Fund International Development? A Framework for Collaboration With Beneficiary Communities - Exponent Philanthropy
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Fund International Development? A Framework for Collaboration With Beneficiary Communities

For nearly a century, donor-driven development has struggled to create sustainable change in the Global South. Today, funders realize the key to improving community self-reliance lies in healthy collaboration with beneficiary communities.

A challenge, then, is how to collaborate with rural communities in the Global South. How do we maintain financial management standards when our partners have limited formal education or training? How do we deliver projects according to design, budget, and schedule without a permanent in-country presence? How do we listen through language and cultural barriers?

For the past seven years, Better Lives and the Wade Family Charitable Foundation (WFCF) have collaborated to develop a framework for sustainable rural development. WFCF provided funding and Better Lives managed operations and codified lessons learned. The framework is the result of our experiences collaborating with locally-run organizations in East Africa and Southeast Asia. We assist these organizations to implement programs that follow three principles: collaborative, holistic, and sustainable.

We encourage all foundations doing international development work to consider how they can enable communities to be equal partners in the mission to create sustainable change for future generations.

Here is our framework.

Identify and Develop Partners

Funding organizations must be adept at identifying and developing people with the will and ability to collaborate effectively. Better Lives uses a four-stage approach based on the concept of Small Sustainable Steps. Small Sustainable Steps reduce risk for funding organizations by testing the strength of their relationships incrementally. Issues and weaknesses are identified and addressed before significant funds have been committed. The four stages are:


Time Period
Identifying 1-7 days Confirm Values Fit: Does the organization’s share our values?

Confirm Mission Fit: Is the organization’s mission in line with ours?

Confirm Competency Fit: Can our competencies address the local organization’s objectives?

Qualifying 3 months Test and develop the organization’s communication abilities. Confirm the organization’s actions match their stated values.

Record local symptoms of the challenge your organization will address.

Designing 6 months Use Root Cause Analysis to identify the root causes of the symptoms.

Use Gap Analysis and Prioritization Matrix to set high level program objectives Create high level program designs to achieve objectives.

Formalize processes, roles, and responsibilities for ongoing collaboration.

Implementing     1 year Begin managing with appropriate governance tools.

Improve processes using Plan, Do, Check, Act procedure.


Manage With Appropriate Governance Tools

You have identified the locally-run organization you want to work with. It’s time to ensure the projects and programs you support are protected with sound governance tools and operating processes. Better Lives uses a core governance process organized into four categories: Plan, Do, Check, and Act:

Plan. Planning tools include:

  • Prioritization matrix to prioritize improvement ideas based on impact and urgency
  • Approval process to build shared design, budget, and schedule expectations
  • Accountable, Responsible, Consulted, Informed (ARCI) matrix to define roles and responsibilities
  • Financial forecast templates for projects, programs, income-generating activities, organizations, and grantee portfolios

Do. “Do” tools define the agreed quality specifications (design, budget, and schedule) for work to be funded and completed.

Check. Checking that work is done according to design, budget, and schedule, and confirming that all funds are accounted for, is critical to sound financial management. Better Lives uses appropriate technology that enables partner organizations to submit receipts and deliverable photos from their phones directly into our database.

Act. Better Lives uses a 5-step approval process to make it easy for local organizations to propose continual quality improvement ideas.

Develop Organization and Leadership

Better Lives’ strategy is to enable local organizations to deliver benefits to their communities independently. This autonomy requires developing organizational and financial sustainability.

We develop organizational sustainability by sharing best practices from our library of management procedures. We share procedures in the context of challenges and opportunities partner organizations are experiencing in real-time. Lessons directly applied are lessons remembered and over time local leaders gain the tools to identify problems, implement solutions, and maintain those solutions independently.

Each community is faced with a unique set of challenges and opportunities. Focusing on management procedures, instead of specific skills, gives local organizations the flexibility to address a range of current and future situations.

Create a Path to Self-Reliance

We believe that communities with sufficient infrastructure along each of six stages on the Path to Self-Reliance have the best chance at supporting children to grow up healthy, educated, and trained to earn an income and contribute to a sustainable future. The Path to Self-Reliance can help you understand what gaps to fill with future project and programs. The six stages are:

  • Access Resources
  • Apply Knowledge
  • Strengthen Health
  • Earn Income
  • Improve Home
  • Enhance Education

Please contact us at if you would like to discuss how these concepts could enable your foundation to leverage your resources and build sustainable local relationships. Or, visit


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