Strengthening local organizations that are dedicated to building organizational capacity is one of the best avenues for achieving sustainable development.

To this end, Panagora Group, a U.S. woman-owned small business (WOSB), collaborated with a Bangladeshi organization, Capacity Building Services Group (CBSG), to build the capacity of 26 national NGOs (non-governmental organizations) providing health services to a catchment area of some 20 million people under the USAID-funded Bangladesh Smiling Sun Franchise Program (SSFP) as subcontractors to Chemonics International

Smiling Sun health clinics represents the world’s largest and only full clinic social franchise. It operates almost 330 stationary clinics and more than 8,500 mobile clinics, drawing on a cadre of 6,300 community health works. Over the five-year life of contract (2007-2012), SSFP provided approximately 200 million service contacts – 28% at no cost to the poor – while also achieving an internal cost recovery of 35%.

NGO leaders listen during a capacity building session on gender equity for SSFP’s Membership Council.

To realize USAID’s goal of capacitating three to four of the NGOs in the network to receive direct donor awards, Panagora and CBSG designed and implemented an evidence-based, and highly targeted capacity building program that tripled the deliverable target — ultimately allowing twelve NGOs to put in place the necessary policies, systems, and procedures required to host direct awards.

First, to identify their institutional strengthening needs, each NGO participated in a rapid and highly participatory institutional self-assessment that involved a cross-section of the organization including top management. This was a first for these NGOs, even though they had long been involved in USAID and other donor programs. As Ms. Shamina Sultana of SSKS said, “We had an assessment before, but the results were never shared with us. This debriefing allows us to reflect on our findings and assess our strengths and weaknesses.”

Based on the institutional self-assessments, Panagora and CBSG developed a network-wide capacity building plan that identified key areas for institutional strengthening. To ensure that learning would result in new and/or improved policies, systems, as well as procedures for the NGOs, all training was provided in an applied format. Each NGO was introduced to a coherent set of policies, systems, and procedures in a range of essential institutional areas, such as human resource management and project cycle management (project design, budgeting, and implementation).

Together, the NGOs vetted the overall organizational development (OD) approach and specifics of the capacity-building plan. Through regular meetings aimed at improving NGO governance, the NGOs also provided ongoing input on the implementation of the capacity building plan.

To support the process of completing or enhancing new policies and procedures in each NGO, we designed an innovative “Help Desk” staffed by four OD Specialists provided by Panagora and CBSG. The OD Specialists provided proactive coaching and mentoring to each NGO according to a frequent schedule of visits and phone calls. The Help Desk was pivotal to keeping the capacity building activities underway in each NGO.

A representative element of the many organizational strengthening initiatives undertaken was helping each NGO develop a human resources/employee manual tailored to their organization — a fundamental requirement to qualify for a direct donor award. By project end, twelve of the twenty-six NGOs had finalized human resource/employee manuals via a participatory internal vetting process and final approval from their respective governance bodies. A Project Director from one NGO partner, BAMANEH, commented that, “I see my organization benefitting from the capacity building program, not just the SSFP health project. We can now take steps to improve the overall performance of our organization.”

Panagora and CBSG worked hand-in-hand through every element and stage of the capacity building work – from the overarching technical approach to the details of assessment, analysis, strategy development, vetting and consensus development process, training design, as well as help desk approaches and protocols.  As Obaidur Rahman, CBSG CEO, said, “Both organizations brought unique capacity. Panagora brought the strategic vision and CBSG the locally tested tools and methods. Together, we blended them to meet the unique needs of SSFP from our positions of strength and the ultimate beneficiary is the network of twenty-six NGOs.”

Betsy Bassan, President and CEO of Panagora Group, added, “We have to do more in building up national organizations with specialized expertise in capacity building. That’s the real avenue for sustained development, for working ourselves out of a job. U.S. small business is specially equipped to help local organizations gain traction in this space and become adept at working on USAID activities. Since our work together in Bangladesh, CBSG has gone on to become a regular among USAID/Bangladesh’s implementing partners.”

To learn more about Panagora, visit their SBAIC member profile page.