Civil Society Strengthening

Building Local Capacity for Long-term Impact

In many of the countries in which ACDI/VOCA works, engaging nonstate and noncommercial actors as a force for transformational change remains a challenge. This is because civil society and government lack a strong common vision of the role of private, nonprofit stakeholders. Also, opportunities for dialogue among key stakeholders on the role of civil society are often limited.

On the other hand, civil society has demonstrated its potential as a social and economic force with prodigious potential to lead change. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the example of the Arab Spring.

Strategies Leading to Sustainable Local Development

Since 1963, ACDI/VOCA has engaged diverse voluntary social and economic actors, civic and social organizations together with other groups to build local capacities and facilitate understanding of the interconnectedness of society. Where feasible, the private, nonprofit sector is linked with commercial and public entities for broad local ownership that can create synergy and leverage resources for positive changes in the state and marketplace.

ACDI/VOCA’s integrated services strengthen the performance of civil society in instigating transformational change. We do this by building capacities at the individual, institutional, coalition/network, and systems levels. We design initiatives to build trust and foster democracy and inclusive socioeconomic growth through advocacy, stakeholder dialogue, and joint action. We enhance local partners’ performance through innovation, dissemination of international best practices, formal training, introduction of new technologies, “learning by doing,” study tours, and other activities. We maintain an emphasis on making government responsive and accountable to a population’s concerns.

Basic principles that guide our civil society strengthening work include the following:

  • Start with the end in mind and define exit strategy upfront
  • Focus on results, effectiveness, and value for money
  • Maximize local ownership through the cultivation of formal and informal leaders; facilitate transition from donor-driven to local partner-driven initiatives
  • Maximize inclusivity
  • Be comprehensive in approach—consider social, economic, and political context
  • Act as facilitator, convener, and knowledge connection with local stakeholders assuming important leadership roles; emphasize stakeholder participation throughout

Civil Society Partners and Models

Our local partners have included registered nongovernmental organizations (umbrella and local); unregistered community-based organizations (e.g., women/minority/youth/disabled groups, Muslim religious leaders, women’s “Care Groups,” school feeding committees, community boards); associations (e.g., parent-teacher, banking, farmer, other businesses); cooperatives; and training institutions and universities.

Successfully applied ACDI/VOCA models can be scaled up, benchmarked and applied in different contexts with tailoring as appropriate to achieve a broad range of key results can be scaled up, benchmarked, and applied in different contexts with tailoring and modification. For example

Key Result: Expanded and enhanced access to better health services

Key Result:  Enhanced knowledge and skills for youth

  • University scholarship partnership tied to community service for disadvantaged minority youth (Bolivia)
  • Linking private sector actors with school stakeholder groups (Liberia)
  • Youth apprenticeship program with training for supervisors (Iraq)

Key Result:  Vulnerable populations participating more fully in society

  • Fixed obligation grants to local NGOs for service provision (Iraq)
  • Transitioning associations for people living with HIV/AIDS to full cooperative status (Rwanda)
  • IDPs and other  minorities with capacities to participate in public decision making (Iraq)

Key Result:  Strengthened democracy, governance, and civic education

  • Community service delivery oversight committees to enhance government accountability (Paraguay)
  • Summer leadership and civic education camps (Iraq)
  • Institutionalized citizen-government engagement (Iraq)

Key Result:  Negative effects of climate change mitigated/natural resources conserved

  • Innovative stove technology for rural populations (Bolivia)
  • Watershed savings innovation to benefit community associations (Cape Verde)
  • Greenhouse initiatives to improve water management (West Bank/Gaza)

Key Result:  Strengthened economies

  • Nonprofit training center with professional certification program (Azerbaijan)
  • Distribution of agricultural inputs through NGOs (Egypt)
  • NGO partnership with private sector for gains in agriculture (Paraguay)

Key Result:  Enhanced disaster early warning and food security

  • Creating linkages among local groups and government to enhance early warning (Haiti)
  • Association strengthening value chain approach (Mali)

Key Result:  Improved physical security and community resilience

  • Linking civil society stakeholders to address conflict issues (Timor-Leste)
  • Co-creating a food security observatory involving government and civil society (Haiti)
  • Disaster management committees (Bangladesh)

What We Leave Behind

Program results demonstrate that ACDI/VOCA’s approach works. We help citizens to become more active and influential in public decision making beginning at the local level for more effective governance and more sustainable socioeconomic development.  

ACDI/VOCA boasts a host of sustainable institutions and “legacy” organizations created under donor programs that continue to lead positive change, including organizations and firms throughout Africa, Asia, Europe and Eurasia, and Latin America. Many other local organizations have been substantially strengthened under ACDI/VOCA stewardship, including BELUN (Timor-Leste); Bureau de Nutrition et Developpement/BND and PROFAMIL (Haiti); and Carmen Pampa University (Bolivia).


Learn more about ACDI/VOCA’s commitment to sustainability as part of our cross-cutting approach to development.

Click here to see a snapshot list of various successor organizations.



A Selection of Past Projects