Increasing Country Ownership and Civil Society Partnership

Country ownership is routinely highlighted as a key principle of good development practice, although the term is interpreted in a wide range of ways. True country ownership is the full and effective participation of a country’s population through legislative bodies, civil society, the private sector, and local, regional, and national government in conceptualizing, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating development policies, programs, and processes. At the simplest level, participation of both citizens and government in development efforts is at the heart of country ownership. This allows for better targeting of resources, strengthened accountability among the various stakeholders, and ultimately increased sustainability and success. Empowering and supporting governments and citizens to take responsibility for their own development by using local systems and resources to help countries become less reliant on external assistance is key to effective and sustainable development outcomes. For most nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and partnering agencies, promoting broad-based country ownership is core to their mission and moral commitment to poverty alleviation. This well-established principle is founded on years of experience engaging with donors, foreign governments, and civil society actors in developing countries to build local capacity and promote participatory development.

InterAction Recognizes

  • Over the last decade, the United States has embraced country ownership as a core aid effectiveness principle. First implemented in practical terms by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) in the early 2000s, the idea that country ownership increases the effectiveness of U.S. investments abroad is now woven throughout the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), USAID, and the Department of State. 

  • The United States’ practical implementation of country ownership can have significant, positive effects in partner countries and influence other donors. To maximize this, the United States should develop a clear definition of and operational guidelines for inclusive ownership, applicable to all U.S. agencies implementing development assistance and complemented with greater flexibility in funding streams. By presenting the challenges and lessons learned in recent U.S. efforts to achieve country ownership, the United States can lead a global discussion with other donor countries, host countries, and civil society.  

  • Further progress will require additional reform in U.S. partnership with NGOs and local communities. These groups are strong actors that can act as full partners. The U.S. government should act accordingly, continuing to institutionalize collaborations with NGOs and local communities, including in consultations on Feed the Future, the Global Health Initiative, Country Development Cooperation Strategies, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, and advancing other new development initiatives. These groups oftentimes have unique knowledge about how to implement programs that may enhance their sustainability. The MCC and USAID have pioneered new mechanisms through which programs are co-created and co-designed with local actors, which increases ownership, relevance, and program effectiveness. Another factor to consider is that while USAID has a mechanism—the Global Development Alliance—to partner with corporate actors, there is not a similar platform for partnerships between USAID and the nonprofit community. 

Upcoming Opportunities

  • Continuing efforts under USAID Forward [Ongoing]: In September 2010, USAID initiated USAID Forward, an ambitious reform agenda to increase its capacity to serve as a world leader in solving the greatest development challenges. In 2016, USAID institutionalized these policies in its internal guidance to its missions, a move that marks a return to many of USAID’s best practices. The agency also recognized the necessity to promote sustainability through local ownership. This included an emphasis on increased local ownership and the strengthened capacity of local systems to produce improved development outcomes at the local, regional, and national levels. As an additional element of this improved approach, USAID acknowledges that its assistance should be designed to align with the priorities of local actors, leverage local resources, and increase local implementation. Each of these advances in the U.S. approach will help bolster the impact of foreign assistance. The next administration and 115th Congress can continue USAID Forward by incorporating its principles into a broader range of government policy and providing sufficient resources and supportive legislation to ensure that USAID Forward’s goals are achieved.

  • Continuing implementation of the Busan Commitments [Ongoing]: USAID is a contributing partner to the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (GPEDC), which tracks implementation of the Busan Commitments, which originated from the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in 2011. Implementation is tracked by monitoring a framework comprised of a set of 10 indicators focused on strengthening developing country institutions; increasing transparency and predictability of development cooperation; enhancing gender equality; and supporting greater involvement of civil society, parliaments, and the private sector in development efforts. The monitoring framework is currently being refined to fully reflect the Sustainable Development Goals and implementation of the Financing for Development agreements; the U.S. should continue supporting these revisions.

  • The High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development [Ongoing]: This major international forum will be convened by the United Nations in July 2017 with the theme “Eradicating Poverty and Promoting Prosperity in a Changing World.” The forum will address several of the Sustainable Development Goals concerning poverty alleviation, food security, and global health, but will specifically focus on Goal 17: strengthening the means of implementing [the SDGs] and revitalizing the global partnership for sustainable development. This forum will provide a high-visibility opportunity for outreach and awareness-raising concerning country ownership and civil society partnerships.

  • United Nations International Days of Recognition [Ongoing]: As an international convening power and focal point for the global development agenda, the United Nations and its International Days of Recognition, which bring global attention to a number of critical topics, can be useful moments to highlight country ownership on a range of development issues. By raising awareness, holding commemoration events, signing agreements, or conducting symposiums, International Days of Recognition can be used to celebrate, demonstrate, and even create the basis for improved partnership and input from donors, national governments, and civil society alike.

Additional Materials

  • Busan Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation,

  • Country-Led Poverty Reduction,

  • High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development,

  • Metrics for Implementing Country Ownership, 2015,

  • The United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief: Country Ownership,

  • USAID Forward, 2010,

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