USAID Learning Lab Blog: Intentional collaboration drives better development outcomes

By Nesma Gad, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist, and Adriana Abreu-Combs, Chief of Party, USAID’s Services to Improve Performance Management, Enhance Learning and Evaluation (SIMPLE) project, implemented by QED in Egypt.

USAID’s Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) conceptual framework is a driving force of efforts to place Missions around the world in an adaptive culture — one that learns both from accomplishments and failures; one that adapts as a result of this learning; and one that harnesses opportunities to engage and collaborate with stakeholders to achieve common objectives. And for this to happen, there needs to be intentional and systematic effort, as well as dedicated resources.

USAID’s Mission in Egypt is well underway on its CLA journey. The Mission has been intentionally accelerating collaboration towards advancing women’s empowerment and gender equality — a goal at the heart of its new Country Development Cooperation Strategy. The strategy recognizes women’s economic empowerment as necessary for achieving a more inclusive and globally competitive economy that benefits all Egyptians. And a recently concluded Gender Analysis and Assessment in Egypt linked better outcomes for women to strengthened coordination and concerted collaboration among all stakeholders. This is set against a challenging background, as evidenced by the 2021 Global Gender Gap Index that ranks Egypt at 150 out of 156 countries worldwide on women’s economic participation and opportunity. A lot has yet to be done.

To make meaningful progress, last month QED’s team in Egypt supported the USAID Mission to launch its Gender Equality/Women Empowerment Community of Practice (CoP) to engage and galvanize implementing partners (IPs) around this goal. The CoP, an initiative spearheaded by the Program Office and co-led with IPs, aims to create a supporting network and a platform for IPs to exchange experiences and work together with the Egypt Mission to operationalize women’s empowerment. It builds on lessons of a prior effort as well as the momentum generated by a recent Women’s Empowerment Learning Fair that raised awareness and galvanized support for this crucial cause in Egypt.

The CoP kick-off virtual event engaged 18 partners and over 60 participants who identified six ways of working together to advance women’s empowerment across the Mission portfolio. From establishing an information hub to ensure resources are widely available via a digital platform; to focusing effort at collective adaptation including through implementation of joint and integrated activities; to peer learning via the sharing of knowledge, experience, and practices; and more — all building on the premise that collaboration can lead to better results and impact. The event generated momentum and commitment to press on with this effort with a second meeting already on the horizon and a calendar of future events in the making.

But what makes this effort unique is not just the enthusiasm in the room or the robust participation. What makes this effort unique is a vision for collaboration that is intentional and long-term, and that will rely on IPs to help shape a CoP that responds to members’ needs and supports larger strategic goals. That is collaboration at its best — where it fosters ownership that can in turn secure buy-in and commitment.

Egypt Mission Director Leslie Reed has emphasized recently that “the strategy’s goal will not be achieved unless we all work together to make significant progress on women’s empowerment.”

The CoP is a powerful demonstration of the Mission utilizing its convening power to leverage collaboration intentionally — across its partners whose work in gender is important and where greater collaboration can only lead to better impact.

The clear leadership and strategy mandate around gender, as well as the intentional collaboration and long-term vision for the CoP initiative, have no doubt set a promising path for it from the outset.

Note: this content first appeared on USAID’s Learning Lab blog.