The international development industry is in the midst of a rapid transformation. Once dominated by international NGOs (INGOs), bi-lateral foreign assistance donors and Global North based multilateral agencies, there are now a range of new actors on the scene. According to Raj Kumar, editor-in-chief of Devex, these new actors– billionaire philanthropists, ‘tech disrupters’ and social entrepreneurs –are revolutionizing the way development and humanitarian aid is delivered, with a focus on “client” input and results.
Many in the industry have long recognized the need to be innovative, to try new things, and, yes, even risk failure. More recently, the need to drive forward new, more nimble and innovative business models became clear with previously thriving INGOs closing their doors.
In 2016, ICRW President Sarah Degnan Kambou came together with Carrie Hessler-Radelet, CEO of Project Concern International (PCI), to discuss the profound changes occurring in the sector and the need for organizations to more effectively leverage their synergies to accelerate progress on gender equity. In response, ICRW and PCI built an alliance to leverage complementary service lines and skills, while remaining independent entities. By bringing together ICRW’s research expertise and focus on gender with PCI’s deep community connections and dynamic implementing platforms, the partnership is geared towards taking proven interventions to scale – doing more and doing better to enhance the health, economic prospects, and well-being of communities worldwide.
Some of the initial work coming out of this partnership is focused on supporting girls as they transition from school to work. Combining PCI’s community-based programming and ICRW’s research and evidence-based solutions through this School-to-Work Transition initiative, we will bring together key stakeholders from across the social ecosystem to improve health, education, employability, and well-being in one integrated program – keeping girls in school, helping delay marriage and pregnancy and teaching key skills, which will support girls in realizing their full potential.
In India, we have seen how corporations are also adapting their business models to advance gender equity, while also enhancing their bottom line. For example, the Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement (P.A.C.E.) program— a GAP factory-based education program that ICRW helped to develop – has been providing life skills training to women factory workers for over a decade. These life skills include training in financial literacy and problem-solving, with a goal of supporting these women to grow into factory management and supervisory roles, and to gain confidence and respect in their personal lives.
Anant Ahuja, head of organizational development at Shahi Exports, the first organization to integrate the P.A.C.E. program into its factories, notes that since beginning in 2007, Shahi has trained more than 31,000 women and anticipates that their factories will be 100 percent women-run by 2024. And the benefits have created a ripple effect; the program at Shahi has grown to include women and girls throughout the surrounding communities and leaders in other industries are looking to Shahi to help them implement similar programs.
The P.A.C.E. program is a unique partnership model that brings together research, corporations and community members to facilitate growth opportunities for women working in factories. The program also integrates best practices within business plans that nurture that growth. Little did we know in 2007 that this program was ahead of its time and has now provided key insights into how organizations can more effectively leverage partnerships to adapt and excel, in an almost natural response to the now global shift in international and business development practices.
Colleagues across the NGO, philanthropy and corporate sectors are, to paraphrase Raj Kumar, all looking at “how to do good better.” This requires us to innovate and work more efficiently but also to be more inclusive and to ensure that new voices are heard in the international development conversation – and then to face the rising challenges that lie ahead together.