Why do so many development cooperation projects run after their partners?
Most projects operate on the premise that there is a project partner (often one of the “beneficiaries”) on the recipient side, who is fully committed to the project. He shares a common understanding of the overriding and the specific project goals and will work together with the project team to achieve these goals. The fallacy in this premise is that the level of commitment of the project partner – and the willingness to commit staff, time and resources to the project – is all too often not strong enough.
The reasons for this vary from project to project, but mostly begin with one or more of the following:
The result is that millions of Euros are invested in strengthening partner organisations to increase their absorptive capacity. And many compromises must be made along the way (hiring the cousin, financing certain inputs from the partner organisation, carrying out work that technically should be the responsibility of the partner, etc.).
It can be argued that the job of technical cooperation is to build up the capacities in the partners. I beg to differ: experience has demonstrated that the capacity of the partner expands in direct correlation to the vested interest in the project’s goals and work, and not in relation to the money or “institution building” showered upon it.
The real issue here is that of demand: when the demand is strong enough, and when the project is responding to a real need felt locally, the partner will be motivated enough.
Some of the criteria for judging the usefulness of a particular project should include:
Real means that the project partner plans to make available to the project (personnel, offices, equipment, etc.)
Any history of the project partner in other projects (Does it go from project to project and derive its financing through external support? How was the performance in previous projects? What other activities and projects does it have running?)
Consistency of the project objectives with the formal and unstated objectives and goals of the partner organisation.
These are very general selection criteria and would need to be adapted to every situation, but should lay the foundation for a more rigorous selection of partners.
And when this is not the case, the project should in my view be reoriented or closed.