By Genevieve Hughes, Program Officer, WASH-Catalysts
This year, we launched a new initiative facilitating the transition strategy of a large NGO project in one Malawian district. Acting as a third-party facilitator between the NGO and the district government, we were tasked with addressing the institutional capacity needed to sustain the achievements made by the project. When our NGO partner faced constraints that halted their operations for many months, we reacted in the same way we do when our government partners face timeline setbacks. We failed to navigate new paths of action when faced with a familiar challenge manifesting through an unfamiliar partner.
We failed to move when we could have. The objectives of our work were focused on how government could sustain the improvements made with their NGO partners; the role of the NGO in the transition was not essential to making progress. We misapplied our strategies. We were so used to working within the unpredictable timelines of public service innovation that we applied this same approach and waited for the NGO partner, instead of assessing if that was the required approach. Finally, we failed to push through when we could have, and became too acquiescent to the context, instead of driving for our desired change. We should not have waited so long for our NGO partner to join us, but rather moved forward without them. They would have been able to jump on board once their own constraints were addressed.
As a team focused on governance, we understand and value slow change, we are patient with it, and it deeply underscores all of our work. Our speed is set by government, because it needs to be. But, when not working with permanent institutions like we began to do this year, this does not need to be the case. There is more flexibility, there is more ability to quickly adapt, and we failed to recognize that critical difference.
We got feedback from the district government about the temporary stagnation of our work. We re-evaluated the situation, and recognized we could push forward after all. We took the lead ourselves, rather than waiting for the NGO, and began work without the involvement of our NGO partner. While the initial failure caused delays, we adapted, and reset our goals onto the timeline of our target partner: the district government.