How can a consulting firm of 70 employees in Washington, D.C., help societies around the world protect basic human rights, prevent conflict, and spur economic growth? It may sound like an impossible to-do list, but with the right local partners, any small firm can become a mighty force in the international development space.

When Washington Business Dynamics (WBD) received a $33 million award from USAID in 2019 to help implement the Agency’s new Private Sector Engagement Policy, the firm knew that hiring the right people was key.

“We’re so proud of the team we’ve assembled to support our USAID client at its headquarters in D.C. and in USAID Missions overseas,” Scott Caldwell, co-founder and president of WBD, said. “Some [team members] have decades-long international development experience at numerous USAID missions and maintain an extensive local private sector engagement network.”

Once these experts were on the firm’s new private sector engagement (PSE) support team, known as PSE Support, and tasked by USAID missions to plan and implement local development projects, they understood that local partners would play a key role in carrying out PSE Support activities around the world. According to Diana de Castro, Paraguay Technical Lead for PSE Support, “Local partners understand local priorities in a local context. Their knowledge and input are essential in carrying out USAID’s work in the field, making the outcomes more effective and sustainable.”

Supporting the USAID Mission in Paraguay

In 2020, the USAID Mission in Paraguay (USAID/Paraguay) asked PSE Support to engage the country’s private sector stakeholders to fight corruption and promote a culture of lawfulness. Specifically, the Mission wanted PSE Support to identify Paraguayan businesses that would help the Mission:

  • Strengthen the rule of law;
  • Increase formal business opportunities; and,
  • Strengthen civil society oversight and engagement.

To ensure a successful outcome, the Latin America experts on the PSE Support team used their network to identify local Paraguayan consultants with expertise that complemented the democracy, human rights, and governance knowledge of the Mission.

As de Castro put it, “We knew the success of our project would depend on the caliber of local talent and their understanding of the local context.” Ultimately, the PSE team found two experts – one in finance, one in development – to bring onto the team.

The two local partners helped PSE Support conduct a Private Sector Landscape Assessment (PSLA) to identify private sector partners with the potential to advance USAID/Paraguay’s goals. The PSLA evaluated a range of stakeholders to map strategies and identify potential partners for the Mission’s consideration. The team carried out a comprehensive stakeholder analysis that identified shortcomings in Paraguay’s democracy and governance sector. The analysis illuminated critical private sector relationships and prospective partnership opportunities in a variety of sectors that could fortify the Mission’s democracy and governance objectives.

In total, PSE Support interviewed 50 private sector enterprises and other stakeholders across the public-private-civil spectrum to identify concerns with democracy and governance structures in the country, gauge private sector willingness to collaborate with other stakeholders, and determine opportunities for formal partnerships. Throughout their work, PSE Support engaged Mission staff and provided weekly updates, mini-capacity building sessions, progress reports, and opportunities to attend all interviews.

Based on findings from the PSLA, PSE Support provided multiple strategies for consideration, which included the recommendation of 19 individual private sector stakeholders as potential partners to achieve the Mission’s democracy and governance outcomes. The PSLA provided a rationale for selecting each potential partner, including:

  • An analysis of how each enterprise’s core business aligns with the Mission’s development outcomes;
  • Summary of the enterprise’s constraints to growth; and,
  • Potential partnership strategies outlining how USAID could address the constraint and the potential for impact.

“PSE Support is building USAID’s capacity to partner with the private enterprise to achieve sustainable development outcomes at greater scale,” de Castro said. “Our emphasis on strategic collaboration with local partners helps USAID Missions develop the relationships they need to carry out the Agency’s Private Sector Engagement Policy.”