The Important Nuances of Offering Help: Building Capacity of Haitian Organizations

When we first received our funding to strengthen the capacity of a number of USAID-funded Haitian organizations, we were not quite sure how it would go. Would our partners be interested? Would they cooperate or would they resist? The answer turned out to be all of the above.

Though investments in the health system are increasing, Haiti has immense needs. The country has a significant number of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations that provide services, either working in partnership with the public sector to fill gaps or to reach segments of the population that have no access to services. These organizations are trusted members of their communities and are thus highly effective in reaching the most marginalized populations with specialized services. The organizations also have ties to Haiti’s diaspora, providing mechanisms for financial and technical resources to flow back to Haiti.

USAID saw the opportunity to improve health outcomes and leverage Haitian resources by increasing the number of Haitian organizations receiving direct USAID funding. USAID Haiti took the unusual step of providing managerial capacity-building to ensure these organizations are able to continue providing high-quality services while meeting the additional requirements of U.S. government regulations and providing good stewardship of U.S. government funds.

The Advancing Partners & Communities (APC) Project in Haiti provides USAID contractors and grantees with capacity-building technical assistance, on-the-job training, and one-on-one customized support. The organizations vary in type and size, ranging from small private consulting to larger logistics companies, as well as nonprofit organizations that provide health services to communities.

To initiate this support, we built a training program that included using an organizational capacity assessment (OCA) to tailor the support for each organization. As it was critical to establish a trustful and collaborative relationship from the beginning, these OCAs were guided and highly interactive self-assessments.

When APC started this process, organizations were hesitant to accept help because they lacked experience with USAID and did not know what to expect. We realized that we would have to work especially hard to gain their trust, so we allowed partners to test their own solutions, acknowledge gaps and mistakes, and seek our guidance. Then we would analyze situations together and discuss potential solutions. One organization, Service Chretien d’Haiti, said that in retrospect it would have liked APC’s capacity-building support on USAID rules and regulations before signing a USAID award.

Other important qualities for this type of work are availability and persistence. It is important to call partners regularly to see if new needs have arisen. When they are not willing to receive support, it is important not to push, but to continue to call to check in and remind them that assistance is theirs for the taking. Eventually, our partners started to open up, and one request was followed by many more.

We further demonstrate our commitment and availability by visiting each partner frequently. Haiti is a hierarchical society and the distinction between social classes is engrained in the culture and people. Social stratification is based on knowledge, wealth, and social position and pre-determines people’s behavior. Usually, donors expect the organizations they support to come to them, so when we go to the offices of the organizations we support, they take notice and appreciate it.

We are reaching the end of our project and have developed relationships with the organizations that we work with such that we celebrate their successes as our own. Fonkoze, for example, is an organization that strives to empower women by giving them the resources and skills to lift their families out of poverty. Fonkoze has dedicated staff and strong leadership who we supported when it secured a large USAID award. Before its first USAID audit, we spent two days making sure that financial and management systems were ready. We were so proud when Fonkoze’s audit report was determined to be clean.

As we work with organizations to build their capacity, we are preparing them to offer better services to more people. I recall Florence from Fonkoze saying, “JSI gave us the opportunity to secure the grant. Before the grant, we offered services in only 10 of 44 sites nationally. With this funding, we’re expanding [our health programming] to all 44 sites. JSI’s organizational development [support] was very important to us because sustainability is our core value. We are learning to use different tools and lead different processes [for implementation].”

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