USAID/Nepal Hitting the Road for Localization
Pramila Dongol is an Acquisition and Assistance Specialist at USAID/Nepal. Since starting with the Mission in October of 2013, Dongol has been providing acquisition and assistance (A&A) guidance and support on procurement and contracting procedures, as well as grants management to USAID technical offices and implementing partners, supporting compliance with A&A rules and regulations. She is also the lead A&A specialist supporting the Local Works program.
When USAID/Nepal’s Mission Director, Sepideh Keyvanshad, heard about the Localization initiative announced by Administrator Power in November 2021 to direct a quarter of USAID funding to local partners, she believed that USAID/Nepal could increase it to 40 percent. What started as an Agency-wide goal for shifting power to local actors and strengthening the capacity of local organizations became a critical focus for the team in Nepal.
In striving to place 40 percent of USAID/Nepal’s funding in the hands of local partner organizations, the Mission needed to come up with creative, new ideas to connect with these local organizations. Many local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and private sector entities in Nepal face challenges being competitive for USAID-funded awards, which traditionally go to larger international NGOs. For example, English is not normally a first language for many partners and might even be their third or fourth language, so it can be difficult to fully adhere to solicitation requirements and interact in learning sessions presented by USAID staff in English.
To confront some of these challenges, I worked with my team, USAID/Nepal’s Office of Acquisition and Assistance (OAA) staff, to launch a series of roadshows. The roadshow program served as a platform for USAID to connect with local organizations to answer questions and create relationships. The Mission launched this program in May 2023, and we have coordinated four roadshows throughout the country: one in Dhangadi (Sudurpaschim Province), one in Mugu (Karnali Province), one in Surkhet (Karnali Province), and one in Biratnagar (Koshi Province). Over the course of these programs, we have had more than 205 participants attend from about 100 different organizations. At the moment, we have two more roadshows planned.
Jumping in with a great idea and not much time to prepare, our Nepal OAA team worked to incorporate key topics to assist local partners to join these sessions. The sessions contained information about USAID technical areas, award mechanisms, prime vs. subpartners, co-creation and participatory processes, grants and contract processes, funding opportunities, entity registration requirements, and a question-and-answer session. These topics helped hit our team’s priorities of sharing information about funding opportunities and providing guidance to local organizations on how to access, apply, and learn about the requirements to engage with USAID.
With an agenda ready and the steps falling into place, our team had to figure out how to get local partners to attend the roadshows. The Director of Communication (DOC) team developed the Work with USAID Strategic Communications Plan to promote these events on multiple platforms and venues. USAID/Nepal DOCs leveraged social media outreach on Facebook and Twitter, so we were able to promote the events through those channels, reaching roughly 1.4 million people. But for some organizations, their teams may not have easy access to social media, so our team creatively diversified our advertisements by collaborating with American Corner and the NGO federation of Nepal to spread the word by distributing invitations and flyers with the event’s information.
In many ways, these roadshows were created because USAID recognized the importance of engaging more deeply with the local community, and we were able to see gaps in partner organizations understanding who USAID is and how they can work with us. Our team got to see how these local organizations were unaware of USAID and its initiatives. Furthermore, the local organizations who do know about USAID didn’t want to take a step to collaborate because their impressions of USAID requirements were daunting.
Besides using the roadshows to disseminate information about USAID and its priorities, these events started to create deeper levels of trust between local partners and the Agency. We were able to connect with PHASE Nepal, which is one of USAID’s current local partners. Rudra Neupane, from PHASE Nepal, shared firsthand experience about being a USAID grant recipient, and he confronted the stereotype that USAID did not actually give funding to local partners. He shared how his organization found the opportunity to work with USAID, how they completed the steps in the application process, and how they used co-creation to help them apply.
Our team was also able to address areas that created mistrust for partners like concerns from organizations that thought USAID funding had a political influence impacting award decisions. In reality, We explained that there was a review board for applications, negotiations with applicants, and utilization of co-creation when discussing funding opportunities. Our ability to address partner organizations’ concerns with poise while breaking down complex information and doing all of this in Nepali was another primary way that our team was able to build trust. So by bridging this knowledge gap and creating critical trust through the roadshows, our Mission has already seen valuable networking and collaboration among local NGOs, organizations engaging in informative conversations with USAID staff, and an increase in responses to Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and Notice of Funding Opportunities (NOFOs).
Although our team and local partner organizations have found these roadshows incredibly impactful, we are still identifying improvements. Our team is still striving to lower barriers for local partners who cannot attend in-person by using social media livestreams to broadcast these events. Also, an additional benefit that has room for growth is USAID/Nepal’s facilitation of networking and collaboration among participants at roadshow events. This can continue to create a more informed and connected group of NGOs with global development initiatives.
These roadshows have been one way that our USAID/Nepal A&A team has pushed for an expansion of our localization efforts. Our team is convinced that the USAID roadshow events are an effective mechanism for engaging with local stakeholders and promoting dialogue; also, they are a platform to enhance partners’ understanding of USAID's objectives and provide them with opportunities in the development efforts. Not only is this a creative tool for other USAID Missions to replicate, but it helps incentivize partners to want to connect with USAID and its missions. These events have given local partners a new sense of hope about the possibility of working with USAID, because they now have deeper trust and a mutual understanding of USAID/Nepal’s procurement and award process.
You can check out more information on USAID's localization efforts, by visiting the Agency's localization page. Also, take tips from Nepal’s Facebook and Twitter channels as a mechanism for reaching local partners.
Local partners, you can get involved with your country’s Mission by following their social media handles, which you can look up on their Mission’s USAID Homepage. Also, be sure to check out the WorkwithUSAID.org events page for more opportunities to connect with USAID.