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From Checklists to Conversations: Small Steps To Support Localization

For first-time grantees, navigating the world of USAID program implementation can be a complex and challenging process. Grantees must consider factors ranging from meeting funding requirements to ensuring compliance with environmental regulations. As a U.S.-based small business, we at Environmental Incentives believe we have a key role in advancing USAID’s localization agenda—including by serving as a connector between Agency funding and local organizations. By developing easy-to-use tools to help lower the barriers for local organizations to receive funding, we can make a significant difference in streamlining processes and increasing the likelihood of grantee success.  

Simplifying Compliance, Step by Step 

Federal regulation 22 CFR 216 (“Reg 216”) requires all USAID-funded activities, including small grant programs, to assess potential environmental impacts prior to implementation. Understanding the terminology and steps within the mandated environmental compliance process can be challenging for organizations new to working with USAID. For small organizations in particular, staff time is a critical resource, and navigating complex regulatory processes can delay implementation, and with it, funding.  

To support localization, it is essential to meet local partners where they are and reduce the barriers to environmental compliance. Through our partnership with Social Solutions under USAID’s Pacific American Fund (PAF), EI adapted USAID’s environmental and social risk screening checklist to create a context-specific, simplified version for use by prospective grantees. The revised checklist uses plain language to talk about impacts and focuses on the types of activities PAF grantees will undertake—simplifying compliance, step by step.  

Tailoring Support for Robust Planning 

For the EI environmental compliance team, the revised checklist serves as a jumping-off point for our support of potential PAF grantees. As prospective grantees go through the application process, the checklist serves as a screening form to self-assess the potential environmental and social impacts of their proposed activity. The EI environmental compliance team then reviews the completed checklist alongside the full grantee application to identify the proposed activity’s level of potential environmental risk and to determine whether applicants need additional guidance to understand USAID’s approach to environmental risk. The team also considers whether the grant proposal needs further adjustments, or if incorporating mitigation measures into implementation is the best course of action. Building from these early conversations, once PAF awards a new round of grants, EI collaborates with grantees to create a roadmap (i.e., the environmental mitigation and monitoring plan) to address any environmental compliance concerns.  

Harmonizing Approaches 

Varying terminology and cultural differences can be an inadvertent barrier for new local partners to enter USAID programming. Tools like the environmental and social risk screening checklist are especially helpful for clarifying terminology in different contexts. For example, one PAF grantee from the Pacific Island country of Nauru used the term “pesticides” to refer to any method of handling pests (including nature-based solutions) in their application, which focused on climate-smart approaches to composting. However, in the context of USAID environmental compliance, “pesticides” fall within a pre-defined list of chemical compounds that require an additional, more involved, safety action plan. In discussions following the grantee’s submission of the environmental screening checklist, the EI team was able to clear up the terminology distinctions and confirm that in fact, the grantee’s intended plan for addressing pests could be addressed through a routine mitigation and monitoring plan, with less impact to the grantee budget.  

While simplifying a checklist is a seemingly small innovation, it has proven to be powerful in promoting USAID’s high-quality standards by streamlining the compliance process. As subject matter experts in environmental compliance and strengthening organizational capacity, EI’s technical team helps increase the likelihood of success for grantees by breaking down complex requirements into simple, actionable steps. Facilitated conversations with easy-to-use tools can be instrumental in growing USAID’s network of partners and advancing locally led development. As development practitioners continue to seek ways to improve their processes, simple tools like the modified checklist can make a significant impact.

Lead photo of Ferafolia Community in Solomon Islands by Lesli Davis for USAID.

About the Authors

Jorge Salinas is an Associate on the USAID Environmental and Social Safeguarding Support contract, providing USAID Missions and Bureau offices with environmental compliance documentation support.
Yair Cohenca is a Learning Specialist with USAID’s Program Cycle Mechanism. Yair builds institutional capacity within the Program Cycle’s learning channels, such as communities of practice and working groups, through activity design, strategic communication and facilitation, and research.
Flora Lindsay-Herrera is a Team Lead at Environmental Incentives.

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