Trust is Critical for Strong Partnership Engagement

Daniel N. Yahba
Edited by Keith M. Moore

Excellence for Higher Education for Liberian Development (EHELD) is a project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)/Liberia in collaboration with Cuttington University (CU) and the University of Liberia (UL) since 2011. The EHELD project has been developing and supporting centers of excellence in the College of Engineering at the University of Liberia and in the College of Agriculture and Sustainable Development at Cuttington University in Suakoko, Bong County.

Partnership and Trust word cloud

For any international or local community project to succeed in its goals and objectives or to be viable in any given society/community, partnership engagements are a critical factor for donor consideration. Strong partnerships built on trust, mutual respect and understanding among partners provide a solid foundation for successful project implementation. Organizational stakeholders, community members, and other project beneficiaries should have their inputs and views considered. Moving forward in this way gives equal opportunity to all project beneficiaries to take ownership and fully utilize what was intended for them.

I strongly believe partnership engagement is a process that begins with a project’s development strategy. Partnership is a plan to outline project goals and to identify required resources for project implementation. It helps create processes, policies, material resources and other supporting tools needed to achieve the project’s goals and objectives. In this way it reduces future risks and promotes cooperation and collaboration among project beneficiaries and the host and donor partners. Partnership processes can advance strategic objectives and encourage project beneficiaries to share interest in the donor mission and project outcomes.

The EHELD project achieved a number of successes. The facilities and services on campus were improved. Agricultural implements and farm equipment were provided as well as computer labs, resource rooms, and internet services. An outreach program was established. Capacity building was promoted through short-term and refresher courses as well as post-graduate degrees. Junior faculty at University of Liberia and Cuttington University were sent for post-graduate degrees. Students’ research was also promoted.

Mutual trust is the glue that holds these partnerships together. Such trust is founded on a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of someone or something. It provides the confidence, belief, faith, and certainty that one partner can rely on another. Trust also means being able to predict what other people will do and what situation will occur in their relationships. Trust in partnerships implies an obligation to look out for your partner’s interest as well as your own. If one places confidence in another, that person then becomes a direct owner of that trust. He or she becomes responsible for future consequences.

The formality of institutional trust can be difficult to build and is easily broken. The EHELD project has been quite transparent in its operations, but not always successful in ensuring mutual trust. Development of the Center for Excellence in Agriculture Education at Cuttington University’s College of Agriculture and Sustainable Development is an example of the challenges posed. Although the project goal of delivering a center of excellence was outlined and an agenda set from the beginning, Cuttington University partners had no participation in the initial project design and management. This led to a lack of cooperation and coordination from staff. Financial matters were kept secret. From the faculty perspective, everything was based on speculation. The actual budget intended for the center of excellence was not known until later when people began to ask how much had been spent so far and how much was left to complete the project.

Partnership engagement is a key ingredient for the success and sustainability of a project in a given society, especially for developing countries such as Liberia which needs research professionals to achieve this social, economic, and political transformation. Key points for successful partnership engagement are:

    • Project goal setting should be mutually understood by all project beneficiaries and donor partners.
    • Trust needs to be cultivated for effective project implementation.
      • Cultural understanding is the foundation for a collaborative culture.
      • Collaboration and cooperation should be designed to build motivation among parties.
    • Empowerment and capacity building will lead to sustainability and ownership.
      • Leadership roles and responsibilities should be defined by all.
      • Project beneficiaries must participate and make decisions concerning what affects them as a social group.
      • When people or beneficiaries are empowered through capacity building they come to understand the importance of relationships between themselves and the project.
    • Budget awareness  and clarity are needed to promote administrative and financial transparency and accountability.
    • Research is a key component for creativity and innovation. This process helps us to critically think to discover new ideas, tap into new ideas or knowledge, and find solutions to problems.

Partnership engagement serves as stimulant and inspiration in promoting any development program. It greatly promotes productivity, develops mutual trust and confidence, overcomes project vulnerabilities, and provides meaningful involvement and shared experiences.


One thought on “Trust is Critical for Strong Partnership Engagement

  1. The involvement of host institution representatives in the design of institutional capacity building projects is indeed a very important component of project development. Unfortunately, full involvement may fail to occur as a result of the many internal constraints faced by USAID Missions in moving forward with their own program planning processes and the restrictions they face when involving others, including consultants, local officials and stakeholders in the design of projects.

    In point of fact, building trust and implementing partnership relationships has less to do with a USAID Mission and local clientele institutions. It really is about relationships between these institutions and project implementing partners. Ideally, local institutions and potential implementers would both be involved in the USAID Mission project design process, a process that actually existed several decades ago, but is not current. It was frequently known as the Collaborative Assistance Mode for Title XII projects and involved an initial competition among U.S. institutions interested in engaging in the design of an institutional capacity building project. Selection of the U.S. collaborator was based on various criteria including prior collaboration with the host institution and prior successful implementation of similar projects. Mutual familiarity and trust were thus considered as preconditions for engagement, and once designated, the local institution partners was involved with the U.S. partner institution(s) and the USAID Mission the project design process.

    If full engagement of representatives of potential project partners in the USAID Mission design process is not possible, a second best option is to fully engage local partners and stakeholders in early project implementation, including needs assessment studies and subsequent definition of priorities and implementation procedures. This provides all major actors with an opportunity to collaborate with one another in shaping the project and defining the appropriate division of labor among them. This collaboration between partners also helps build mutual trust, resulting collaboration, and effective project implementation.

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