By Adam Phillips and Bama Athreya
Adam Phillips is Director of USAID's Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the Local, Faith, and Transformative Partnerships Hub. Bama Athreya is Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Hub and the Inclusive Development Hub in USAID’s Bureau for Development, Democracy, and Innovation.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have been clear: diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility matter in everything we do. As Biden-Harris Administration appointees under the leadership of Administrator Samantha Power, we are deeply committed to seeing greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in our own workforce, in our partnerships, and in our programming. USAID’s development work is better, smarter, more relevant, and more sustainable when we center our partnerships, planning, and decision making around the voices of diverse communities, particularly those who have been underrepresented. Administrator Power articulated these principles as a roadmap for the Agency last November in her speech “A New Vision for Global Development.” This vision reflects a broader Administration-wide commitment to ensuring equity and inclusion in all aspects of U.S. policy.
In our roles within the Agency, we see every day how the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to promote localization and inclusive development throughout USAID’s work are two sides of the same coin. Localization involves making intentional changes to Agency policies, processes, staffing, and funding decisions to support more equitable partnerships and programs that place local actors in the lead, including those who may otherwise have faced barriers in attempting to work with us. This process is closely linked to inclusive development, which is about ensuring that our programming reaches and fully includes marginalized and underrepresented communities. We’ve learned over time that invisible barriers can prevent many communities and individuals from participating in our programs. We need to intentionally and proactively address those barriers to ensure success in our programming.
When aid localization is detached from inclusive development, or vice versa, each approach on its own can have unintended negative consequences. Localization without inclusion has the potential to reinforce discrimination and unequal power structures within local contexts. Likewise, inclusion without the tools and practices of localization may not be as effective at centering decision-making with local actors or strengthening local systems. But at their best, localization and inclusive development approaches create a virtuous cycle that strengthens our ability to realize the principle, “Nothing about us without us.”
What does this look like in practice? USAID/Zimbabwe offers a great example of a partnership that was selected because it is locally led and advances inclusion in important new ways. USAID supported the Deaf Zimbabwe Trust’s efforts to provide young persons with disabilities a platform to identify and solve their own development challenges. The three-year Empower activity promotes access to decent work, inclusive entrepreneurship, and policy reforms for economic inclusion, with Deaf Zimbabwe Trust drawing on its experience and taking the lead on setting activity priorities and implementation. The activity builds on an existing Zimbabwe Youth Program that seeks to advance economic opportunity for young people and tackles an important gap by targeting young persons with disabilities who may be most disadvantaged by physical, social, and policy barriers. As a local organization, Deaf Zimbabwe Trust is already responsive to this community and well-placed to elevate programming that fills this gap. Fostering more impactful partnerships like Deaf Zimbabwe Trust is why USAID is making a concerted effort to reach new and nontraditional partners of all backgrounds through new methods like the WorkwithUSAID.org website.
In keeping with this focus on nontraditional partnerships, we are excited to announce a new blog series that will highlight the dedicated work of USAID staff within our Bureau to listen to and engage with you—and the diverse communities you represent—in new, innovative ways. In this series, we will outline how the Agency’s various teams lower barriers and reform power structures that hinder new partnerships, while grappling with the challenges of doing so. We will offer a path forward as we look at the actual, on-the-ground ways we are elevating the voices and values that this Administration believes should be front and center, including by advancing gender equality and ensuring the perspectives of local actors and communities, minority-serving institutions, cooperatives, faith-based and community organizations, schools, libraries, hospitals, and centers of excellence, diaspora groups, youth, and all those who may be under-represented including, but not limited to, racial and ethnic minorities, Indigenous Peoples, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQI+ people.
We want this series to be a dialogue, not a one-way communication, so we encourage you to share, comment, and engage. Better yet, you can submit an idea for a guest blog to our team to add your unique perspective to this conversation on localization and inclusive development. Simply email your idea to email@example.com.
Institutional change doesn’t happen overnight. But committed leadership and a clear vision, combined with a groundswell of enthusiasm for advancing inclusive programming among Agency staff and the partner community, can lead to lasting transformation. Thanks for joining us on this journey!