Taking ISD to Northern Afghanistan
Over the last three years, KANAVA International has been building the capacity of local organizations by applying its Impact Strengthening Development (ISD) assessment tool and methodology in multiple organizations across varied technical areas in different countries. ISD systematically assesses the organizations in nine areas to strengthen them to receive USAID grants, diversify funding sources, and ultimately empower organizational sustainability through the strengthening of their management systems.
In Cambodia, where KANAVA first began to pilot ISD in 2014, ISD has been applied in organizations from varied sectors, such as HIV/AIDS, agriculture, food security, and economic development, under the IESC/VEGA funded Capacity Building of Cambodia’s Local Organizations (CBCLO) program. Under the West Africa Trade and Investment Hub, KANAVA applied ISD at the association level to strengthen multiple value chain organizations working in regional transportation, grains, and livestock production. Most recently, KANAVA has applied ISD to local organizations, both non-profit and commercial, in northern Afghanistan to help build the organizations to qualify for direct USAID grants.
Using ISD is a win-win as it has two complimentary goals: (1) streamline the vetting process for a donor or investor to assess an organization, reducing repetition in the vetting process, leveraging synergies across funders/investors, and reducing risk; and (2) empower local organizations with ISD‘s accessible, systematic, and transparent framework, which can be tailored for government organizations, NGOs, or commercial companies, to empower local organizations to strengthen their own capacity to build sustainability.
KANAVA’s COO, Carol Yee, recently spent two weeks in Mazar-e-Sharif to assess eight local organizations using ISD. USAID’s Regional Agricultural Development Program-North (RADP-N) issued a subcontract to KANAVA to build the capacity of at least four organizations in Northern Afghanistan to be able to pass USAID’s Non-US Pre-award Survey (NUPAS), which is required for local organizations to receive a grant directly from USAID.
In order to get a manageable number of organizations, RADP-N staff first wanted to pre-screen the organizations. In discussions with Carol, they decided to use the ISD Rapid Assessment, a subset of the full assessment questions. Out of 11 organizations given the rapid assessment, eight of them made it onto the short-list. RADP-N staff, led by Zainuddin Sorosh, saw the tool for the first time when they received it from KANAVA. With the instructions on the spreadsheet, and only a few questions, he tackled the assessment, finding it easy and straightforward to use.
After arriving in Mazar, Carol worked closely with Sorosh, first undertaking a two-half day train-the-trainer workshop on ISD for six RADP-N staff. Each came away from the training with a better idea of what ISD is and how it might be applied to their work, especially for agricultural cooperatives and women’s groups seeking access to finance.
Together with another RADP-N staff member, Said Wahidullah Moufaq, they completed the full assessment, which will be used as baseline data. Additionally, as successfully passing NUPAS is the ultimate goal of this part of the project, Carol mapped NUPAS to ISD to provide an illustrative view of how these organizations would score on a NUPAS today.
Bill Dalton, RADP-N’s Deputy Chief of Party, praised the ISD tool as something his staff easily picked up and started using, yet also provides data to backup what they intuitively knew about these organizations, based on how they had performed on grants RADP-N had previously awarded them.
While not fail safe, the RADP-N staff now has a much better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the assessed organizations that went through the ISD exercise. It was also interesting to observe the discussions between the organization and the RADP-N staff, sometimes discussing new topics, other times delving into the systems the organization has. The organizations themselves were surprised at what they had or did not have, and to see their strengths and weaknesses laid out so clearly to support follow on action.
KANAVA emphasizes ISD is not an audit tool, rather it is a management tool for self-examination that frankly reflects their capacity and sustainability potential by assessing what management systems they have and do not have in place.
ISD helps local organizations formalize what they have, reinforces best practices, and introduces new ideas/best practices, while giving them a way to clearly demonstrate their level of sophistication of their management platform. It is a forward looking tool at an organization’s true capacity and can help donors manage grants judiciously to achieve results and strengthen organizations for long-term sustainability.