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Great Lakes: linking and learning


With the projects under the Reconstruction Tender having concluded, Oxfam Novib and the Platform organized an informal learning event entitled “Great Lakes Reconstruction Tender: Linking and Learning” on 26 September. The informal event offered a venue for participants to share lessons learned from the project under the tender and explore how to integrate these learnings into future projects implementation.

Read more about the projects here.


The fruitful discussion throughout the day provided many interesting ideas for improving future implementation of programs. But what should really be taken into account?

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Taking into account existing programs and frameworks, building on the challenges and opportunities they have encountered, and working complementarily instead of replicating work will save time, money and improve quality across the board.

Local partners should acknowledge and act upon the strength of their own capacities, expanding their presence in their working space and reducing reliance on external parties and organizations. In the same vein, external parties that work with local partners must develop honest and realistic exit strategies that bolster continuity and sustainability of initiatives that have been undertaken.

Flexibility and continual assessment are, as ever, key factors in determining whether or not programs make an impact. Ignoring changing realities, refusing to tweak and adjust along the way and being unable to alter objectives to the situation at hand are all detrimental to effective programming.

Finally, having a relationship with donors that extends past stretching out hands for money can only be beneficial. Involving them more closely with project design fosters a better working relationship, allowing donors to also cooperate better when a crisis situation does occur.

Agri-Business Creation (ABC) in Burundi - SPARK

SPARK’s ABC program in Burundi aimed to generate small-scale sustainable livelihoods for young people in the agricultural sector. Young people in the Great Lakes region are not interested in agriculture because of high intensity work and low profits. Additionally, there is little innovation in the sector and the priorities of the Burundian government, particularly after the 2015 crisis, lie elsewhere. However, SPARK’s project inspired a number of young people by providing them with consistent incomes.

The project generated many valuable insights. The first is that the cooperative was able to leverage its production capabilities to negotiate pricing with multinational it produced for. Additionally, augmenting economic opportunities in this way fills the gaps in a country where the government cannot provide for all its people. The discussion produced two notable recommendations for future planning: to integrate peacebuilding training into economic opportunity programs, so as to combine two parallel efforts; and to evaluate how to move the project’s impact beyond the local level to a more national scale.

Enhancing Local Peace Committees (LPCs) - ZOA & Radboud University Nijmegen

Corita Corbijn (ZOA) and Matthijs van Leeuwen (Radboud University Nijmegen) presented the results of their program, which explored assumptions guiding support for LPCs. The research then produced two toolkits, for practitioners and local stakeholders, visualize programmatic choices in intervention design.

The questions that were asked as part of the research showed that there was a disconnect between what questions the researchers considered important and those that were more important in practice. The larger questions, like the peace versus justice debate, were highly relevant to the LPCs, contrary to what was assumed. Furthermore, participants highlighted the importance of self-critique in interventions. Identifying and questioning assumptions is a crucial part of improving programmatic design.

Building Peace and Promoting Human Security in Post-Conflict Societies - CCR

This South Africa-based Centre for Conflict Resolution project initially aimed to benefit police, military and government institutions, but the focus was later adjusted to prioritize NGOs, CSOs and religious leaders due to conflicts in the Great Lakes region.

The project illustrated the need to focus on training 2 or more participants from specific organizations. Staff turnover means that knowledge of conflict resolution processes learned from trainings disappeared. In order to ensure sustainability, it was necessary to target multiple participants, from both positions of responsibility and the organization’s day-to-day project implementers. This way, CCR could encourage knowledge “cascading” throughout organizations.

Additionally, it was remarked that flexibility and continuous needs assessments are central to ensuring that training remain cognizant of new developments, especially in countries with fragile and ever-changing political environments.

Partners and a Regional Approach to Peacebuilding

Peace Beyond Borders - Oxfam Novib

The Peace Beyond Borders (PBB) project established and implemented through a consortium of partners a Regional Roadmap to Peace, designed from the bottom up by conflict-affected communities. The roadmap intended to address causes and consequences of conflict relating to land and governance.

Working with a consortium of partners enhanced the ability of the project to capitalize on the strengths and effective approaches of specific organizations. The consortium approach improved access to parties from various sectors, using the organizational connections built up by each member to great effect. This also helped to boost the legitimacy of the project as a whole.

The PBB project aimed to involve national, regional and international stakeholders at the design stage of the program. Instead of coopting stakeholders last minute, encouraging involvement at the design stage helps to ensure ownership of the process.

Another important insight from the project: building confidence and capacity of partners organizations and raising their awareness that it is their own space that they act in. What stops organizations like OAP and others from entering and working in this space without the engagement of parties like Oxfam Novib? These organizations must become the masters of their own space.