particularly prevalent in Uganda and has advantages such as saving on rent or providing the opportunity for organisations to generate further revenue through sub-leases.

9. Make a graceful exit. How a programme, project or partnership ends is an important aspect of partnership transitions to locally led peacebuilding. Successful exits require collaborative planning from the start of a partnership, and can save a lot of heartache in the end.

Rosemary Forest is Senior Advocacy Officer at Peace Direct

Tagged in: Funding practice

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