Lessons from our partnerships with local organisations of persons with disabilities

We have a key role now… There has been increased access to resources and support, and the government has recognised the OPDs.

Indian organisation of people with disabilities

Partnerships have often been the basis of traditional approaches to development.

However, they have sometimes failed to adequately consider the importance of the nature of these partnerships, or to listen to what our partners thought about them.

As part of ongoing considerations about how we can all be more accountable to the disability movement, CBM Global (of which CBM UK is a foundingmember) asked 32 partners in 14 countries – all organisations of people with disabilities (OPDs) – what they really thought of their partnership with CBM.

This was a good moment to hear what our partners wanted to say, and to consider what specific commitments might follow.

What did our partners have to say?

Through in-depth and non-attributable interviews, the resulting report highlighted many positives to celebrate, but raised challenges too. An event CBM UK held in April explored these themes further, and a panel from three OPD partners spoke powerfully and with great honesty about the issues raised.

Partners appreciated our role in building relationships for them with wider networks including government, NGOs and funders. One partner summarised: “CBM builds the bridges … opening the door. They influenced the change in perceptions – of looking at people with disabilities as equal partners”.

Both large and small OPDs spoke of the critically important contribution we made in supporting organisational strengthening, building OPD capacity and recognising how much this was an investment, with long-term returns. A small OPD told us: “Because of the CBM programme, we are now a stronger institution. Now we have recruited staff, we have an office, we have expanded our membership.”

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Partners also reflected on CBM’s desire to work as equals with them, with shared vision and goals, learning together and encouraging each other, and bringing different strengths for a common cause. As a partner said: “They helped us to develop advocacy tools and to think about how to influence the political scenario.” It was clear from the report that our partners appreciated and validated these approaches.

What challenges did our partners face?

Challenges also emerged. Some smaller OPDs said they didn’t feel they always had a direct relationship with us, especially when projects were managed by larger intermediary organisations.

A few preferred to work directly with us, without an intermediary. In one case, a partner said the interview was the first time they had spoken to CBM without their larger partner present. “Sometimes we just have to keep quiet, as there is a power dynamic,” they said. As a result, we are considering how to build more direct links with small OPDs.

While OPDs are invited to events or planning workshops, they often receive no compensation for staff time or costs, such as for mobile data or transport costs. While increased invitations are to be celebrated, it is important to remember that demands must not be excessive or extractive, time must be compensated and should not distract from our partners’ strategic priorities as a result.

The panellists at our recent event elaborated on the themes above. When asked what the best thing that any partner has done for their organisation, Jean Damascene Nsengiyumva (National Union of Disabilities’ Organisations of Rwanda) stated that the way CBM had helped build their self-confidence,demonstrated in concrete ways, had been hugely valuable. Irene Ojiugo Patrick-Ogbogu (Disability Rights Advocacy Centre, Nigeria) related how DRAC had gone on to work with more international partners as a result of the organisational strengthening work with CBM, particularly around policies and process.

Lucy Nthaka (Kiengu Women Challenged to Challenge Kenya) highlighted the need for all INGOs to take a rights-based approach and support specific disability-related costs, such as reasonable accommodation for OPD partner staff and people with disabilities they work with. Irene spoke passionately about the need for remuneration and the problem of international development organisations in-country poaching of staff.

“You are supporting with resources. We are getting job done. We should be paid in the same way, with same remuneration – that’s what equal partnership is! How do we get to the point where we are not only having partnership in documents, but reflecting the lives of our staff out there in the field?”

They also challenged the sector as a whole to focus more on supporting core organisational costs, which are often seen by donors as unnecessary or irrelevant to delivering specific programme outcomes -a short-sighted perspective.

What can the sector learn?

While our focus was on OPD partners, these findings – and challenges – are relevant for the whole sectoras Bond members grapple with translating fine words about locally led development, shifting power and decolonising aid, into reality. They raise critical questions for us all:

  • Will we commit to changing the short-term project funding paradigm by ensuring we focus more on long-term partnerships that include organisational strengthening, when partners request it?
  • Will we consider working directly with more smaller grassroots organisations that may not meet donor accountability requirements? Are we willing to take on more risk to make this work in practice?
  • Are we committed to supporting our partners (and advocating to institutional donors) so they can pay staff similar rates to INGO staff in-country?
  • Will we ensure we budget appropriately for disability-related costs including accessibility and reasonable accommodation?

As we consider these challenges, we all need to put in place concrete measures to adjust the role we and our partners play in making a more equitable world.
We also need to advocate to donors and our peers and explain why these ways of working are fairer, more effective, and more sustainable. As our OPD partners told us, now is the time for us as a sector to really rise to this challenge. CBM is making commitments as a result. What will you do?

Do connect with CBM UKif you want to discuss partnership, working with OPDs or the findings of the report. We’d love to hear from you.