BlogGlobal Advocacy

Sep 29 2011

A Commitment for Change: Partnering with Governments to Scale What Works

Too often at the Clinton Global Initiative we hear how companies and NGOs are partnering to fix a problem.

That is great. But it is missing the crucial third strand of the braid — governments.

Governments typically are in a position to make the amazing commitments that CGI midwifes durable, sustainable, and impactful.

Consider two of our guiding principles… points that were also recently called out by Acumen Fund:

  • We won’t succeed in the long term without cultivating local leaders.
  • While governments rarely invent solutions, they can scale what works.

This is the secret to our success — how Landesa, a small organization with 100 staff world-wide has been able to impact 100 million families in 45 countries around the world.

It is a secret I’m eager to share.

Thanks to the support of our generous funders, including Omidyar Network, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Nike Foundation, and Google, we work in partnership with governments who are long on ambition but often short on technical know-how. We have the potential to partner on laws, policies, and programs that can affect millions of lives at the stroke of a pen.

Unfortunately, many international development organizations are forced to think of local and national governments in the developing world as part of the problem and not also the solution. Our model is different: it’s built on a dynamic collaboration with public sector partners who are uniquely able to implement structural, sustainable change.

And as we partner with government leaders, extend our land tenure expertise, and help develop pilot programs to assist them in accelerating land rights to their citizens, our government partners are the key actors and owners of this land rights work.

Our micro-plot ownership initiative (partnering with governments in India to develop laws, policies and programs to provide tennis court-sized plots of land to the landless rural poor) is a good example of the sort of impact CGI aims to create. This was our first commitment when we arrived at CGI in 2007.

The success of this program has been widely noted by Indian officials who are as eager and impatient for anti-poverty tools as the rural poor are for a chance to improve their lives.

And so, not surprisingly, the program has spread rapidly from district to district, then to neighboring states, and is now part of the Government of India’s National Five-Year Plan. From West Bengal to Odisha and Bihar, India’s state governments are busy developing and implementing, with our assistance, their own micro-plot programs and already hundreds of thousands of families have received land. Most of that land is titled in the name of women.

Landesa’s work in Odisha, India is another example of the benefits of partnership. Local officials recommended that we partner to start a special land rights facilitation center for women to deal with the special challenges women face in exercising their right to own land. It is now open, and women (many of them widows thrown off their land) are coming to the center asking for help.

Landesa’s work in Kenya, is another example of the unique benefits of partnering with local institutions. Our partnership includes the Government of Kenya, USAID, and local and traditional leaders. Together, we are piloting a model for improving women’s access to traditional justice.

It is based on discussions with elders in which they shared that they and their peers often didn’t have access to the details of the new constitution, which offers new protections for women. Along with local partners, we’ve created a program that will help bridge that knowledge gap, ensuring that Kenya’s traditional elders become agents of change for rural women.

These government officials — both high and low ranking, from India to China and Liberia to Kenya, who are dedicating themselves and their limited resources to helping their poorest citizens climb out of poverty — deserve all the credit for the lives changed.

Working with governments isn’t easy.

But it makes us wiser, our commitments smarter and scaled, and our impact durable for generations.

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