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USAID Contribution

What the CLA Case Competition Winners Tell Us about the Journey to Self-Reliance

Apr 01, 2020
Monica Matts

In September 2019, USAID’s Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning and the LEARN contract announced the winners for the 2019 CLA case competition. This was the fifth year of the competition, and we continue to be impressed by the quality of the entries and the compelling stories that they tell of CLA in action. If you haven’t read about the winners yet, you can find a short summary of their cases here.

USAID also conducted a CLA Case Competition Self-Reliance Analysis of the cases to highlight examples of USAID staff and implementing partners using CLA approaches to improve organizational learning, contribute to better development outcomes, and foster country self-reliance.

In order to understand linkages between CLA and the Journey to Self-Reliance (J2SR), the CLA case competition entry form included a new question: “Did your CLA approach contribute to self-reliance? If so, how?” By including this question, we were hoping to understand, from the USAID Missions and implementing partners who submitted cases, more about how they view the relationship between CLA and the Journey to Self-Reliance, USAID’s approach to development and humanitarian assistance. Because the Journey to Self-Reliance is a relatively new concept, we did not score the submissions on their responses to that question. However, there were several interesting and insightful examples and these were analyzed as part of the Self-Reliance Learning Agenda (SRLA), which supports USAID in operationalizing the Journey to Self-Reliance To help explore the link between CLA and Self-Reliance, the SRLA team analyzed the entries from the 2019 competition and drafted a report. This blog describes some of the findings from that analysis and highlights some of the judges’ favorite examples of CLA supporting self-reliance.

Self-Reliance in the CLA case examples

As USAID’s Policy Framework describes, building self-reliance requires both commitment and capacity; USAID fosters self-reliance by championing local solutions that support capacity and commitment. CLA approaches help USAID Missions and implementing partners to work more effectively with local actors, country partners, and other stakeholders to generate and share learning that can be used to adapt development programs so they are more effective in supporting country self-reliance. In particular, the SRLA analysis highlighted a few common pathways to self-reliance--including, capacity strengthening; engaging with the private sector; and financing self-reliance--and that a variety of CLA approaches support these pathways and self-reliance. 

One pathway is capacity strengthening, and several cases described how CLA approaches can support self-reliance in this way. This case from RTI and USAID/Kenya describes how the Kenya Youth Employment and Skills Program (K-YES) worked collaboratively with Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) centers to understand their capacity development needs. As a result of the assessment process, K-YES was able to develop a tailored and systematic approach to institutional strengthening. A SRLA capacity strengthening paper[1] finds that participatory approaches to determining capacity, such as the one used in Kenya, actively engage local actors in identifying capacity strengths and weaknesses — including informal practices and social norms — that might not be obvious to outsiders and that help to identify what is already working well. As a result of the institutional strengthening, the TVET centers went on to access new funding from public and private sectors, improve their performance scores and, ultimately, assist more young Kenyan men and women in gaining skills and obtaining new or improved employment. As the authors note, CLA approaches have also been taken up by the TVET centers themselves and they are “now able to identify areas of learning and design collaborative processes that ensure inclusive decision making and collective learning, which are key ingredients for sustainability and self-reliance.”

This case from Banyan Global and USAID/Honduras also involved strengthening capacity for a youth employment program. The objective of the Empleando Futuros activity was to decrease risk factors and increase employment for youth. The activity recognized the importance of understanding the local context and working closely with stakeholders--especially the private sector and the youth targeted for the program--to ensure that programming was as effective and relevant as possible. To build capacity, the implementing partner, Banyan Global, worked with local stakeholders to develop a training program for youth. When the activity staff saw high dropout rates among participants, they used CLA approaches to revisit their design and assumptions, examined the evidence and engaged with partners and the private sector to get feedback and decide on how to adapt their approach. The case notes that “through adaptive management, local partners and public and private sector actors have seen how their feedback can be used” to improve outcomes and strengthen capacity.

The case from Honduras also shows the importance of engaging with the private sector, another pathway to support self-reliance described in the paper on CLA cases and self-reliance. This case from India relates to that theme as well. The case describes a sustainable, private sector solution for transporting specimens to laboratories for timely tuberculosis testing. The case notes, “through collaboration with the government and private sector, KHPT demonstrated a way to bridge the gaps in the system through sustainable innovation.” Both the government’s health system and the private sector’s transportation system were strengthened in enduring ways, and the program was transitioned to the Joint Effort for the Elimination of Tuberculosis, funded by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Mobilizing domestic resources, one of the key approaches under financing self-reliance, to support programs in the long-term, is an important pathway and one that is well illustrated by this case about the Sabal (Sustainable Action for Resilience and Food Security) program in Nepal. With funding from USAID’s Food for Peace program, Save the Children worked with a number of community groups, including farmers’ groups, village savings and loan associations and village animal health workers groups to improve food security and resilience in targeted districts. Using CLA approaches, Sabal staff developed an assessment to understand these groups’ capacities, and based on that information, the program provided targeted coaching and assistance and worked to connect higher capacity groups with domestic resources. Last year, 41 municipalities allocated over $9 million USD from their own budgets to the groups’ activities, and as the submission notes, CLA approaches have “actually facilitated stronger partnerships and buy-in overall.”

Finally, the analysis paper notes a fourth pathway to self-reliance, involving strategic engagement with key counterparts at one or more levels of the partner country governmentThis case from Uganda’s Regional Health Integration to Enhance Services in Eastern Uganda describes how USAID and the implementing team worked with local governments and communities to develop a shared goal of eliminating HIV in Eastern Uganda. Teams took a structured approach to learning by reflecting regularly on performance data, and they adapted by trying different approaches to increasing HIV testing and counseling and shared their findings. As a result, “communities were better equipped with information that enabled them to address social barriers that were hindering accessing and adapting healthy behaviors” and more clients were tested and treated for HIV.

These four cases are particularly good examples of CLA approaches that support the pathways to self-reliance, but the analysis paper notes that there are many other submissions to the 2019 case competition which feature approaches that support self-reliance. As the paper concludes, there is “good reason to be optimistic about the fact that many programs already seek to strengthen host country capacity and/or commitment.” We hope to continue hearing about them and learning from the experience of USAID Missions and implementing partners about effective ways to support self-reliance.

Please contact USAID at [email protected] to share your experiences or evidence. You can also learn more about the Journey to Self-Reliance at





[1] The papers in this series summarize a landscape analysis conducted by USAID to better understand how existing evidence can contribute to addressing the SRLA learning questions. Initiated during the developmental stages of the SRLA, the aim of this landscape analysis was to conduct an extemporaneous and iterative examination of how concepts related to self-reliance are discussed in existing international development literature. The paper series finds that capacity and capacity strengthening are complex and contested terms with practical, real-life implications for how development practitioners approach capacity strengthening with local partners. The paper series is organized according to four key inquiries related to defining capacity, etc.