Working with Local Consultants in International Grantmaking

Many grantmakers bridge the distance between themselves and their grantees by employing trusted representatives to serve as their eyes and ears in countries outside the United States. In-country consultants can help funders (or groups of funders) find opportunities, develop proposals, and, later, monitor projects and evaluate their effects. Some grantmakers get similar benefits by establishing proxy relationships with other donors or agencies.

Seeking to strengthen its program in Africa, for example, a family foundation worked carefully to develop relationships with skilled consultants: “We were getting inquiries that all sounded the same. An application didn’t tell us enough to make our own judgments about whether the work of the organization was a fit with our interests. We realized we needed to have people who were there regularly to work over a period of time with community-based organizations and generate more appropriate funding requests. We hired consultants incrementally over time to build trust. We started with them reviewing grant requests. Now we contract for a certain amount of time per year, and a certain number of trips. They’ve become advisers to our applicants and to us. And they understand the purpose, intent, and values behind our grant making.”

One technical assistance provider urged, however, that prospective funders make an effort to “break out of the charmed circle of capital city–based local and foreign consultants, which tend to get funds to a small circle of NGOs.” Looking beyond the wellknown names can be important, he argued, if the objective is to reach rural communities or organizations that have not received prior grants from international donors.

Experienced grantmakers also caution that both consultants and funders need to be clear about consultants’ role and authority and communicate the limits to grantees. Are consultants providing the external funder and grantee with advice, or are they acting as representatives of the donor? This distinction is especially important when a consultant helps develop proposals or provides ongoing technical assistance. The head of a Bangladeshi foundation described the confusion that can result when funders don’t insist on clarity about the role and authority of their consultants: “What has happened in Bangladesh, and I think in lots of parts of South Asia, is that a culture of consultancy has developed. In various places, consultants have a kind of designated zone of influence. Small grantseekers are in some sense forced to depend on them. There is an impression that if you go to [a particular] consultant you have a chance of getting funds from [a particular] donor.”

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This takeaway was derived from International Grantmaking.