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Local partnerships, global impact

Janet Cousens, Programs & Policy Director at Act for Peace, argues that building local partnerships can often be the most effective way of achieving global change, particularly for communities affected by conflict.

Janet Cousens works with local partners to achieve long lasting solutions for communities. Richard Wainwright/Act for Peace Image Frame

In September 2000, world leaders came together to commit their nations to reduce extreme poverty with a series of targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest. Since then, significant progress has been made in health and education, and the number of people living in extreme poverty has halved.

So what has been driving this progress, how do global initiatives like the MDGs get implemented? Ultimately, of course, poverty reduction needs to occur within poor communities themselves. Wells need to be dug, health workers trained, girls sent to school, livelihoods improved. Global and regional agreements, national governments and institutions, NGOs, community organisations and, most importantly, poor people themselves have all played a vital role in this progress.

However, these improvements have not been felt by everyone. As other poor countries have developed, lifting people out of poverty, many conflict-affected countries have been left behind. In 2005, around 20% of the world’s poor lived in fragile states. By 2015, that number is expected to be over 50%. That’s why Act for Peace focuses on supporting survivors of conflict and disaster – put simply, they are the people that need our help the most.

Conflict not only kills directly, it also forces people from their land so they can’t harvest their crops (as we are tragically seeing now with the impending famine in South Sudan). It destroys businesses, schools, hospitals. It pushes people into vulnerable situations, and it often means that government or other social safety nets are no longer there to support people. So what can be done to assist people, when their own governments can’t or won’t?

In these type of situations, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have an even bigger role to play, providing humanitarian relief and helping people to rebuild their lives. And it’s Act for Peace’s belief that working in partnership with local organisations is the most effective way for NGOs to create change within these conflict-affected communities.

Let me explain what local partners are, and what working in partnership with them means.

Act for Peace’s local partners are mainly organisations that are set up, staffed and run by people who come from the communities in which they operate. They speak the language, they understand the culture, and they know the people of influence in the area. They have a long-term commitment to the local people, because they are the local people.

Many of our local partners are Councils of Churches, who are very well placed to assist people when other institutions fail them. Churches have strong networks, meaning they can mobilise volunteers and reach people quickly when a crisis occurs. They are also trusted leaders, are motivated by faith, and able to communicate important messages and promote peace and reconciliation.

Compared to foreign aid workers, who may only work in an area for a few months or years, local partners are often better able to win the trust of the community and achieve a faster or more effective impact. Crucially, programs run by local partners are often more sustainable, being owned by the communities themselves and less likely to come to a halt once aid workers leave.

At Act for Peace, our approach to partnership is just that, a genuine two-way relationship. Rather than coming with an agenda, we trust the local organisations we work with to identify the priority needs of the communities they serve, and to deliver programs in a way that takes account of local sensitivities.

At Act for Peace, our approach to partnership is just that, a genuine two-way relationship. Rather than coming with an agenda, we trust the local organisations we work with to identify the priority needs of the communities they serve, and to deliver programs in a way that takes account of local sensitivities. In return, we provide funding and what we call capacity-building, which is essentially sharing best practice from across the world in how to design and implement programs that make a real impact.

By working with partners, we ensure that our programs are sensitive to the local context, but there are some fundamental principles that all our partners adhere to and that we will never compromise on. These include working with the most vulnerable without discrimination, regardless of race, religion, gender or disability; never using humanitarian aid to pursue a particular political or religious partisan standpoint; and always upholding the highest standards of integrity, professionalism and accountability.

We believe that the most effective and sustainable change occurs when it is owned and driven by the affected communities themselves. As an ecumenical organisation, we also know that by working together we are stronger than the sum of our parts. That’s why we are a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of 144 grass-roots organisations working to confront injustice in 130 countries. Together we share resources, best practice, and work together to influence change at the global level.

We believe that this combination of local empowerment and global coordination is one of the most effective ways to achieve change, especially for survivors of conflict who are being left behind as more peaceful countries develop.

Our Partnership Approach

When disaster hits you work together with local communities to respond fast.

When Typhoon Haiyan struck in November, our local partner the National Council of Churches in the Philippines was able to use its existing network to rapidly mobilise volunteers and reach thousands of people quickly with emergency supplies.

Where we work

More ways to take action

Remember someone in need through the Christmas Bowl.

By giving a monthly gift, you can help bring safety, justice and dignity to people around the world who have fled from conflict and natural disasters.

Give a gift that will make a lasting difference.