Silos should be used for storing grain, not delivering development programs

Originally published on the PPPHW blog.

Pwr-of-integrationBy Hanna Woodburn, The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing (PPPHW)

On June 13, 2016 FHI 360 hosted Greater than the Sum of its Parts, a first-ever FHI 360 summit on integrated development. Over the past two years, FHI 360 has embarked on a journey to dig deep into both the “why” and the “how” of integrated development. At this event, speakers shared what they’ve learned about integration, both what has worked and what challenges remain.

The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing has also started to explore integration through our work with the Clean, Fed & Nurtured community of practice. From my experience with the community of practice, and my own lens of working for a public-private partnership, there were a few key takeaways that emerged.

First, a challenge. Over lunch, I was discussing the definition of integration with my tablemates. For some, it was assumed that integration meant collaborating around implementing a project with a different sector. For instance, this could entail sharing family planning messages at childhood vaccination appointments. Others felt that integration could be much broader and include working with a range of actors, such as governments partnering with non-profits. I remarked that this reminded me of vertical and horizontal supply chain integration in the private sector. Integration, whether vertical or horizontal, seeks to maximize value and harness synergies, but in practice it is realized differently. Likewise, integrated development is a spectrum and actualized in a myriad of ways and contexts. Clarifying our language around integration will help ensure greater success in knowledge sharing and practice going forward.

Second, as Tricia Petruney with FHI 360 said, history shows that integration from the top-down simply has not worked. To be certain, integration champions at all levels of leadership are essential to fostering an integration-friendly environment, but, as Curtis Palmer, country director for PACT Nepal said, “People know better than I do what their real needs are.” The “meat” of integration should come from the local level. It should be driven by conversations with stakeholders about what they actually need and want.

This opportunity, to harness local knowledge and commitment, was reiterated in the comments made by Robert Mwadime from Uganda. In his storytelling session, he commented that integration requires fine-tuning, which means that failure, in some form, is inevitable. Through ongoing learning, flexibility, and leadership, the Community Connector project he runs was able to identify and reach excluded constituencies. Just like integration isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” approach, it also isn’t a “one and done” approach. Projects must be able to both measure their success as well as correct the course as needed.

The evidence shows that integration makes sense. There are a multitude of opportunities for integration; still there are also challenges which much be addressed. Not only does integration yield returns in efficiencies, but the new Sustainable Development Goals demand integration. It is only through common sense, cross-sectoral collaboration that we can hope to achieve these aspirational targets. People don’t live lives in silos, and our solutions should reflect that reality.