Special thanks to Daniel Chin, Bin Pei and Min Dai for meeting with me in Beijing. Given SVG’s focus on the development of China’s grassroots NGOs, I was eager to hear about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s China HIV/AIDS project, where they have been working with over 200 community-based organizations (CBOs) during 5 years of implementation to seek, test and treat high-risk individuals. The $50 million project was launched in 2007 and was completed last month (December 2013). The team has prepared a comprehensive set of program documentation, so that others can learn from their experience.
This program is a valuable case study because it demonstrates how a large foundation is able to successfully work with small grassroots NPOs. Also, it is a strong example of how incentive-based performance management can drive innovation and growth in the social sector.
Here are some of my key takeaways:
- Working with grassroots NGOs, philanthropists can do more, but be prepared to be hands-on, learn and adapt.
The Gates Foundation found that while government organizations could provide access and coverage to some high-risk communities, working with CBOs extended the program’s reach in terms of depth and breadth. They considered direct funding to leading CBOs, but decided to work with two GONGOs (government-organized NGOs), after realizing how small and young the CBOs were and the facilitating roles GONGOs could play. As the program progressed, they focused in on only one of the initial three target communities, seeing highest effectiveness there. They continually monitored the work of participating CBOs, dropped partners who did not meet quality control requirements and expanded cooperation with more committed and technically competent CBOs.
- Thoughtful and demand-led NGO capacity-building in the program can maximize the potential contribution of NGOs towards the program’s overall objectives both during implementation and outside the scope of the program.
The China-Gates HIV Program invested substantially in CBO capacity building efforts. They initially provided training workshops across all 15 program sites. By 2011, after they received feedback that the training was too theoretical, they organized an expert team to study CBO capacity building needs. Based on the findings of the team, they shifted to new formats for capacity building including site visits at experienced CBOs, mentorship by experienced CBOs or technical experts, and participatory training by skilled trainers with practical CBO experience. They supported technical assistance provided by third party organizers, and carefully selected five experienced CBOs to host capacity building initiatives. They also encouraged CBOs to register as charities with the Bureaus of Civil Affairs, which means legal status, allowing for much greater participation in social services, public credibility and recognition as a reliable organizational partner for government units. Though funding will remain a challenge for many of the CBOs after the program finishes, the China-Gates HIV Program also advocated for government purchases of services from CBOs. Through the program’s work, the number and quality of CBOs has improved, and several have successfully registered and obtained government contracts. CBOs were mobilized to participate in HIV/AIDs prevention and control.
- Multiply impact by identifying and investing in leading organizations
“The most important asset of CBOs is their staff and volunteers, who come from the community, allowing CBOs to reach marginalized populations not easily reached by government-run services. However, this unique position is not a guarantor of success.” At each program site, a couple highly performing CBOs that had or developed a long-term vision and professionalism often accounted for the majority of the work accomplished. By funding for output and quality, the program differentiated organizations by performance. The China-Gates HIV Program then invited CBOs with strong technical and organizational capacity and experience to be involved in capacity building for others. Also, by resourcing leading organizations to register and obtain government contracts, the program generated successful case studies that encourage other CBOs.
Congratulations, Gates Foundations for a successful program, and thank you for sharing with us your experience!
Link here for an excerpt from the China Gates HIV Program’s program documentation, which is very relevant for anyone seeking to build capacity in China’s civil society: 3.3 Building CBOs Technical and Organizational Capacities. ( Download China Gates HIV Aids Paper 6 Excerpt)
Contributed by Karen Liu