The Search for New Partners

We often provide reports and updates from our partners in Africa. While nothing gets us more excited than sharing news of great work in motion, it is easy to overlook a critical element in our work: partner selection. Over the past six months I’ve had the privilege of working with our other program staff to identify new WASH-focused partners for 2017-2019 (and hopefully beyond).

The process begins with an RFA -- a Request for Applications. As concisely as possible (five pages in our case), we framed the vision, guidelines, minimum eligibility criteria, and instructions for submission. Rather than send this out to a wide open field, we strategically asked our current partners, staff and board members (including alumni), and others in our networks to help distribute this RFA. We had no idea if we’d receive five, or 20, or hundreds of applications. When the deadline passed and we began reviewing applications, we had more than 40 organizations apply with a concept note (key elements that would be the basis of a proposal) and supporting information. It was quickly evident that we had a strong pool of competitive applicants, and we’d need to have some helpful tools to guide our vetting process.

Barak Bruerd, our program and innovation director, was our staff lead for the process. He gathered all the relevant files into our shared folders in the cloud, and starting filling out a “scorecard” for us to begin reviewing documentation and collaborating with scores and notes. Along with Nadia Kist, our technical director, we read through each concept note and scored the applicants in several areas including minimum eligibility, missional alignment, program and technical, and financial health. This served as our “primary vetting tool,” and helped us drill into the top 10-15 applicants while mitigating some of the biases that creep into a process like this.

We “shortlisted” close to 10 organizations, and scheduled site visits with each applicant in order to visit the office, interview staff, and engage with communities in the field. We knew it would be important to interact with one another, gauge leadership and relational dynamics, and authenticate technical elements. Similarly to hiring a new staff member, this interview process hopefully serves the potential partner as much as it serves us...we don’t want there to be any surprises, and we want to build trust from day one.

We’ve learned so much in the process, and always hope to improve and grow along the way. In the coming weeks we will determine our finalists and begin awarding new grants to some partners to begin later in 2017. These are exciting days, and we can’t wait to begin fundraising (your invitation to join us!) for new opportunities and activities ahead.