Capacity development, learning, change, poverty/power/progress
In 2009, the Albania Local Capacity Development Foundation (ALCDF) pioneered a ground breaking concept. Rural communities were not getting the capacity building services they needed to advance in tourism, forestry, agriculture, and local government. Lindita Manga (photo), Executive Director of ALCDF, explains how it all started. “We noticed the disconnect between rural communities and capacity builders. What could help to create direct communication and interactions between the two? We developed the idea of an online platform. Capacity builders would have one place to find work, and communities could find the capacity builders they needed.”
It took a long time to develop this platform. Meanwhile, Lindita and other colleagues from SNV Netherlands Development Organisation brought together 6 Albanian Associations who became the founders of ALCDF. Today, Lindita is paid by the foundation, and the founders still monitor if ALCDF plays it role well. I interviewed Lindita to get an update of their lessons and achievements for the start-up of LCDF in Ethiopia. (also see my interview with Quynh Anh from SPARK - LCDF Vietnam)
Lucia: Are rural organizations now getting the services they need to advance?
Lindita: The recent independent evaluation report is very clear about it: “ALCDF assists rural communities where it is most needed. Though projects are small, they solve real problems in rural communities.”
Lucia: How does ALCDF manage to reach out to rural communities?
Lindita: Over the years we have identified regional mentors. These are people who know the Founding Associations and are well connected to the membership of these associations. The mentors tend to work in the regional administration with local governments, so they also have a good overview of issues in the region. They help rural communities and local governments to understand the application process for capacity building assistance. We have a contract with these mentors for 4-6 days per month, depending on the level of activity in a region.
Lucia: How does the application process work for rural organizations?
Lindata: We have a Partnerships for Innovations Fund – P4I. We take applications throughout the year, via the regional mentors, the online platform, or directly to our office. ALCDF is widely known these days, so we get more applications than we have funding for. Nevertheless, we manage to fund large numbers of capacity building initiatives in a very effective and efficient way.
First we organize a quick screening of all applications to see which kind of projects are being proposed. Based on the type of sector, we contact independent experts. We have build up relationships with many capacity builders over the years, and many are interested to support the application process. We pay them a few days of work. We prefer experts who have a good overview of what is happening in a sector, so that we really fund innovation. When we see proposals that are not so innovative or strategic, we help the organisation to connect locally and get support through other means. There was a proposal for assistance for assistance with a Forestry Management plan. An expert in the selection committee knew that a SIDA/WB program was supporting this, so we brokered a new relationship. It is better that our investments support what is not yet being done.
After this basic screening by the selection committee, the selected proposals go to a co-financing approval committee. It may sound a bit heavy, but we are not able to co-finance everything (local organisations make an own contribution of 20%), and we want to have a strategic impact with our capacity building funds. In this second stage, a fresh group of experts study the impact of the proposal, the target group etc. The top proposals go into the funding agreement phase.
ALCDF then organizes a bidding and contract group. We hire 3-5 people who are good at writing Terms of Reference and developing a tender. The tender is advertised on the online platform. This is how we help the local organisations to select the best providers. The funding agreement is tri-partite: between ALCDF, the applicant rural organisation, and the capacity builder. A monitoring group watches over the quality of services. A grant closes whit a reference from the applicant.
Lucia: How do you manage this application process? It must be expensive considering the small size of your grants?
Lindita: We have invested in an extended network of capacity development and sector experts. From the start of our operations, we have worked together with them. When we did sector market surveys to understand the capacity building services market, we studied the results together. They deeply understand our aim of improving the environment for capacity building services to rural organisations. So now we always find professionals who are free to work with us for a few days in this P4I process. We run it three times a year, and find it very cost-effective compared to other funds who have fulltime staff. The fees we pay are not high, and this favours the local capacity builders over the more established firms in Tirana. We only have 1 fund manager who administers everything, coordinates the process, contracts the experts and so forth. We managed 81 grants last year (ranging from 1,200 to 10,000 Euro), which was 13 more grants than the plan.
Lucia: Can you explain how the online platform PREX Albania came about, and what your experience is so far?
Lindita: The portal has been the most challenging of all our activities. It is a place where rural opportunity meets capacity builders. We find it is most useful when we tender on behalf of the local organisations. Immediately all the service providers who have registered, close to 2000 now, receive a message that there are new opportunities. This is a very cost-effective way of tendering. Our idea was that others would also use the platform to tender capacity building work, and pay us a fee. This is not yet taking off, but we have not done a lot either to promote the platform in this way. Our ICT consultant has also worked with USTADI (LCDF in Kenya), and their platform PREX Kenya is now ahead of us in this area!
The other advantage of the portal is that it provides market information:
Lucia: How do you look at the future of ALCDF? Can your services be sustained?
Lindita: Due to the EU accession process there are very few funding opportunities in Albania at the moment for rural development, except for cross border work. We have some project agreements that enable us to continue our services, and we have income from our services too. We also created a reserve fund in the past two years. The need for our services is still high, and we are well positioned with good contacts and networks. We have a good name now in Albania and are seen as a reliable partner in the Balkans. So, yes, I am optimistic about our ability to find rural development investors in the future.
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