By Marie Madeleine Gomes, Manager, West Africa Programme

What changes are there in my relationship with the partners?

The experiences acquired in my previous career are an advantage in my current job as a funder. This blog describes some of the lessons I have learned.

From public administration to NGO

As part of my professional experience, I had to cut my teeth in the context of the implementation of a project funded by the World Bank in the public administration. As project coordinator, it was a great experience for me, both with the project beneficiary partners and the project funders. What stays in my mind, first and foremost, is the importance of sharing the project with the beneficiaries in order to ensure they take ownership of it. Moreover, the regular missions and field visits are equally crucial. This is something the beneficiaries are particularly appreciative of and it makes them proud. Sometimes, these missions have enabled certain activities to be modified or redirected, by taking the realities on the ground into account.

Another positive experience was that of working within a non-governmental organisation but, more importantly, that of implementing a project at a sub-regional level, in other words in seven countries: Cabo Verde, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal and Sierra Leone. This sociocultural contact eliminates any blinkered view one might have of human resource management.  Indeed, being accepted is not a foregone conclusion.  I have been taken for a Guinean national or a Moor, not to mention a native of Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissau, The Gambia or Senegal “with a dark complexion”. This has facilitated integration and dialogue with the partners. The partners felt confident and participated fully in the implementation of the activities.

A shift to becoming a funder

Today, I find myself in a completely different role, as programme manager at MAVA, with the role of funder; I’d say that “I have come full circle“. Indeed, a project consists of several phases. It starts with the design, then the development and implementation, followed by the monitoring and evaluation. However, the evaluation and funding parts are very important.

For me, the transition between these two roles was not easy. However, I must say that if you succeed in completing all these stages, it strengthens one’s judgement and helps greatly in decision-making, both with the portfolio management we have been entrusted to carry out and in our reports with our implementing partners.

Indeed, in view of the evaluation of the project submitted by the partners for funding, the knowledge of the subjects proposed by past experience facilitated the decision-making. Sometimes I redirected, advised and helped prepare the project implementation strategy. That is even more valid today, given the clear desire within MAVA to promote “adaptive management”.

To recap, having worked in the field allowed me to be far more responsive to the concerns of the implementing partners and to make a more objective assessment of the achievements and the required timeline.  Moreover, the knowledge of the stakeholders and main partners, as well as that of the national and sub-regional context make my task a lot easier.

Lessons in building solid relationships

I have learnt the following lessons, which have brought about a change in my relationship with the partners:

– To be far more willing to listen to the beneficiaries;

– To place the beneficiaries at the forefront of the implementation;

– To use both empirical and grassroots knowledge;

– To carry out regular missions to monitor the implementation of the work in the field;

– To take socio-cultural differences into account;

– To measure the capacities of the different sides for promoting change;

– To appreciate the capacity for resilience of the partners and the beneficiaries;

– To find consensual solutions;

– To help or support certain partners or beneficiaries and improve their performance;

– To share / disseminate successful experiences.

All of these experiences have represented challenges in my career, and I am using this blog to thank those who have allowed me to overcome them.