G. Michael Junge is the Supervisory Contracting/Agreement Officer in USAID/Peru's Office of Acquisition and Assistance.
Although it was unknown what the future would hold, a month before the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, our staff at USAID/Peru issued an innovative “bare bones" Annual Program Statement (APS) process to drive rapid development results by requesting only a simple two-page concept note. In addition, an equally out-of-the-box communications effort has recently matched this exciting procurement approach—a video series, available with Spanish subtitles (see embedded videos below), completed in early October and designed to inform and attract new and nontraditional partners.
The original idea for the USAID/Peru APS developed out of an initiative started by President Obama in 2009 when he stated that the U.S. Government must focus on greater use of firm fixed price contracts. Although he was referring to acquisition (contracts), it planted a seed of applying the same principle to assistance (grants).
Instead of focusing on a laundry list of deliverables, why not focus on a single targeted development problem that could be within the implementing partner's manageable interest to solve and then let them price it out? By putting a price tag on what it will cost USAID to solve the problem, it allows us to better program our development dollars as to whether or not solving that particular problem is worth what they are asking. If we focus on a specific development problem, for example, "The Peruvian Ministry of Health’s (MoH) respiratory equipment and COVID contact tracing with follow-up by Community Health Care workers is insufficient to meet the challenges of the COVID pandemic,” we can demonstrate progress. In this example, when the award ends, the expectation is that the Peruvian MoH will have that capacity. It is a process that our implementing partners and the private sector, in particular, can easily understand because for them to be relevant, they must be able to pinpoint and solve problems.
Using this approach of focusing specifically on a development problem (and initially not on all of the associated deliverables) has greatly simplified the entire process by allowing our technical offices to rapidly decide if the problem is something they want to solve—either it is a development problem that is relevant and they want to solve it, or it is not. If it is relevant, they then move on to the next phase—co-creation, where the organization drives the process of further developing the design of an activity to solve that development problem.
One example of our success in reorienting to focus on the development problem to be solved occurred when the pandemic hit. With Peru's borders on iron-clad lockdown, no one was allowed in or out of the country. Working with existing partners was out of the question because staff outside of Peru could not enter the country so we needed people who could rapidly mobilize and who were on the ground to see what was happening. Throughout the pandemic, Peru had the highest mortality rate based on population so time saved meant lives saved.
How did we rapidly start up COVID activities? First, we lobbied for COVID funds and within days we issued an addendum for COVID responses to the USAID/Peru APS. Thanks to several promising concept notes from local health nongovernmental organizations, we were one of the few USAID Missions to receive funds directly instead of being managed through a centralized award. But there was another catch: we had to promise to have them obligated within 72 hours.
Impossible, you might think? Not so! And in several cases, we actually had the funds obligated in far less than 72 hours! Not only that, we issued fixed-amount awards to local new/underutilized partners (one implementer even contributed $1 million of their own funds). Most importantly, though, award implementation started immediately, which had a direct impact on saving thousands of lives. Our ability to rapidly obligate funds under the APS made this possible and can serve as an example for other missions and the Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance to replicate.
USAID/Peru is very proud of our success with the APS, and we are thrilled to share our four-part video series (with English and Spanish subtitles). While the videos' main aim is to educate prospective partners about the APS, they embody its innovative spirit, showcasing the opportunity in a way that is as easy to understand as it is fun to watch. The videos we developed to support outreach related to the APS adopt that approach—avoiding jargon that can overwhelm new partners and including Spanish subtitles so our message can reach the local organizations best positioned to achieve the development results we seek.
We have learned that to work with new and different partners, we have to work differently ourselves. We hope our experience is helpful to other USAID Missions and donors and that others will also share their new approaches.