Highlights from USAID’s Climate Strategy Focus Groups with Partners

Array of solar panels A solar farm owned by Sao Mai Group in Dong Thap province. Dong Thap province, Vietnam. October 13, 2017. (Photo credit: Phương Nguyễn/USAID)

Greg Shanahan is Climate Lead, Senior Analyst, and Internal Consultant in USAID's Bureau for Management.

When USAID published its ambitious Climate Strategy on Earth Day 2022, it did so knowing that partnerships would be critical to achieving the Strategy objectives, including the Special Objective of Doing Our Part to strengthen operations and approaches to programming to address climate change and further climate justice within USAID and our partner organizations. 

This is why, in October and November 2022, USAID’s Bureau for Management facilitated focus groups with several implementing partner organizations. Our specific goals were to:

  • Socialize the Special Objective;
  • Learn about partner organizations’ current and planned sustainability and diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) initiatives;
  • Identify and understand challenges and barriers partner organizations are facing to implementing sustainability and DEIA initiatives;
  • Inform actions USAID could take to better engage with, incentivize, and support partner organizations to implement the Special Objective; and
  • Create a space for partners to share and exchange ideas and information.

So, after more than nine hours of focus group conversations, what did we find? Here are the highlights from our report, “External Dialogues: Summary of Climate Strategy Special Objective Focus Groups with USAID Implementing Partners,” which is publicly available on USAID’s website.

  • USAID’s partners were aware of the Special Objective, care deeply about its tenets, and have already been implementing initiatives that align with it—including a variety of efforts to reduce operational greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, such as by reducing business travel and commuting, prioritizing local and in-country procurement, and reducing energy consumption.
  • Partners emphasized that reducing their organizations’ carbon footprints and strengthening DEIA are not only social imperatives, but critical for their business bottom lines because they increase profitability, enhance recruiting and retention, and have a variety of other benefits.
  • Partners shared that they are at various stages of maturity in reducing their carbon footprints and strengthening DEIA. In general, smaller partner organizations expressed more resource constraints related to implementing the Special Objective than larger organizations.
  • Partners shared that they valued the opportunity to share about their ongoing efforts, challenges, and how USAID could help, as well as to learn from each other.
  • Partners identified existing venues in which they can continue to have similar conversations with one another, including through InterAction’s Environmental Sustainability Working Group and the Sustainability Managers Roundtable, which the World Resources Institute (WRI), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) facilitate.
  • Through the procurement process, partners shared that they would like USAID to tell them what USAID wants them to do related to the Special Objective while implementing USAID awards.
  • Throughout the sustainability-oriented focus groups, participants recommended that USAID coordinate with other donor organizations to coalesce around greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions tracking and reporting standards globally and that USAID provide its partners with guidance on tracking, reporting, and reducing GHG emissions.

With respect to these last two highlights, it is important to note that USAID follows the U.S. Government (USG)-wide Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). The USG is currently following established rulemaking processes to inform and solicit feedback from the public about considering establishing USG-wide contract requirements for reducing, measuring, and tracking GHG emissions. USAID appreciates its partners’ recommendations and encourages its partners to follow the relevant FAR cases and use the opportunity for public comments to express their suggestions and concerns. For example, partners may be interested in Case 2021-015, Disclosure of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Climate-Related Financial Risk, for which the public comment period closed on February 13, 2023, and Case 2021-016, Minimizing the Risk of Climate Change in Federal Acquisitions, for which the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council is drafting a proposed rule and will solicit public comments.

In April 2023, USAID published its report on USAID.gov, shared it with partners through the USAID Industry Liaison and with other federal agencies, including the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the White House Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), the Department of State (State), and the General Services Administration (GSA)

USAID encourages its workforce and partners to read the full report to learn more, including to see the questions USAID asked and summaries of partners’ answers.

USAID is using its findings and focus group participants’ recommendations to inform how the Agency is approaching implementing the Special Objective. For example:

  • While USAID monitors the progress of the ongoing FAR rulemakings, USAID is focusing on integrating climate change considerations into specific procurements during the design and solicitation phase.
  • USAID is engaging in the Sustainability Managers Roundtable as a way of continuing to participate in sustainability conversations with partners and peers in the nonprofit, government, public international organization, and commercial sectors.
  • USAID is using the findings and recommendations in interagency sustainability conversations.
  • USAID’s Bureau for Management submitted partners’ recommendation that “USAID should review how to optimally incorporate its workforce DEIA and Localization goals into its award process to avoid key personnel requirements that are unnecessarily rigid and stringent, and to open opportunities for candidates from underrepresented communities,” to USAID’s Industry Liaison for USAID to consider as part of its Acquisition & Assistance (A&A) Strategy Implementation Plan. USAID’s A&A Strategy Implementation Plan is open for feedback. Please email any feedback to: IndustryLiaison@usaid.gov

USAID appreciates its partners sharing their expertise, insights, and time to help make this effort successful. We look forward to continuing to collaborate to implement the Special Objective and USAID’s broader Climate Strategy during this decisive decade for climate action.

Find tools and resources to advance your organization's climate sustainability in the WorkwithUSAID.org Resource Library.

Share this article with your network!