International development aid can shoot itself in the foot and end up making things worse. When Calls for Proposals for work in a particular country are published, they usually end up being won by first-world agencies. So rather than helping to develop development capacity inside that country, much of the money gets diverted to rich countries. The problem is that Calls for Proposals are very competitive and big agencies can put a lot of time and money into a glossy, beautifully-written submission. So the big agencies usually win. Local agencies don’t dare waste a month or more writing a complex proposal knowing they stand little chance of winning.
What’s more, this kind of biased selection procedure is not even valid, because big agencies have separate proposal-writing divisions and the people who end up implementing a project may not even know the people who wrote the proposal. With local agencies, the team who sweated over the proposal is probably the same people who would implement it. A good proposal-writing division doesn’t mean the implementation team will be any good. In fact when it comes to implementation, our experience is that local agencies (or local agencies with international partners) can often do a better job. Not surprising really - they have much more detailed knowledge of local conditions and know the key players. And they wrote the project design themselves. They can also be much more cost-effective because they don’t have to pay inflated international fees and travel costs.
Just one simple change in procedure can help fix this: follow the example given by the European Commission (amongst others) by favouring two-stage or “restricted” Calls for Proposals which ask just for brief expressions of interest at the first stage. Then the shortlisted agencies which pass this phase are asked to write a detailed proposal. So if you are shortlisted, you know your effort is much less likely to be wasted because you stand a greater chance of winning.
Stop the diversion of development aid money back to rich countries!
Make sure development aid gets used to build local capacity!
Get better value for money by giving local agencies a fair chance!