All posts tagged International Development Cooperation

Q&A with Joanna Klever I Head of Fundraising

Posted by / 7th April 2015 / Categories: Polis / Tags: , / -

Joanna Klever is Head of Fundraising. She joined the Polis team in June 2014 bringing in exactly what was needed for fundraising: a creative thinking combined with a willingness to do things differently! Her interest in innovative development approaches was born during her stay in the Dominican Republic where Joanna worked for the former German Development Service (DED/GIZ) and was exposed to the realities of current development policies.

What led you to become part of The Polis?

The moment I heard about the Polis project I was captivated. The idea behind The Polis is incredibly simple, yet efficient. It made me wonder how sixty years of global development work have not lead to the creation of a ‘Polis’ earlier! Being part of a creative, enthusiastic and experienced team was just as appealing as the idea of joining an idea that has the power to significantly impact people worldwide.

 As a core member of The Polis, can you describe your role and key responsibilities? Can you go into detail about your experiences as Head of Fundraiser for The Polis?

As Head of Fundraising, my role inevitably comes with a number of responsibilities! I joined The Polis from its inception, which is such a rare opportunity as I have been able to be part of the whole process, experience the ups and downs, make mistakes and learn from them. As any fundraiser will know, it is a challenging role, and I have definitely perfected the art of multitasking: from managing our new team, developing fundraising strategies, connecting with potential donors and researching the general fundraising environment in our sector. Admittedly, the sector is not an easy one – we have encountered a number of hurdles: for example, the nature of our model is particularly abstract, which is both its strength and its Achille’s heel. We have also had a very short timeframe, which means we have had an intensive period of planning, networking, researching… which as Head of Fundraising, is both exhausting and exciting!

What do you feel are the main strengths of The Polis?

Before joining ReSeT, I researched the impact of IMF and World Bank policy in Latin America, and it was very frustrating: everyone observes the problems related to developmental policy, everyone criticises it, but very few clear alternatives are put forward. Then I came across the Polis project, and that was the first time that I was involved in a project that approached these issues from a completely different angle. From what I had seen, it just makes so much sense to not make these local-global relationships about institutions or large-scale agendas, but rather about very simple, effective human contact. The Polis does that: it brings together actors from different parts, with complementary skills and abilities, without any interference by politics or institutional demands. And that is exactly what is needed.

 For the Polis fundraising team, what initiatives are driving the project forward?

We have recently made a few changes in our team and fundraising strategy that has really made a difference to our efficiency and drive. We have not only expanded the team, but we have created three new departments, each with specific strategies towards a fundraising goal. Our new team-members have brought a really fresh perspective to our project, and subsequently we have developed a very solid Polis fundraising approach. The boost this has given us has increased the pace, depth of research and accelerated the networking process even further, it’s a big leap for The Polis, and a momentous time to be Head of Fundraising!

What are you looking for in a funder?

Well, there are three different types of funders that we’re looking at. The first are those whose role it is to support innovate and daring development projects, such as certain foundations and company sponsorhip. The Polis is highly replicable and relatively simple to implement while still being very ambitious. On the other hand, the problem that I am personally encountering a lot is that funders often look for something directly tangible, rather than invest in a model. A school is easy to fund from an administrative perspective; but a new way of working, not so much. So that means that we need to play around with that, and actually link it directly to existing local realities in specific regions or between specific local/global relationships.

The second category is actors (agencies, NGOs and certain companies) that are interested in specific aspects of The Polis, rather than the model as a whole. This includes specific local connections and expertise, consulting and research on local/global relations, and methods of matchmaking.

Finally, we are talking to social investors. Even though we are a not-for-profit organisation, The Polis generates its own revenue after the initial start-up period for local connections, which means that we combine the best of both worlds in my view: financial sustainability and social impact.

Most importantly: we do not look for funders who will only provide money or resources. We look for partners who are ready and willing to engage in a relationship in which we progress together and advance The Polis. We want to partner with organisations that can significantly strengthen our work and impact.

Together with the funders, global resources and local communities, what will be the full impact of The Polis in five years?

In five years The Polis will be a running project, fully operational in lots of local communities in several countries across the globe! We will look back at a history of successful connections in which the Polis model has served local communities and their ambitions. The Polis will be that springboard local communities use to implement their ideas, find their voice and prosper.


Doing Development Differently: An Interview with Matt Andrews and Leni Wild

This month we focus on Doing Development Differently (DDD), a community of development researchers and practitioners brought together in an effort to understand better flexible and locally led approaches to governance issues in developing countries. This article is based on separate conversations led by Thomas Kruiper, Head of Communications at the ReSeT´s Polis Project, with Matt Andrews at Harvard´s Center for International Development (CID) and Leni Wild at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in London, who were instrumental in leading a 2014 DDD workshop and creating a DDD manifesto. Andrews´ research focuses on Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) in governance and policy reform. Wild is an expert on political economy and service delivery, accountability and aid, and currently leads an ODI program on the politics of service delivery.

Having worked on governance and service delivery in a wide variety of countries for many years, Andrews and Wild know the traits of traditional development thinking. Andrews´ interest in PDIA was born from his observations from working in governance, both as a researcher and as an outsider from the World Bank, in which many reform initiatives fail to deliver sustained improvements because organisations and governments focus on what policies look like rather than what they actually do. Andrews: “You see laws being passed and money being moved for a health project, but you don´t see actual nurses being hired or drugs being moved into place.”

In traditional development, solutions tend to be placed before the problems. Wild: “A lot of aid programs still tend to come in with a set of solutions and look for local groups to implement them, rather than coming in to identify who are the local reformers, who is making change happen, and how can they be supported”. Fortunately there is a growing community of people who try new things and share their experiences.

DDD, successful development, and connectivity

The people and organisations within the DDD community turn upside-down two things: they put problems before solutions, and they put local actors before outsiders. In Wild´s view, fundamentally, successful development cooperation facilitates and supports the process of a project rather than managing or dominating it. Locally led means that those people who are already there lead the project; they are in the driving seat. They identify and address problems, and they have the strongest incentives to solve them. Outsiders can be invited to give their views and share information.

The term ´local´ should be widely interpreted. Wild: “It works at the grass-roots level, but also at central governments or in the private sector. We often tend to think of locals as community leaders but it´s much wider than that.”

This diversity was reflected in the workshop too. Andrews: “All these people have framed their agendas so as to empower people rather than telling people what to do. They´ve been doing that for a long period of time. The workshop wasn´t about getting them together and saying to them that they had to do DDD, because they were the ones that are doing it.”

The DDD community also serves as a teaching tool in showing practitioners what successful development cooperation looks like, but also how to actually do it. The fifty or so public servants that take Andrews´ course at Harvard are stimulated to engage with the organisations in the DDD community and to watch the videos they post online about their methodologies.

Problem driven, locally led, and flexible strategies are not new by any means. In policymaking and development studies, voices have long preached for community driven work and against top-down approaches and blueprints. Andrews: “My sense is that when those ideas (of Hirschmann and Brinkerhoff) were coming up they were completely overwhelmed by what I would call the more engineering mindset in development, where people thought that you build governments like you build a road. For a long period development was dominated by either engineers or by very mathematics based economists.”

Today the circumstances to get like-mind souls together are easier.  Andrews: “One of the things that we are trying to take advantage of, and why we had the workshop last year, and why we developed a manifesto, is that there is more connectivity between people.  And our hypothesis is actually that there´s more people doing development in this way than we commonly would think about.”

Connectivity also seems to be a key to success for local actors and their projects. As Wild explained on the connectedness of a local actor in a community scorecard program in Malawi: “He understood the dynamics happening at different levels and in different areas; he was able to appraised things at the local level and say: in this community, we don’t have the right people on the ground to do what we are going to do, so we need to stop working there or we have to find a different way of working”. Putting well connected actors in the driving seat is thus essential for success.

Donors and Measuring Success

For locally led and flexible approaches to gain ground, donors have to be brought aboard too. Some donors try to lock things in at the beginning and to remove flexibility later on. Andrews: “So during and after the workshop we spent a lot of time talking about: how do you buy that flexibility later on. How do you use things like logical frameworks in more flexible ways? I think that you can use exactly the same tools, just in more flexible ways.”

Andrews does not recognise the dichotomy between inflexible donors on one side and governments and NGOs on the other. Across the board, organisations struggle to create space for more flexibility, not only on the donor side.

One of these struggles has to deal with measuring success in ways that help us understand how people learn, rather than simply looking at meaningless milestones. Wild: “Often people are stuck with a particular set of project and reporting frameworks, so all of the things they are doing that are actually making a difference – the way they are adapting, learning, or navigating local relationships – don´t get reported on. We need some kind of benchmarks to know what a genuinely locally led process looks like.”

In Andrew´s view, many policy makers underestimate the difficulty of planning in developmental environments. In a controlled and developed environment, planning a project is relatively easy; you know your objectives and you know how to fulfill and measure them. DDD practitioners know that the reality looks different: “The problem is that if development looks like going from St. Louis to the west coast in 1803, it´s a different strategy. You don´t have any roads, you don´t know where the west coast is, and you don´t know where your milestones are going to be. And if you were to lay a 2013 map onto a team and say: “Go to Albuquerque”, they would say “where´s Albuquerque?” And then on the first day, they would find out that the road to Albuquerque doesn´t exist. So you want them to be learning step by step how to get to the west-coast. So you want to be saying: “OK, when you said you were going to get to Albuquerque, what were the assumptions that you made, and what did you learn about your assumptions? What step did you take? What capacities did you build as you were moving on?” Those things are as important (or maybe more important) than the question: Did you spend the money?”

DDD in 2015

2015 is an interesting year for the development sector, in which the world awaits a new set of global commitments. Although the CID and ODI by no means have a political agenda related to the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals, the DDD community does realise that ideas need to be cultivated, marketed, and taught. Each organisation has to look at itself and contribute to change in its own way. The website and the manifesto just help facilitate it. Wild: “We don´t want to be sitting here in 2030 or 2040 saying: Don’t we need to do things differently?”

The manifesto currently has a community of over 400 signatories from 60 countries, with more organisations (Including ReSeT and its Polis Project) joining every week. Besides people meeting in small groups, the CID and ODI frequently organise events and publish research on DDD approaches to development cooperation. The recently published DDD website also includes a blog, forum, and videos of organisations in the community. Additionally, ODI has just launched a report called Adapting Development, which picks up on many of the themes discussed in the interview.



Q&A with Ivanka Puigdueta | Head of Polis Development

Posted by / 2nd February 2015 / Categories: Polis / Tags: , / -

Ivanka Puigdueta’s background lies with environmental sciences and issues surrounding climate change and pollution (Université de Rouen, 2007). After working as a lab-scientist for several years, she decided to mix her expertise with social and developmental issues, studying International Relations and African Studies at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. Her focus has since been on development issues in sub-Saharan Africa, with research and consultancy in Guinea-Bissau.

Did your experience in Guinea-Bissau lead you to The Polis?

Yes, it very much influenced my thinking. In Guinea-Bissau I had the chance to discover all kinds of different projects financed and organised through international cooperation programs. Observe them was interesting, often encouraging, but also painful at times. A lot of effort goes into improving social and economic conditions in that country, with amazing professionals- both local and expatriates- working on important and difficult challenges. But unfortunately there were also a lot of things that went wrong, often caused by systemic failure. Like most people employed locally in the development sector, it made me feel a strong urge to find more effective ways to have an impact. It was obvious that work needed to be much more locally focused; that was one thing that was crystal clear.

So what do you like most about The Polis, when you look back at your personal experiences?

The Polis method answered my doubts (and ambition) about how to turn international cooperation into a local led path. That was the very first thing that attracted me about The Polis and the one that still amazes me. It uses a radically local led approach, and it ends the often well intended but ultimately mistaken interventionist impulses. It recognises the importance of local populations to choosing and designing the projects and their impact, and also the ways in which these projects will be done. External intervention only enters in the system when it is requested by local people and according to the basic terms they themselves set.

Could you please describe your role in The Polis? What do you do exactly?

As Head of Development my role is to design, improve and implement different aspects of the Polis model. Our model depends on various local and global actors, each with a specific role in the process of creating Local Led Connections. It is my role to develop each step in the process, starting at the local idea and finishing with a connection. I focus on understanding what makes local led processes successful and adapting this knowledge to different situations and realities.

And in doing so, which types of organisations inspire you?

There are many. For example, PUM’s expert services to local entrepreneurs, Peace Direct’s work with local peace building initiatives, or the BoP Innovation Center’s market inclusion methods. But it is not only from the development sector that The Polis takes its inspiration. The Polis is also inspired by many private sector initiatives and activities; we don’t just look at traditional development actors. To summarise in general terms: we take inspiration from what we observe works for people when it comes to connecting local to global and vice versa.

So how is The Polis different from these and other development projects?

We are not a development project. The Polis model simply connects local ideas to the resources they need. We don´t offer money and we don’t tell people what to do; there´s no developmental agenda. We just offer local ideas a platform so they can connect with organisations and expertise to bring their ideas to life.

Typical development projects work the other way around; external ideas are created before locals come into play. Even development projects that use local led strategies get the order wrong; they don’t impose ideas, but they do still approach carefully selected locals with a bag of money in their hand and.

Can you expand on that?

Typically, projects either try to “pick winners” or look to create change based on specific political or ideological values.  Humans tend to have difficulties in controlling our impulse to guide others towards what we think is right. At The Polis we believe that this filtering is not compatible with what we understand by “local led”. It is not up to us to decide what a bad or a good idea is. Even those organisations that actually put locals behind the steering wheel fail to see this. Yes, they motivate local actors to identify their own problems and to find their own way, but they still put locals in charge of spending previously lined-up money.

And how does the Polis method deal with that problem?

We do two things: the first thing that The Polis does to turn the cycle around is that local initiatives come before any money or solutions come into play. The second one is that global actors don´t select local partners; local actors select the global partners they want to work with. This forces global actors to truly serve local agendas. After all, you can´t give initiative; it´s something people take. The only role of The Polis is to look for partners willing to support local initiatives. Global actors should see The Polis as a gateway to local opportunities, while for local actors The Polis is a bridge between their ambitions and the global tools they need.

What does that bridge look like on the ground? And how do people find it?

Through Local Connectors (LCs); LCs are trained local Polis representatives who listen to local initiatives and make them visible for the global community, something they typically lack.  So LCs are in contact with local individuals and groups and gather their project ideas and requests, only making sure that proposals are legal and feasible; they do not impose or suggest ideas; they do not write proposals. They simply make sure that initiatives are sincere and complete before they are presented to potential partners, and then they introduce these initiatives into the Polis platform.

What will The Polis look like by late 2015?

At the end of 2015 I want to see Local Connectors becoming integrated in our human infrastructure, and actively working with Connected Local Communities (CLCs) to bring local project ideas to the Polis platform and the global community. I also expect the Polis team to acquire a better understanding of local-global dynamics through the interaction with local actors, global partners, and other local led initiatives in our network. In doing so, I am convinced The Polis can contribute to making local led development cooperation more successful and widespread.

Last question: what are your ambitions with respect to your own future? Do you plan to go back to Africa, to Guinea-Bissau for The Polis perhaps?

Going back to Guinea-Bissau is definitely on the cards, but it may have to be to simply visit. The Polis doesn’t let non-locals work locally like that; it’s not the way we do things. A pity.



Q&A with Balder Hageraats | General Coordinator of The Polis

Posted by / 17th November 2014 / Categories: Polis, ReSeT News / Tags: , / -

Could you please describe your role in The Polis? What do you do exactly?

I am the “General Coordinator” of The Polis Project, which means that it is my role to ensure that the rest of the team has the necessary conditions and right focus to be able to do their job. This means that my day to day work consists of giving support and feedback to my colleagues’ activities, and providing overall guidance and leadership with respect to the team’s objectives and agendas.

What does the Polis team look like?

We currently have four departments within the project: Polis Development- i.e. the strengthening of our model and its applications-, Research and Publications, Communications, and Fundraising, each with a full time person in charge. We then have dedicated subteams working on practical issues. These range from things such as model implementation and networking to analysis and publications. And, of course, the Polis team is supported by the wider ReSeT organisation.

And what about partner organisations or experts?

ReSeT has a wide range of existing partner organisations and external experts, some of which have already been involved in aspects of The Polis. Then again, it is early days and we are currently mostly focusing on further developing our local networks (The Polis is all about local connections, after all) in selected countries, and engaging potential “global resources” for the Polis, i.e. organisations and experts that can deliver services to meet local demands.

Where does the original idea for the Polis come from?

ReSeT itself is a relatively young organisation, founded in 2011, but it employs people with decades of experience in international cooperation and relations. One of the major issues that we encounter time and time again in development projects is that energy, time, effort and money tend to flow towards activities designed by international actors, typically headquartered in Western capitals, rather than towards ideas and solutions provided by local individuals or communities. Sure they are occasionally consulted, and may have some influence over outcomes, but the basis of international cooperation remains firmly seated in INGO boardrooms, government offices and transnational dynamics. Local populations simply do not have the systemic clout necessary to set agendas. This is a perverse problem and a fundamental flaw in the sector. It leads to sector dynamics that are on paper focused on so-called “beneficiaries”, but are in actuality serving the sector itself, rather than local communities. Administrative necessity trumps idealism any day of the week, unfortunately.

These observations made us go back to basic questions: what is needed for local and global actors to cooperate effectively to achieve common goals? What are the necessary decision mechanisms for that to happen? How do the various involved actors communicate, and what do they need to operate successfully?

The rather obvious answer is that projects designed and led by those who reap the benefits tend to work. On the other hand, projects that are designed and led by those who do not directly benefit from its outcomes do not tend to work. That observation then leads to the challenge of making sure that local people are in charge of projects, even if they typically require more powerful international dynamics and actors to be involved. These are often still needed to provide necessary capital or political cover. The Polis is our answer to that challenge.

Could you describe The Polis in your own words?

The Polis connects those with ideas to those with the tools to turn those ideas into reality. It does so by collecting ideas locally, collecting tools globally, and then matching them. Crucially, it does so in a way which always puts those with the idea- and who benefit directly from its implementation- in charge. They are the ones who make the decisions, while the Polis simply provides a matchmaking service.

On the website and elsewhere, the Polis team uses quite a few concepts that readers may be unfamiliar with. Is the model complex?

On the contrary, it is simple and very easy to understand. The three concepts to know are:

1. Local-Led Connections: This is the basic pillar of The Polis. It is the connection between local people and organisations and experts that support their projects.

2. Local Connectors: They maintain the Local-Led Connection, i.e. they bring local information to the Polis network and vice versa.

3. Global Connectors: People who have knowledge or networks to bring organisations and experts into The Polis.

That’s all really. Everything else about our model is just details on how local and global connectors operate. Those details would require more time to list and explain, of course, but they are not necessary to understand the essence of what we do.

What impact do you think the Polis will eventually have?

It is difficult to answer this with numbers or other concrete specifics, but given the simple and highly replicable nature of the model, in general terms I would expect at least two important outcomes: the implementation of a significant number of ideas and initiatives which otherwise would not have been able to come to fruition, as well as a strengthened understanding of, and approach to, international cooperation in the 21st century.

The former is obviously important because it directly, and positively, affects people’s lives in the here and now. The latter is important if you, like us at ReSeT, believe that one of the main challenges facing our world today is how to effectively connect the world’s abundant resources to human creativity and endeavour. We live in a globalised world with virtually endless technological and financial possibilities anywhere. The issue is how to harness such incredible opportunities. This question makes international cooperation more relevant than ever, and will require new and practical solutions. We believe that The Polis is one of those.

What makes The Polis different from other initiatives that tackle similar issues?

The Polis team continuously learns from many amazing projects that are being developed at the moment. 2014 is a very exciting time to work on these issues; new technologies and globalisation spur on creativity and activity never before seen in our field of work.  In that sense, there are many aspects of The Polis that are not unique to our model. A lot of good work in similar vein is already being done, especially at a relatively small scale. These range from the Siriolli Institute to more technology-based initiatives related to fundraising (crowdfunding, such as Kiva) and, for example, initiatives such as Elva. However, what is unique about The Polis is the effectively simple method in which local people are in charge throughout the process, and decide over their own future, covering the entire process from basic idea to eventual outcome. Then again, I’d be delighted to find out we weren’t unique, of course.

How do you envision the Polis ten years from now?

A vibrant community of local and global people and organisations being connected to bountiful resources, allowing local ideas and initiatives to flourish like never before. If this- together with similar initiatives elsewhere- pushes the wider international cooperation sector towards being true and effective service providers, all the better.

From our own think-tank perspective, we expect The Polis to be a source of information and knowledge on the realities of local-global relationships. Such knowledge will become ever more important in international affairs and in facing the great challenges of our time. We at ReSeT, like any think tank, are very excited to be able to play a role in that.