Under its 2010 constitution, Kenya’s major reforms include a devolved government in which civil society organizations (CSOs) have an enhanced contribution to strengthening health and social systems. The reforms are timely, as other donor mandates, such as USAID Forward, also place greater emphasis on country-led, country-driven development assistance, with more direct investment in partner governments and local organizations, and stronger public-private partnerships. To achieve these mandates, local capacity must be developed so that these institutions can play their part.
At the invitation of the FANIKISHA project, nearly 200 people gathered in Nairobi June 10-12, 2013, for a three-day symposium on institutional strengthening for Kenya’s civil society organizations. This was the first major forum where donors, civil society, and other health stakeholders in Kenya came together to focus on this topic. Presentations made the case for the importance of strong, local CSOs that can compete with and complement their international counterparts and have sustainable impact on the health and well-being of Kenyans. Bringing together major donor agencies fostered the understanding of complementary activities the international community is supporting and presented new opportunities for networking and partnerships. CSO participants left the meeting with concrete plans to strengthen their institution’s capacity across critical domains, from governance and leadership to resource mobilization and advocacy. They signed on to the “Nairobi Declaration on Institutional Strengthening,” to illustrate the commitment of civil society to fulfill its role in achieving national health priorities.
USAID’s rich history of developing local capacity in Kenya has resulted in a number of successes in strengthening local institutions. One such example comes from the FANIKISHA Institutional Strengthening Project, which works with ten national health CSOs. FANIKISHA has been providing assistance to one of these CSOs—Omega Foundation–to enhance its skills in governance, financial management, human resources, monitoring and evaluation, and communications. In 2011, Omega Foundation was facing all-too-common organizational challenges, including systems and structures that had not kept pace with growth and staffing that did not reflect organizational needs. Having already committed to overcoming these challenges, Omega applied for and received a grant from FANIKISHA to partner in an institutional strengthening program that has helped to transform the organization. Today, Omega Foundation has a revitalized governance system with an active board. Omega has reached out to new donors with renewed confidence, receiving modest funding in new grants from three local banks and another donor to help support existing community programs that include the integration of family planning and HIV services. Improved data collection tools that support evidence-based decision making, as well as a new communications strategy that is reaching more than 600 stakeholders, reinforce this new trust and confidence that donors have in Omega Foundation.
The Omega Foundation story is a good example of the potential that institutional strengthening has for advancing health and development. By supporting the strengthening of local institutions, USAID is helping to realize the vision of sustainable, country-led, and country-driven development in Kenya.
Dr. Daraus Bukenya of Management Sciences for Health is the Chief of Party for the USAID FANIKISHA Institutional Strengthening Project, launched in 2011 to strengthen the capacity of national-level CSOs in Kenya.