Africa Leading Blog

Collective Impact for Resilience; Improving Collaboration and Learning in Northern Kenya

Selina Akiru of Northern Kenya is the pure definition of resilience. A mother of eight and a member of the Moruese community in Kenya’s arid Turkana County, she had often struggled to feed and send her children to school. More intense and frequent droughts in recent years throughout the region had a negative impact on her family’s food security and they had become reliant on relief food from humanitarian agencies.

Selina and the whole community were hit hard by a particularly severe drought in 2011 which resulted in a humanitarian crisis across the Horn of Africa. Millions of people were displaced from their homes, food insecurity reached emergency levels, and human and animal lives were lost.

“The drought in 2011 made life very difficult for us. Many of our livestock died and the only way to generate income was to cut trees for charcoal which we sold for Ksh. 100 (approximately $0.98). Things got so bad that my family was forced to leave our home in Moruese and move to Kitale in hopes of making a living,” says Selina.

However, in 2015, things  turned around for her. Upon returning to Moruese, she found the community’s irrigation scheme had been revived. Initially dependent on poor rainfall seasons, the Moruese irrigation scheme now benefits from a 1.5 km concrete-lined water canal that channels water from the Turkwel River to irrigate 275 acres of land. By learning and implementing best agricultural practices, more than 500 families in Moruese  are addressing their need for continuous water supply and year-round agricultural production in a region that is defined by a challenging natural environment, drought emergencies, and an economy dominated by mobile pastoralism.

Once ravaged by hunger, Selina and other Moruese community members are now able to produce food and cope well even in drought conditions thanks to support from USAID Kenya’s Partnership for Resilience and Economic Growth (PREG). PREG links both humanitarian and development partners working in communities like Moruese in Kenya’s northern arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) to increase community resilience for withstanding shocks such as drought.

PREG, a collaboration and coordination platform, has been working in Kenya’s ASALs since 2013 and coordinates efforts among 26 USAID implementing partners in the region, including Kenya’s National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), and nine county governments. The effort seeks to amplify and streamline USAID’s investments focused on improving and building more resilient and food-secure communities to meet USAID’s overarching resilience goal: a reduction of the humanitarian caseload in the Horn of Africa by one million people.

Collective impact for resilience

Since May 2016, Africa Lead II (one of Feed the Future’s food security capacity building programs on the continent and implemented by DAI), has supported USAID Kenya’s PREG as the lead learning partner to guide and facilitate PREG partners through a focused and directed learning process to strengthen and improve collaboration and learning efforts. Africa Lead also supports the secretariat/backbone function for the partnership, supports continuous, strategic communication, and facilitates institutional capacity strengthening for Kenya’s NDMA.

In August 2016, Africa Lead facilitated a PREG Learning Event, bringing together more than 60 participants including PREG partners at the national and county levels, county government representatives, and USAID staff to develop a learning agenda for the partnership. During the event, PREG partners also adopted a collaborative framework for collective action to ensure sustainability of the partnership’s activities. Drawn from the collective impact model, this approach has since been adopted as part of the partnership’s standard operating principles (SOPs), and provides the framework for PREG work streams: 1) a common agenda, 2) shared measurement for alignment and accountability, 3) mutually reinforcing activities, 4) strategic communication with relevant stakeholders, and 5) backbone organization support.

Collective impact is an innovative and structured approach to making collaboration work across government, business, philanthropy, non-profit organizations, and communities to achieve significant and sustainable change. The approach is premised on the belief that no single policy, government department, organization or program can tackle or solve the increasingly complex problems we face as a society. It calls for multiple organizations or entities from different sectors to adopt a common agenda, and shared measurement for alignment and accountability.

PREG activity in Kenya’s ASALs is, therefore, anchored on joint work planning for strategic collaboration, open communication, and the use of work plans as tools for flexible and adaptive programming.

For two consecutive years, Africa Lead has facilitated joint work planning by PREG partners in Turkana, Isiolo, Garissa, Wajir, Marsabit, Baringo and Samburu Counties. Across all counties, PREG partners have noted that joint work planning has helped in setting a clear vision and purpose for the partnership.

Joint work planning has also helped PREG partners actualize the mutually reinforcing activities work stream; a key component in collective impact which calls for coordination of approaches through a joint plan of action. With joint work plans in place, partners are now deliberate about identifying sites where they can layer their activities. In Marsabit County, for example, nutrition program, Nutrition and Health Program Plus (NHP+), and livestock program, Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVCD), jointly implemented a Training of Trainers activity for community health and nutrition workers in 2017.

“In Moyale, we were able to conduct a training activity on agri-nutrition together with AVCD. At first, the resources my program had could only reach very few people but because AVCD had a similar activity, we were able to [combine] our resources and capture more people,” says Galgallo Boru of NHP+. Joint implementation of the activity increased the number of trained health workers from an initial target of 280 community trainers to a combined 600, meaning all Marsabit County health and nutrition workers have received training.

In order to support the progress of the partnership at the county level, Africa Lead also organized, and continues to organize, follow-up and support visits to each county. The visits are held to: observe the level of completion of activities listed in the work plans, and identify evidence of good practice, innovations in collaboration and partnership, and challenges experienced during implementation of the activities.

CLA in practice

To strengthen collaboration in practice and to foster continuous communication, PREG partners hold regular monthly meetings at both national and county levels where they follow-up on joint work planning commitments, make adjustments on joint implementation schedules, and coordinate and share data and information.

“We [hold] monthly forums and through those monthly meetings we have been able to discuss areas of synergy, areas where we [can] come together, and [fill any] gaps in programming,” says Thomas Musyoki, a PREG partner in Turkana County.

The PREG Learning case study suggests embedding CLA into core interactions with local influencers and decision-makers is critical to generating buy-in, navigating risk, and facilitating collaboration among government counterparts.

As Shannon Sarbo, Deputy Chief of Party for Africa Lead puts it, “CLA cannot be one of those things that happens just once a quarter to get a report done; it should be a deliberate function in a project, just like procurement or finance. In the same way, gathering what we are learning and how we are feeding those learnings back into implementation needs to become an explicit function.”

To further the implementation of the CLA framework and adoption of the collective impact, USAID and Africa Lead have co-facilitated annual field-based learning events; one in Turkana County in 2017, one in Isiolo and Marsabit Counties in 2018, and the most recent one in Samburu, Isiolo, and Marsabit Counties in August 2019. Centered on learning themes, the learning events are a platform for participants to engage in a participatory process of critical reflection, analysis, and collective action for improving resilience programming and impact in the ASALs. Site selection for the learning events is guided by the learning themes to help partners, county governments, and USAID determine how to adapt resilience programming, and how they can further collaborate within PREG. Site selection has also evolved over the last three years and in 2019 communities participated for the first time in the learning event whose learning theme was USAID’s new journey to self-reliance approach.

According to PREG partners, PREG has significantly reduced, if not eliminated, the traditional competition common among implementing partner organizations, and is referenced as a practical example of CLA and a model to learn from within USAID, the Government of Kenya, and other development partners.

“PREG is real. The essence of a partnership is working together to improve our outcomes. And our outcomes are collaboration, learning, and adaptation, to inform and improve outcomes for increased resilience building in the ASALs,” says Vicky Liyai of USAID/Kenya.

Extending the model for regional resilience

Since the severe drought of 2011 in the Horn of Africa, USAID has made considerable investments towards its goal to build community resilience and reduce the humanitarian caseload by one million people. Such an ambitious goal called for, and continues to call for, coordinated action by multiple actors across different sectors for collective impact and effective use of resources across the region.

PREG’s use of the collective impact model, which integrates humanitarian and development partners working with the same people in shared target geographies to increase community resilience, is gaining traction with international development actors in the East Africa region.

The Partnership for Resilience and Recovery (PfRR) in South Sudan is an example of a new collaboration mechanism that was developed in 2018 to deal with increasing humanitarian needs, and build the resilience of communities in South Sudan. The PfRR in South Sudan consists of donors, UN entities, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and is an all-encompassing, unified approach to reduce vulnerability and build resilience through a multi-actor and cross-sector collaboration that puts communities at the center of the response.

Africa Lead has supported the PfRR’s learning agenda since its inception, including providing facilitative and technical assistance to eight building blocks deemed critical for the success of the partnership at the sub-national level (Resilience Profiles, Institutional Architecture for Resilience, Inclusive Champions Group, Program Framework, Activity Mapping and Inventory, Joint Work Planning, Coordination Planning, and Partnership Commitments).

The work and the model have also proven to be an important lesson on its own as USAID continues to promote its Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) framework across its global portfolio of development programs, implementers and partners. In September 2018, the PREG Learning Activity emerged as a successful CLA case study in USAID’s Learning Lab CLA annual case study competition for its joint work planning processes for collective impact.

Most importantly, USAID and Africa Lead’s focus on collective impact, learning and collaboration is not only improving resilience programming in communities that need to remain food secure. The program is drawing its greatest strength from the mothers, the fathers, the elders, and other community leaders like Selina to define what resilience really looks like. 

Now in Northern Kenya, if you’re trying to define resilience you only need to look to the communities, and leaders like Selina, to show you what resilience looks like. 

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