Reproductive Health

Early lessons: Using a principles-based strategy to support local advocacy in Africa

February 21, 2020  • Aspen Planning and Evaluation Program

Equity. Power sharing. Capacity building. Long-term relationships. We often hear these words crop up in discussions of how to support sustainable, locally driven change. But what happens when these words become the very principles on which a grantmaking strategy rests?

In 2016, the Hewlett Foundation launched a new strategy, using a principles-based approach to supporting local reproductive health (RH) advocacy in Sub-Saharan Africa. The strategy includes support primarily to international organizations who in turn offer financial support and technical assistance to local civil society organizations doing the advocacy in their countries. Nothing new there. Grounded in a set of five principles, however, this strategy intentionally seeks to shift power towards the local organizations and to strengthen their capacity to advocate. The goal: a vibrant civil society sector in sub-Saharan Africa that can capably and positively influence the RH policies and funding decisions of their own national governments and of international donors.

What does it mean to use a “principles-based” approach? How do we know if the strategy is actually helping to build the organizational and advocacy capacity of civil society organizations to advocate for reproductive health? What does it look like to “shift power” towards local organizations? What are the consequences and impacts – positive or negative, intended or unintended – for different stakeholders in this strategy?

These are some of the questions we are exploring in a developmental learning and evaluation process, spanning the first five years of the strategy’s implementation. Now at the halfway mark of this process, we are pausing to reflect on and share lessons learned thus far:

  • Our midterm report summarizes overarching findings and recommendations, drawing on data from the first two years of this process. Spoiler alert: power imbalances matter. So does trust.
  • To dig more deeply into the process of capacity strengthening, we developed this brief highlighting what we have learned thus far about strengthening local organizations’ capacity – and important questions that still need to be answered about who determines what to prioritize and what the support looks like.
  • This second brief offers a more “meta” perspective, exploring the nature of “impact” in the context of this strategy and describing lessons learned thus far about how to evaluate the strategy and its intended outcomes. Hint: it’s not about quick wins.
  • Drawing on the expertise of our evaluation partners Julie Tumbo and Coumba Toure, who have decades of experience in civil society engagement in Africa, this series of brief videos features their lively and sometimes critical discussion of how the strategy’s principles are lived out (or not) in practice.
  • To encourage others to build on our experience, we created a user’s guide explaining how to conduct a facilitated capacity assessment process – the Advocacy Capacity Review – developed for this project by our evaluation partner Rhonda Schlangen.

Over the coming two years, we will learn more about the impacts and implications of this principles-based approach. True to the developmental nature of this process, we expect that the Hewlett Foundation – and we, as learning partners – will continue to evolve in how we understand and evaluate the strategy. We look forward to sharing these lessons!