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Procurement Reform at USAID: Engaging Religious Actors through Local Capacity Development

Ari Alexander, the Deputy Director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at USAID, describes a training for Local Capacity Development Teams on engaging religious actors and communities.

Though a seemingly lackluster topic in title, on Wednesday, November 10, a training proved that Procurement Reform at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is anything but.  This Monday marked the kick-off of a two-week training for our Local Capacity Development Teams.   These teams are composed of various USAID mission staff to lead the effort in implementing capacity reform on the ground.    They are here to kick-off the pilot program as part of “USAID Forward”, the Agency’s change management agenda.

Procurement reform is one of seven priority areas in the USAID Forward agenda, and a recommendation from President Obama’s Faith/Neighborhood Advisory Council.  It is intended to make it easier for non-governmental organizations to do business with USAID by increasing competition, strengthening the capacity of local organizations, and expanding partnerships with a larger number of NGOs.  To fulfill these goals, USAID is deploying Local Capacity Development Teams in five pilot countries – South Africa, Peru, Philippines, Egypt and Kenya.  

Earlier today I led a training session for the Local Capacity Development Teams on engaging religious actors and communities as a way to increase local capacity.  After sharing insights from our office and the ways in which are here to provide support, I was struck with four key sentiments in the crowd.

  1. Their awareness that engaging religious actors has immense potential.  Our work at USAID predominately occurs in regions where religion plays a primary role in daily life and is a main source of identity.  From something as simple as using a Catholic Church network to distribute food aid to as complex as recruiting Buddhist monks to help break down barriers of stigma and discrimination for people living with HIV/AIDS, religious communities house a great source of potential to connect most efficiently with the communities in which we work.
  2. The high level of religious sensitivity.  The group was highly tuned to recognize that religion is a topic that not only generates strong emotions but also a topic where we hold strong beliefs that affect our values and world view.  We can learn from one another and develop a sense of mutual understanding in a world of ever-increasing religious conflict.
  3. The importance of dealing with legal and constitutional issues.  Through a robust discussion and group exercise we were able to break down complex legal language into workable key points.  When working with religious actors in any capacity we are sure to follow the legal rules as established by our government.
  4. Finally, the excitement to move forward.  As we wrapped up the afternoon’s session, it was clear that the group not only felt the necessity of utilizing these networks but expressed sincere interest and anticipation of being able to implement the lessons learned on the ground. 

Ari Alexander is the Deputy Director at the Center for Faith-based & Community Initiatives and the Coordinator of Global Engagement at the United States Agency for International Development.