The Local Coalition Accelerator: A Solution to Drive More Funding to Community Groups?
Conversations around racial justice continue to extend into the global development community, and as Street Business School CEO Devin Hibbard observed last summer, “frankly it’s about time.” For far too long, nearly all foreign development aid has gone to international organizations based in wealthy countries, rather than to local groups directly serving communities in the Global South.
“There is no getting around it,” Hibbard wrote, “the history of foreign development aid is a history of colonialism, and that legacy shapes the space to this day.” As these conversations heat up, a growing number of funders are pledging to correct this vast imbalance once and for all. For example, during a speech at Georgetown University in November, Administrator Samantha Power said the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) aimed to target 25 percent of its assistance to local partners.
Still, for those familiar with development aid, such pledges likely sound familiar. The international community has made similar commitments to local groups in the past, often with too little follow-through.
USAID, for example, previously announced a 30 percent local spending goal back in 2010, which failed to materialize (only about 6 percent of USAID funding went to local organizations last year). Meanwhile, in 2016 large donors and humanitarian organizations committed to target a quarter of their assistance to local organizations through an international deal known as the Grand Bargain, yet two years later only 0.4 percent of all humanitarian funding was going to local and national NGOs.
The International Response to the Coronavirus Offers Opportunity for Change
The coronavirus pandemic has provided an important entry-point for conversations to shift how funding normally flows and programming is typically executed.
More often than not, local organizations and community leaders were the first and only line of response for communities looking to cope with the effects of the pandemic. To their credit, an increasing number of donors recognize this and are actively seeking opportunities to connect the local actors responding to the crisis with the trillions in pledged COVID-19 support globally.
But the goings are still tough, primarily because the internal financing and grantmaking strategies of many large donors are not set up to engage with smaller, local organizations.
In short: The development community needs a new approach to ensure local leaders are at the center of the solutions employed in their communities. One of the most effective models to do this is through empowerment collectives.
For those who aren’t familiar, empowerment collectives are groups of individuals who join together to take action toward overcoming obstacles and attaining social change in their communities. Examples of such collectives have existed throughout history, including modern-day self help groups and village savings and loan associations (VSLAs), which bring community members together to solve shared problems. These models offer individual empowerment benefits such as higher self esteem, as well as the unique community benefits that come from neighbors banding together to improve quality of life in their own backyards.
Launched in 2020 by the Share Trust, the Local Coalition Accelerator, or LCA, builds on the concept of empowerment collectives to support coalitions of local and national organizations and position them to receive a greater share of development funding.
The Local Coalition Accelerator: A New Model for Channeling Funds to Local Organizations
The new platform looks to build coalitions of local actors who can effectively co-design and implement locally-owned solutions to address systemic, multi-sectoral problems within their own communities.
As Share Trust puts it: “The LCA aims to bridge the gap between bi-laterals, multi-laterals, philanthropy and local actors to fundamentally change the way that international assistance is designed and delivered.” It looks to give local and national organizations direct access to the bilateral and multilateral financing (about 95 percent of all development aid) that is currently channeled almost exclusively through U.N. or international NGO vehicles, which can have overheads of up to 30 percent. Additionally, the groups may utilize shared resources like steering committees and support staff that they would not be able to access individually, giving local actors higher credibility amongst the donor community.
Bringing local groups together into coalitions not only helps them respond more holistically to the challenges their communities face, but also positions them to receive funding as a bloc, rather than individually, which they can then decide how to allocate.
“It is more beneficial to put funds into local coalitions and local leaders versus putting the funds into international organizations that are probably not even on the ground,” says Evelyn Nsubuga Mwondha, co-country director of Street Business School in Uganda.
“We on the ground know what is happening. We see what is happening. We are in touch with the people who are most affected,” she explains. “Large organizations often end up using the money for big overheads, for big vehicles, big buildings, using staff who are not even from the community. They don’t know what is happening. They’re just visitors, and they just import stereotyped solutions.”
In Uganda, the Urban Local Coalition Accelerator Brings Local Leaders Together in the Wake of COVID-19
The Urban Local Coalition Accelerator (ULCA) is the first iteration of this work. The coalition includes 14 organizations operating in the Ugandan capital city of Kampala that came together to meet the acute needs communities were facing amidst the pandemic.
“The government established measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, which included strict lockdowns and restrictions on movement. As a result, there were high levels of unemployment and loss of livelihoods,” Mwondha explains. “We saw increased instances of teenage pregnancies and teenage marriages, children just started going to school a month ago after being home for two years, and there were also very high instances of gender-based violence in homes, at a level I’ve never seen. So communities were experiencing a lot of trauma, and the coalition came together to try and respond to these challenges as a team.”
Street Business School is among the locally-based groups participating in the ULCA, which together represent more than 2 million beneficiaries across Uganda, with expertise in crucial fields such as child protection, gender-based violence, education, health and livelihoods.
“Most importantly, it is a space for us local leaders to find solutions for our local problems,” Mwondha says of the coalition. “We speak the same language in terms of the challenges we are experiencing, so together we are able to find solutions and create wider outreach in a very short time.”
In one of its first moves, the coalition worked with Share Trust and GiveDirectly to co-design a COVID-19 emergency cash relief program for Kampalans in need. The result was a significant shift in the way GiveDirectly implements cash transfers in Uganda, as well as a greater focus on gender-based violence programming in direct response to community needs. Throughout 2021, the 14 local groups also worked together to help their neighbors pay for food, medicine and school fees and respond to other humanitarian needs that were unfolding in real time.
“I’ll give the example of teenage pregnancies,” Mwondha explains. “At Street Business School, our mission and our methodology is to deliver entrepreneurship training. So as Street Business School, there was no way I could help this young girl [who has become pregnant]. But in the coalition, there were organizations that were already dealing with child pregnancies or were already dealing with gender-based violence. So for us, by meeting together, they would give us solutions. They would help us know what to share with these girls and how to help if they ever come to our training.”
The coalition is now working on an emergency awareness program to encourage Ugandan children to return to school now that lockdowns have lifted, again with support from Share Trust.
The ultimate aim is for these local leaders to pilot and test this type of coordinated, collective response. After the first year, ULCA members took a survey asking whether they thought the venture was worthwhile and worth continuing. “All 14 members said yes,” Mwondha says.
What’s Next: Coming Together To Be Investment-Ready, While Driving Change in Local Communities
Serving communities better is of course a win in itself, but the first year of the coalition has also helped member organizations to rethink how they operate and how they can work together — which serves to make them more attractive to funders, Mwondha says.
“One of the things that has contributed to the success of the coalition is the level of transparency and the fact that each member organization had a voice to speak,” she explains. “We came in as independent organizations, so each member was free to voice out their concerns and their areas of interest, and it was well accepted in the membership. This is very important, especially for growing coalitions and growing organizations: If we want to attract more funding and more support, we have to promote this kind of transparency, integrity and openness.”
For her part, Mwondha doesn’t see the Uganda coalition slowing down any time soon, and they expect to formalize as a legal entity in 2022. “The coalition is growing strong — I can see us gaining momentum,” she says. “I’m excited that I have a platform where I can share with local leaders, and if there are any challenges, I can ask, ‘How do you do this in your organization?’ We learn together, laugh together and grow together.”