How KANAVA's ISD Tool Has Helped USAID Boost West African Trade   

By Carol J. Yee, COO


It's a sign of just how large the continent is that West Africa alone comprises a dozen countries, the most expansive of them -- Mali and Niger -- completely land-locked. Combined, these 12 countries boast a wealth of agricultural production that, together with other value-added industries like apparel, net a sizable proportion of their governments' annual budgets. 

Still, the potential for trade with West Africa has long outpaced its performance—a reality that prompted the U.S. government to form the Trade Africa partnership in July of 2013. Since then, the project entrusted with activating this partnership, now known as the West Africa Trade and Investment Hub, has worked with regional partners to facilitate nearly $100 million in total exports, attract some $50 million in investment, and help create almost 15,000 jobs. 

Getting there, says Christine Ohresser-Joumard of Abt Associates, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) implementing partner managing the Trade Hub, meant forging partnerships with several prominent cross-border trade associations, whose networks were key to achieving such impressive results so quickly. 

A Practical Tool

"The Trade Hub contract stipulated that we work to strengthen the capacity of our partner organizations," says Ohresser-Joumard. Although USAID had in mind a capacity-building tool it had used on other trade projects worldwide, the Abt team wanted to empower their partners with a set of "diagnostics" that would allow them to delve deeper into their strengths and weaknesses, identifying practical ways to boost their impact. 

That's why they chose KANAVA to implement its Impact Strengthening Development (ISD) tool, a comprehensive assessment and training methodology that the women-owned firm has rolled out in places like Afghanistan, Cambodia, and the United States. Built around nine organizational development areas, from human resources to financial management, the tool allows organizations of all sizes to plot where they are on a "business maturity" continuum.

"We felt that this added level of detail would be welcome by partners and contribute to their understanding of their strengths and weaknesses," adds Ohresser-Joumard, who points to one of the Trade Hub's partners, Borderless Alliance, as an example of ISD's impact. 

Addressing Management Challenges

Borderless Alliance is a membership-based organization for trade and transport stakeholders in West Africa, explains its Advocacy Program Advisor Afua Eshun. Managed by a secretariat based in Accra, Ghana, its nine staff oversee a broad range of activities in its nine member countries. The situation was untenable, in part because the alliance's budget was derived almost entirely from donors.

"Our key management challenge to date has been the issue of sustainability, as the secretariat has heavily depended on donor funding," says Eshun. That, in turn, has meant that the alliance needed to "increase revenue channels to ensure the organization is able to continue operations when donor funding is no longer available."

Enter KANAVA. The firm was mobilized in 2015 to work with Borderless Alliance management and staff on a plan for strengthening the organization and, with it, the prospects for more sustainable revenue. As a result of implementing ISD, the alliance developed an organizational capacity baseline, according to Eshun, "making it possible to identify areas of improvement as well as areas where performance had dropped." 

Instituting Transparent Systems

From there, Borderless Alliance had the data it needed to develop a sustainability plan, which will allow it "to generate funds beyond the traditional avenues," adds Eshun. And with KANAVA's assistance, the trade association is now training its staff to put that plan into action. In fact, the alliance’s ISD results have already helped it: When it received its first-ever non-USAID grant -- from the African Development Bank -- Bank representatives decided to forego a preliminary site visit, citing systems put in place in part due to the ISD assessment.

"KANAVA not only helped us to identify our needs," recalls Eshun, "it also provided the training resources to help us fill the gaps we identified." As the West Africa Trade and Investment Hub project comes to an end this year, KANAVA is proud to have assisted organizations like Borderless Alliance to carry on this vital economic development effort. 

To read more about the West Africa Trade and Investment Hub, please see here. For more on how KANAVA's ISD tool is helping build stronger organizations, check out these stories from Cambodia and Afghanistan. 

Carol Yee