The Path to Prime Partnership: Insights from a Local Partner

Medical staff at local organization pose for a photo between two USAID banners.PASMO completes a full sensitization process for labs, identifying them as stigma and discrimination-free zones. In the photo, we see trained and sensitized private laboratory staff in Guatemala.

Susana Lungo’s face lit up with pride as she spoke about her organization’s successful path to USAID partnership as a local prime. Lungo is the Regional Executive Director of the Pan American Social Marketing Organization (PASMO), a Guatemalan organization that recently broke off from PSI, a large international nongovernmental organization, to become established as its own local entity. 

“To be local means a lot to the staff,” said Lungo. “That sense of pride that we are the owners, we are responsible for the work, and the ones that are making the decisions. Having a direct relationship with USAID means a great deal for PASMO’s path forward.”

Having worked on HIV issues in the Latin America and Caribbean region for over 25 years as part of PSI, PASMO had steadily built its capacity to compete for USAID funding as a prime. Their time came in 2020 when USAID released a Request for Application (RFA) with eligibility criteria that limited the opportunity only to local entities. In September of that year, PASMO won the award from USAID to provide HIV services in five countries in the region: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. PASMO works on identification and diagnosis to help people know their status, and it provides linkages to care for those who test positive for HIV. The organization’s approach is unique as it combines in-person field activities with online digital outreach to effect social behavior change and has created unique and important alliances with the private sector for the provision of HIV combination prevention services. 

At USAID’s recent 4th Annual Global Health Local Partners Conference this November, I had the opportunity to sit down with Lungo and her colleague Dr. José Carlos Quiñónez, Strategic Alliances and Special Projects Regional Manager, to learn more about PASMO’s journey. During our discussion, Lungo and Quiñónez shared information about resources that helped PASMO on its path to partnership, challenges they faced along the way, and tips for new local entities interested in pursuing USAID funding.

What helped?

The USAID Learning Lab website proved to be a helpful resource for PASMO. The platform houses a robust set of information, including details about the USAID program cycle, the partnership process, theories of change, monitoring and evaluation, and most importantly, examples and stories from other partners.

Having the opportunity to connect with others in the international development community has also been vital to PASMO’s success. PASMO participated in communities of practice in which members shared best practices and ideas on organizational capacity development. The members have shared experiences and have stayed connected through WhatsApp groups and other channels. “Being connected has been really helpful,” stated Lungo.

Additionally, regular USAID meetings such as the Annual Global Health Local Partners Conference have given PASMO a more powerful voice. “Being here for the first time as locals, in this meeting, is something that our team really appreciates,” said Quiñónez. 

PASMO’s Jose Carlos and Susana attend USAID’s 4th Annual Global Local Partners meeting. PASMO presented on two panels and provided marketing materials about their local action to provide stigma-free HIV services.

What were the challenges?

A key challenge for PASMO was putting a robust human resources structure in place with the capability and budget to compete with international organizations. International organizations have the ability to make better offers with higher salaries to local staff. Additionally, Lungo noted that, from the overall award money granted, “there is no specific budget designated for human resources.” This makes it more difficult for local organizations to have the ability to properly train and retain their key personnel.

Although partnership can take significant effort and can be challenging at times, Lungo reiterated that it is worthwhile and that, once an organization understands the process, things get easier. Lungo framed the benefits by referencing the big picture: “It’s good for our countries [for local partners to develop this capacity],” as the U.S. Government support will one day decrease and eventually stop. She emphasized that it’s important for local organizations to take on ownership of the work in their own countries.

Any tips for other potential local partners?

Lungo stressed the importance of communication in a partnership’s success, stating, “communication is key.” She said that it is critical to have a good working relationship with USAID staff at the in-country Mission. “This is a win-win relationship,” Lungo added. She stressed that if the local partner succeeds, USAID succeeds, so partners should be sure to connect with Agency staff at every step along the way. 

Thanks to this proactive approach toward communication and PASMO’s persistence in advancing its capacity, the organization is seeing results across the region and is proud to be a USAID prime partner. In fact, in a sign of PASMO’s new trajectory, its former parent organization, PSI, is now serving as a sub-partner, supporting PASMO’s prime contract. The organization has come a long way, and with the commitment and passion shown by Lungo, Quiñónez, and the rest of the organization's staff, it aims to expand its development impact in the region. 

Interested in becoming a USAID partner? Check out our Pre-Engagement Assessment to evaluate your organizational capacity and learn if your entity is ready to compete for USAID funding.

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