Strategy development is standard procedure in international development, but without intentional planning it can lose the human element. As United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power noted in her speech at Georgetown University, “to make aid inclusive…we need to listen to what our partner nations actually want.” External facilitation is one tool to advance this goal—by creating spaces for open contribution, integrating capacity strengthening, and building trust, we can more effectively lead by listening.
A New Strategy for USAID/Niger
For decades, Niger has been ranked as the least developed country in the world. Escalating conflict and severe climate vulnerability, which drive recurrent crises and food insecurity, compound entrenched multidimensional poverty. The government and people of Niger are grappling with these complex development challenges that require the best and most forward thinking solutions development partners have to offer. Following a democratic transition of presidential power, USAID reopened a full Mission in Niger and began the critical task of developing a Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS).
Writing a CDCS is a nine-month process that requires significant cross-sector research, analysis, and reflection. A strong CDCS responds to local priorities, pulls from substantial evidence, and represents Agency priorities while charting a realistic way forward for the following five years. This was a daunting task for USAID/Niger’s small but mighty team. Not yet fully staffed, the team of fewer than 20 individuals represented six technical offices and were responsible for more than $150 million of annual assistance. As a Program Cycle Mechanism (PCM) Specialist, I was brought in to coordinate the strategy process. I completed three extended tours, spending nearly six months in Niamey. I facilitated multi-day whole-of-mission workshops, mapped resources, supported research design, built stakeholder engagement plans, and did lots of writing. The most important part of my job however, came down to building trust.