Political disunity had caused 50 years of war before South Sudan’s independence in 2011. In 2013 a new civil war erupted in the capital city, Juba, and spread across the country. Community defense groups that had long protected land, cattle, and clans from danger became embroiled in the national conflict. Their local grievances exacerbated tensions, which led to widespread fighting until the internationally brokered peace process resulted in the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGNU) on February 22, 2020. After decades of humanitarian investments, the international community was frustrated with the high cost to repeatedly provide humanitarian aid without lasting results (not reducing poverty and chronic vulnerability), and after decades of fighting, so too were the people and communities of South Sudan. From this context, the PfRR was established.
Partnerships of such ambitious scope face many challenges to success. In addition to the unique challenges of South Sudan, UN member states and agencies were hindered by institutional silos, organizational politics, a breakdown of trust, and a hefty dose of inter-agency competition. While the ideal of “One UN” among the UN member states and agencies has not been fully achieved in practice, there is still significant momentum toward greater collaboration. Convergence must be actualized across donors, agencies, levels, and sectors for the resilience partnership to be successful.
Fortuitously, a group of determined champions from Yambio—a community along the border with Congo—stepped in to create an environment of trust, where this type of partnership can succeed. In Yambio, many youths had joined militias out of desperation and relied on banditry for survival. Through their daring efforts, community leaders ended the local rebellion and forged a fragile peace, but they knew it would not last without tangible benefits to youth. For this reason, they approached the international community with their appeal.
During this time, champions from the major donors, UN agencies, and NGOs promoted their own separate resilience initiatives. USAID rallied these international forces to agree to work together and focus their efforts around “5 C’s”– Cooperation, Co-location, Coordination, Collaboration, and Commitment, centered on the principle of “Community first.” Yambio volunteered as the first Partnership Area (PA), which meant the Yambio champions would work to create an environment of peace, security, and goodwill that would allow the international partners to operate outside of existing humanitarian programs.
While overcoming the post-conflict trauma and trust issues marked the biggest challenge for the people of Yambio, international actors—who had long worked side by side but not as frequently together—had to build their own connective tissue to meet the ideals of partnership. Given this context, trust in people and institutions emerged as the first pillar of the PfRR, which provides a foundation for the other three pillars. The second pillar – restoring access to basic education, the third pillar – strengthening productive capacities, and the fourth pillar – nurturing the partnerships, are all built upon the first pillar – trust in people and institutions.
Yambio was selected as the first Partnership Area because the people of Yambio took it upon themselves to end their local rebellion, build their social cohesion, and support this newly formed group of PfRR partners. These local efforts made it easy for the PfRR to agree on this initial geographic selection. These efforts also set a high bar for other areas that had to demonstrate their readiness for partnership. To date, some of the preliminary indications of the Partnership taking hold in Yambio—where the activities of the PfRR are more advanced—have been significant, including building trust through reinforcing the local reconciliation peace process, restoring basic services such as education by supporting the construction of primary schools, strengthening the productive capacity of local farmers (e.g., increased access to inputs, training, and crop diversification), and nurturing effective partnerships by training community-based organizations.
Origin of the PfRR: Key Voices As part of this case study, the USAID Center for Resilience commissioned DAI to create a video documentary telling the story of the PfRR, its roots in the local peace in Yambio, and its vision of building resilience and reducing vulnerabilities in South Sudan’s fragile state context. The video features diverse voices from across the Partnership. It is meant as a complement to this narrative case study, documenting an important foundational period in the Partnership for Recovery and Resilience.
Since the launch of the PfRR in March 2018, this connectivity has been built through interpersonal relations of champions within agencies, through institutional relations among agencies, and by developing a shared donor agenda. While hands-on leadership by the USAID champions got the Partnership moving, its evolution into a more facilitative leadership structure was necessary as other donors, United Nations agencies, and international NGOs also stepped forward to take collective ownership and demand a more distributed authority. Key PfRR leaders supported this evolution. In doing so, they protected the Partnership’s early gains, mitigated concerns over any perceived domination by individual donors, and introduced a facilitative leadership well suited for the Partnership’s work moving forward.
Through this case study and Africa Lead’s role in facilitating the PfRR, we have observed that social cohesion is a critical influencer of resilience outcomes. In the South Sudan context, supporting social cohesion within and across communities is linked to, and can unlock, other entry points to strengthen resilience capacities at the local community level. To build this connectivity, the role of leadership is paramount, but so too is technical precision. Defining Building Blocks for area-based programming provides a comprehensive understanding of the evidence, community engagement, and implementation priorities. These building blocks are organized into a methodological framework called the “Building Block Framework.” The completion of the building blocks is not an end unto itself, but rather a milestone in the process that will involve continuous review and learning. In South Sudan, the following four axes are used for the purposes of this case study to organize the eight building blocks: 1) stakeholder engagement; 2) measurement and evidence; 3) programming; and 4) convergence. Completing these building blocks will result in coherence emerging in these PAs in terms of a uniform and accessible set of concepts and terminology. Organizing PfRR’s work along these building blocks has helped to advance the Partnership with some early wins and produced improved resilience programming. Partners produced agreements on common frameworks, created simple, harmonized, and contextualized metrics and analytics; facilitated joint decision-making about what to do, where, when, and how; and witnessed commitments of resources to specific activities based on local priorities and mutual accountability.Having articulated a building block framework for strengthening convergence based on these four axes and eight building blocks, the PfRR has pioneered a space where the international and local communities—in several geographic locations—are beginning to sit together and jointly determine their priorities, contributions, and desired outcomes. Partners must still communicate evidence in ways that make sense to all concerned in the Partnership, whether in Juba or the PAs. It is anticipated that the building blocks likely will be streamlined and simplified through experiential learning. Nevertheless, significant progress has been made in a short time.