BEIRUT: In the past few years, USAID has been continuously funding and driving impact on Lebanese soil through the implementation of various programs, such as wastewater treatment plants in the Chouf and Bekaa areas, and the assistance in the Higher Education Scholarship Program (HES) at the American University of Beirut.
But perhaps one of its most recent and impactful programs has been the BALADI CAP program (Building Alliances for Local Advancement, Development and Investment – Capacity Building) which, through a $14,921,853 fund over the course of six years, has reached 108 municipalities and 51 Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), as well as a total of 160 Lebanese organizations. It mainly works on building the technical institutional capacity of these entities, allowing for better governance.
“We started BALADI CAP in October 2013. It was supposed to run for three years only, but we’ve since extended our agreement with USAID twice; now we're in the process of closing down, having fulfilled our mission,” said Alice Azar, Senior Finance and Procurement Specialist at BALADI CAP.
BALADI CAP has three main components: The Capacity Building Component (CBC), the Civic Engagement for Democratic Governance (CEDG), and the Civic Engagement Initiative (CEI).
The CBC component builds the institutional capacity of CSOs so that they become capable of receiving funding directly from USAID, managing their projects and complying with USAID rules and regulations.
“We started with only the CBC component for the first 18 months or so, and then we added the other components,” Azar explained. “Our aim with CBC was to achieve 26 CSOs that are compliant with best practices and regulations of USAID. We have, however, exceeded our target and reached 28 compliant CSOs,” she added.
Some of these CSOs went on to receive a modest micro-grant from BALADI CAP with a maximum value of $15,000 to implement a small scale project, such as new software or a program that would help them better implement the policies they were provided.
The CEDG component, which was implemented in 2015, builds the capacity of municipalities and unions of municipalities so that they become capable of adopting a more participatory approach in the running of municipal affairs and better respond to the citizens’ needs. Up to 38 municipalities took part in the Tailored Technical Assistance Program (TTAP), which refers to heavy intervention, while 70 municipalities underwent the Public Training Program (PTP), which refers to light training. All 108 municipalities are scattered all over Lebanon, from Saida to Beirut to Bekaa and Baalbek.
Also, as part of CEDG, 18 Municipal Public Outreach Communities (MPOC) were established to enhance communication between the municipalities and the local communities.
The third and final component is the CEI component that builds the capacity of CSOs in order to promote democratic practices by encouraging the contribution of citizens in public affairs, and to establish platforms that enable to find a framework for public debate based on the facts and the competition of ideas.
“We have provided 24 grants worth over $2 million over the course of two cycles. This was under the supervision of the Intermediary Support Organizations (ISOs), which managed and trained three networks of NGOs,” Azar explained.
In total, the three components of BALADI CAP were instrumental in the conduction of 2419 capacity building on-site visits and 201 training programs. It has reached some 10,401 trainees in total.
But the success stories of BALADI CAP don't end with numbers and figures. They are transformed into real, tangible changes in a community and municipal level. Examples include a one year project aimed at improving the rights of women sex workers for money in collaboration with Soin Infermiere et Developpment Communautaire (SIDC), as well as the project of helping Skoun provide additional legal protection to drug addicts after a one-year trip on raising awareness and advocating for the cause.
Other examples include supporting SIDC and Dar Al-Amal during their eight-month advocacy campaign to support vulnerable women in the workplace, as well as overseeing the delivery and installment of a computer laboratory for the Orphan Welfare Society (OWS).
“The most challenging aspects of implementing these projects was the high turnover of employees in CSOs,” Azar said. “A lot of them leave to get better jobs, having received good training. Communication with municipalities was another difficult challenge, as not all of them are responsive to emails. You need to follow up with them via phone calls or even site visits," she added.
Jean Asmar, president of the municipality of Hazmieh, who provided a firsthand account of working with BALADI CAP, said: “BALADI CAP helped us build three components; the first was adding a job description to each position in the municipality, as well as adding new modern jobs that we're in need of today, and which are not present in our organization chart, such as a GIS expert, an urban planner, and so forth."
He added that they are currently waiting for the approval of the Ministry of Interior for this aspect.
The second and most important component, as Asmar describes it, was the digitizing and the enabling of the complaints system. Finally, the third component was the training of the staff.
“Our plan for the future is to continue the digitization of the complaint system by developing a mobile app by the end of the year, in partnership with UNESCO, so citizens can download the app and communicate with us,” he told Annahar.
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