U.S. small businesses like ME&A are and have always been a natural partner for USAID for sustainable and fiduciary compliant locally led development.

“At first glance it might appear as if USAID’s 12.5 percent prime small business goal and 16 percent small business subcontracting goal collide with USAID’s new Local Capacity Development goals of 25 percent funding to local organizations and 50 percent funding including local voices,” said Loren Schulze, Ph.D., an ME&A vice president serving as a senior advisor on water, food security, agriculture, climate change, and environmental issues. “The reality is the nimble, innovative, and diversity oriented corporate cultures of small businesses like ME&A have prioritized equitable, locally led development for years. It is nothing new for us to mentor local institutions in overcoming challenges to maintaining compliance with U.S. contracting requirements; offsetting the impact of political, social, and economic upheaval on capacity development objectives; or seeking full inclusion of ethnic or religious minorities and listening to their voices.”

ME&A’s work in Tajikistan a decade ago and more recently in Armenia and Georgia are good examples of how U.S. small businesses are and have always been effective localization partners for USAID.

An objective of the ME&A-led, USAID-funded Tajikistan Safe Drinking Water Project (2009 to 2012) was building capacity among local health officials, community leaders, and the private sector to improve hygiene behaviors and associated products. Using a data-driven localization approach focusing on the areas of Tajikistan with the highest levels of water-borne diseases but lower levels of donor assistance in the drinking water sector, the three-year project exceeded virtually all critical indicator targets and provided 76,744 people with safe drinking water and benefited more than 100,000 people across Tajikistan.

“ME&A’s work in Tajikistan clearly showed the huge impact sufficient donor resources, efficient project management, data and input from local voices, and collaboration with local stakeholders can achieve,” Dr. Schulze said. “As USAID seeks to prioritize localization going forward, this project provides an excellent model for how effective and efficient locally led development can take place while minimizing potential fiduciary risks.”

One of the key ways the Tajikistan Safe Drinking Water Project exceeded its indicator targets was collaborating with the Ministry of Health and Environment, local governments, Save the Children, and other stakeholders with similar or complementary objectives in coordination with USAID. ME&A conducted surveys and analysis of the existing water infrastructure to identify water supply options that were sustainable, affordable, and used Government of Tajikistan-approved technologies. All construction was completed by local contractors. ME&A also signed a Statement of Cooperation with the Tajikistan Technical University (TTU) creating the “Center for Safe Drinking Water Solutions” where students could work side by side with experienced project engineers and IT staff, using state-of-the art equipment to develop safe drinking water alternatives. At project end, much of this equipment was turned over to TTU for future student training.

More recently in Armenia, the ME&A-led, USAID-funded Advanced Science and Partnerships for Integrated Resource Development (ASPIRED) Project (2015 to 2021) helped the Government of Armenia manage competing interests standing in the way of sustainable water resource use in the Ararat Valley. The country’s traditional breadbasket, the Ararat Valley began facing a water shortage in the early 2000s when fish farming emerged as a primary industry. Using another data-driven localization approach, the ME&A-led team – made up entirely of host country nationals – leveraged partnerships and collaboration to:

  • Help the Government of Armenia update its water-use monitoring systems and permit compliance policies to better serve the Ararat Valley’s competing water needs
  • Equip the government with state-of-the-art modeling software, tools, and techniques for real-time monitoring of the Ararat Valley’s hydrological system, including several of the largest fish farms
  • Pilot innovations for sustainable fish farming, such as reusing discharge water from fish farms for irrigation, using local contractors
  • Pilot more reliable, energy efficient ways to provide potable water and restore irrigation systems to at-risk communities across the Ararat Valley using local contractors

“As a U.S. small business, ME&A was able to make partnerships work on behalf of USAID within Armenia and beyond. ASPIRED collaborated with the Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. Global Development Lab while listening to local voices, leveraging funding during every phase of pilot projects from research to implementation, and providing rigorous environmental compliance and safety training,” said ME&A’s Chief Operating Officer Moenes E. Youannis. “The biggest accomplishment was equipping the Government of Armenia with the latest data it needs to make evidence-based, sustainable water allocation decisions going forward.”

Another good example of U.S. small business leading the way in localization is ME&A’s work under the Georgia Human and Institutional Capacity Development 2020 Activity (2015 to 2020). The ME&A-led team – comprised entirely of host country nationals – assisted 37 USAID strategic partners increase their performance or reach organizational development goals. This included Georgian public/governmental institutions, civil society organizations, associations, human rights protection institutions, schools, and a university. Results included:

  • Developing a broad and deep base of capable local firms that can provide capacity-building services to USAID, the Government of Georgia, and Georgian recipients of services
  • Enabling 174 individual exchange visits to the United States on behalf of 10 USAID implementing partners in Georgia
  • Delivering a 12-module series of Human and Institutional Capacity Development (HICD) training courses to more than 100 participants from partner and subcontractor organizations
  • Training and mentoring 18 student interns

“Our Human and Institutional Capacity Development interventions in Georgia showed that institutional change and performance improvement through capacity building is possible only when you involve the local partners in the assessment of their own organizations and have their commitment to achieve the organizational changes recommended in the jointly developed solution packages,” Mr. Youannis said.

“We cannot leave it up to the experts and the diplomats…. We must offer people, not a vision merely of international development but a vision of inclusive development.”

USAID Administrator Samantha Power