Guatemala is known as the “Land of Eternal Spring” for its warm, tropical climate and the sensational beauty of its rainforests, beaches, volcanoes, agriculture, wildlife, and ancient Mayan ruins. But though the country is saturated with picturesque views and rich culture and history, Guatemala has faced daunting development challenges for decades. These include weak governance, food insecurity, unreliable water and sanitation, gender inequality, lack of economic growth, and much more. To address these challenges in Guatemala and the wider region by supporting and catalyzing local leadership, Administrator Samantha Power recently launched the five-year, $300-million Centroamérica Local initiative to empower local Central American organizations to improve security and advance opportunity.
Partnering with local and nontraditional organizations is not new for USAID/Guatemala. The Mission has collaborated for decades with stakeholders throughout the country to help foster prosperity, security, and improved governance and has prioritized connecting with marginalized communities to develop sustainable solutions. But USAID/Guatemala knew that reaching additional local partners with information about opportunities to engage with USAID would be critical to the success of Centroamérica Local and to overall localization objectives.
“Working with local partners is challenging and involves a lot of personalized attention and education, but it's the smart development choice. By building local capacity, USAID is promoting a more sustainable development model that empowers local citizens and organizations.” — Adam Cox, Director of the Office of Acquisition & Assistance, USAID/Guatemala.
Sharing funding opportunities with local organizations via traditional Mission outreach and communications proved challenging due to the size of the country and the variety of languages spoken. As the largest country in Central America, Guatemala is home to more than 16 million people spread throughout 17 sub-regions. And while Spanish is the official language of the country, there are 22 Mayan languages spoken throughout Guatemala by the country’s Indigenous population, which makes up nearly half of the entire population. In addition to those 22 languages, Garífuna and Xinca are also nationally recognized languages.
Moreover, smaller, local organizations frequently lack the capacity to pursue USAID prime contracts, which require extensive compliance, reporting, and financial standards. Sub-opportunities, which are smaller contracts and grants offered by primes, as well as programs for capacity building and training, would be within reach and would allow them to contribute their local expertise—if only these organizations could find out about them.
Seeing a chance to strengthen the Mission’s localization efforts, Mission staff from the communications, procurement, and technical offices united to create a simple hub to connect development actors in Guatemala with subaward opportunities in their region and sector. With the help of a web developer and inspired Agency staff—Director of the Office of Acquisition & Assistance, Adam Cox; Communications Director, Chris Kiernan; and Project Management Assistant, Cynthia Fuentes—the Local Actor Engagement Opportunities webpage was created.
Using Technology to Fill Knowledge Gaps
A key issue that they identified early on was that partners seeking to engage with USAID and its Guatemala Mission quickly became overwhelmed: they were confronted with too much information, in too many places, and with too little clarity on how to work with USAID. To address this problem, Cox, Kiernan, and Fuentes tapped into various resources and staff members to compile definitions of acronyms, tangible opportunities for partnership, and available capacity-building resources. They turned all of this information into the Local Actor Engagement webpage to connect local partners to fitting opportunities.
When visitors open the page they are greeted with a welcome note, encouraging them that there are often opportunities to engage with USAID activities. The page goes on to share that nontraditional and local partners often provide technical assistance, training, knowledge exchange, collaborative learning, and other capacity-development opportunities. The page helps set the expectations for interested parties, emphasizing that there are multiple entryways to the Agency no matter the size or capacity of an organization.
A New Approach for Local Partners
The Mission team agreed that it is quite common for their staff to receive unsolicited proposals or requests for opportunities from organizations that are simply not ready to navigate the complexities of being a prime partner. Since launching this page, the team has been pleasantly surprised by dozens and dozens of responses from new partners and has recognized a high level of engagement.
The Mission staff have used the positive feedback on the site and new connections it developed to rethink how they conduct business and outreach. If they recognize a partner may not be ready for a prime role, they can now redirect them to the appropriate resources and relevant sub-opportunities, guiding them through varying types of partnership until they are prepared to become a prime.
Whether an organization is in Huehuetenango seeking a funding opportunity, in Quiché seeking volunteer opportunities, or in San Marcos seeking skills training—USAID/Guatemala’s page provides information, resources, and connections to specific opportunities, often with larger prime partners, as well as an understanding of the basics about applying for direct or indirect assistance. Organizations visiting the site can use the two-step process of filtering their results to their organization’s location and to the opportunity types they are interested in.
Beyond the links and resources on this webpage, the team encourages new partners to first understand the mission of USAID and how it functions. Understanding the Agency is vital in starting a partnership to ensure organizations have clear expectations of their role and what they are required to provide when partnering with USAID. Additionally, Mission encourages new partners to explore information online and take the leap of participating in pre-proposal conferences and consider joining an activity as a sub-partner.
If your organization is seeking an opportunity to work with USAID, join the Partner Directory today to connect with other partners and take the Pre-Engagement Assessment to determine your readiness and explore carefully curated resources based on your needs. You may also explore the Spanish-translated resources available for capacity building.