Working Ourselves Out of a Job

By Susan M. Puska and Carol J. Yee

  For the USAID-supported West Africa Trade and Investment Hub, KANAVA worked with Borderless Alliance, a membership-based organization for trade and transport stakeholders, on a sustainability plan that included an organizational capacity baseline. 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 KANAVA's work.

For the USAID-supported West Africa Trade and Investment Hub, KANAVA worked with Borderless Alliance, a membership-based organization for trade and transport stakeholders, on a sustainability plan that included an organizational capacity baseline. 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 KANAVA's work.

Speaking before a House Appropriations Subcommittee last November, USAID Administrator Ambassador Mark Green made it clear that “the purpose of development assistance is to end its need to exist.” We at KANAVA International couldn’t agree more. But how do we know when it’s time to leave a country?

Embedded in this question are at least three others:

  • How can the procurement process be streamlined to reduce the barriers of entry to USAID programs, while also ensuring USAID is partnering with strong organizations?
  • How can we assist local organizations to be better positioned to sustain their work after donor funding ends?
  • How can we help Congress and American taxpayers ensure that USAID and its projects are good stewards of taxpayers’ money?

Although KANAVA is a small business -- owned and operated by women and led by a service-disabled veteran -- we have big ideas on how to answer those questions. That’s why we invested in a new, digitized solution that we believe will be a game-changer for development, for USAID, and for the organizations that will carry forward its mission: the Impact Strengthening Development (ISD) assessment tool and certification program.

Designed for U.S. small businesses as well as local organizations in developing countries, ISD measures and benchmarks management systems, placing them along an organizational maturity scale and helping donors and other clients to more easily gauge the viability of their investments. To get there, we looked at a range of existing organizational assessment tools, boiling ISD down to nine core competencies that, taken together, position organizations to be transparent, effective, and sustainable. The ISD framework includes a scoring system that offers an objective measure of where organizations stand while allowing them to seek certification based on their aptitude.

We believe ISD offers a pragmatic, holistic, and systemic approach that creates and demonstrates management sophistication for small to large organizations. As we applied ISD over the last four years, we realized it could apply beyond the international development community, adding value to organizations funded by foundations or corporate social responsibility programs, as well as supply chain vendors -- thus impacting the wider global economy. Further, with its focus on universal management principles, ISD can also be applied to the public sector.

That may sound like a lofty goal, but we believe demand for ISD is on par with the benefits it offers. Not only does ISD offer organizations an intuitive, easy-to-use way to assess their strengths and weaknesses, it helps them chart a path to becoming more efficient, more resilient, and -- most important -- more effective and self-reliant. That’s because ISD focuses on developing systems while training the staff who oversee them. In this way, KANAVA’s tool empowers organizations to take on different revenue streams, positioning them to be more financially sustainable.

  KANAVA has worked with the USAID Capacity Building of Cambodia’s Local Organizations (CBCLO) program to conduct 36 ISD assessments -- 35 of them using the more streamlined rapid methodology. The organizations assessed represented a broad spectrum of sectors, from agriculture to human rights, further proof that having a strong operational platform is critical for any organization and any sector.

KANAVA has worked with the USAID Capacity Building of Cambodia’s Local Organizations (CBCLO) program to conduct 36 ISD assessments -- 35 of them using the more streamlined rapid methodology. The organizations assessed represented a broad spectrum of sectors, from agriculture to human rights, further proof that having a strong operational platform is critical for any organization and any sector.

That’s good news for organizations and good news for donors. ISD certification can be a reliable, well-documented barometer of an organization’s maturity level. It assures funding agencies that an ISD-certified organization is a stronger partner, streamlining the vetting process, encouraging procurement reform, and simplifying oversight, including that by the U.S. Congress. Our vision is for certified organizations to be part of a global ISD database that will be openly available as a public good, giving donors and investors the information they need to make responsible funding decisions.

All of which brings us back to Ambassador Green’s vision. For USAID or other donors to develop a consistent exit strategy, one that ensures the sustainability of their investments, they need to entrust the work of development to organizations that are up to the task. Identifying those organizations and building their capacity to continue the good work of USAID and other agencies is precisely what ISD is all about.

Although numerous organizational assessment tools have been developed over the years, none of them offers a corresponding certification program. With ISD, KANAVA has developed a transparent way for U.S. small businesses and local organizations worldwide to demonstrate their value, showing that they have the management capacity to compliantly run donor-funded projects and, ultimately, deliver development. That’s our passion at KANAVA, and it’s why we developed ISD. We believe this practical tool, developed by a small, women-owned business, has the potential to revolutionize the global economy and provide many more opportunities to local organizations.

This article originally appeared in the March 2018 newsletter of the Small Business Association for International Companies (SBAIC).  

Susan Puska