Link Education International - Becoming locally led

20 October 2022

A guest post by SMP member, Link Education.

Were we locally-led and did we shift the power? What Link Education learnt when we developed our Strategic Goals...

Back in February 2020, when the world was a different place, Link Education International invited our country directors from Ethiopia, Malawi and Uganda to Edinburgh. Our first mistake – why plan an international team meeting in Scotland in February? Yes, it snowed and it was freezing.
But despite our logistical faux pas, we still managed to join voices and thoughts to develop what we think are a pretty strong set of Strategic Goals for us to work towards. Now, looking back from a place where ‘becoming locally-led’ and ‘shifting the power’ are terms used liberally across our sector, does the way we developed our goals reflect these new paradigms? After an inspiring interview with Srabani Sen, the CEO of Full Colour for Scotland’s International Development Alliance, and guided by Bond’s ‘Becoming locally-led as an anti-racist practice - a guide to support NGOs’, I reflected on our process.

Link Education’s new Strategic Goals:

Number 1: Participation and Decision Making

From the start we were clear that Link’s Strategic Goals needed to go beyond addressing the global Sustainable Development Goals, and even beyond focusing only on SDG 4. We dissected national Education Plans, Road Maps and Visions, as well as the African Charter 2063. We mapped priorities and overlaid the expertise and capacity of the Link Education family. In this way we were able to define five programmatic areas that faced gaps which matched Link’s experience, and from that our five strategic goals were born.

From an organisational perspective, decision-making was collaborative and collective. Knowledge and understanding of the specific country needs was invaluable and core to validating our chosen goals. On reflection, I would say our goals were definitely ‘locally-led’.

Number 2: Ground Truthing and Ownership

Alongside our teamwork and deep exploration of national policies and programmes, we still wanted to ground truth our ideas. We listed stakeholders including teachers, school leaders, community members, parents and learners, as well as government education staff at every level. We developed questions for face to face interviews and wider focus group discussions, various materials to appropriately present our goals, and methods to analyse and feedback results.

The global pandemic halted the consultation progress, and to be honest the appetite to take this up again has waned in the face of more pressing concerns. Where possible we did consult. We developed slides for senior leaders to present to their Boards, and we shared our draft goals with key figures within Ministries of Education.

Ownership across the Link family is sound, but the next steps of ground truthing our goals at the grassroot level has been less successful. From this perspective we can’t say our goals are ‘community-led’. However, Link does employ effective Adaptive Management practices which includes community level participation, so we tick this box programmatically.

Looking back, I feel that the process of developing our goals reflects Link’s key working principles of collective leadership and decision-making, partnership and collaboration, and equality of opportunity. I also hope the goals themselves, not only demonstrate our areas of expertise, but also show how we champion diversity, inclusion, accountability, and environmental responsibility. Using Bond terminology to reflect on our strategic goal development process, I’d say Link Education is ‘moving along’ the becoming locally-led scale. But we are not complacent, there is more to do, and we will continue to challenge ourselves on this journey.

Samantha Ross, International Programme Director, Link Education International.