February 18, 2022
By Paul Brennan, Retired VP International, CICan (1993-2017)
Fifteen years ago, CICan undertook a fundamental transformation of its international development projects. This led to the creation of the Education for Employment (EFE) approach, which remains its flagship international initiative to this day. Though it had been involved in international collaboration since the 1970s, this was a significant shift for the association, and its members. It took us from an approach where Canada controlled most aspects of the process to one where the overseas partners had a much bigger say in the selection and implementation of the projects. In addition, CICan moved from isolated small projects in many countries to a dozen or so concurrent projects in a smaller number of countries contributing to a sector reform program that could achieve more sustainable results, including employment and self-employment for learners. I was fortunate to be involved in this transition as CICan’s Vice President, International and to see our partnerships thrive over the years.
A CICan50 web article on the history of International Development Partnerships as well as my research on Leading the Transition from Donor-Driven to Partner-Driven Development documented the evolution of EFE, which continues to this day.
As we celebrate the association’s 50th anniversary, and mark 15 years of EFE programs, CICan has asked me to offer some perspectives on the future in light of the past two years of upheaval and emerging challenges and opportunities. I would like to focus on two aspects: A) increasing ownership and reach; and B) encouraging greater integration and networking.
A) Increasing Ownership of the Process and Reach
With the growth of inequalities within countries and between countries, increasing EFE initiatives both in scale and in more countries becomes a greater priority than ever. This would require seeking out co-investments from other donors or foundations to expand the scope of successful programs. For example, CICan has recently accessed an additional USD $30 million from the Mastercard Foundation to complement GAC funding of more than $20 million to CICan and colleges in Kenya. This could potentially allow for a tipping point from positive examples in two or three sectors or regions of a country to a country-wide, system-wide sustainable transformation. Working with other countries’ bilateral agencies and associations at the same time is also an option whose time has come.
Key to achieving such sustainable outcomes is ensuring host countries increasingly own and control much more of the process and budgets, rather than being pulled in different directions and demands of multiple and slightly differing donor and association priorities and accountabilities, as is often the case in co-funding models. Complexity can end up wresting ownership from partners on the ground back to donor and agency staff familiar with process requirements. Ideally, countries should develop their own EFE master plans and then seek out donors and agencies who fit into their plans, not the opposite. The Government of Tunisia did this some years ago with solid results. Partner countries are now insisting that “development cooperation” be truly led by them and not by the donor agencies and partners from the North.
We can also no longer limit access to education and training leading to jobs to those who happen to be able to attend the few institutions who benefit from international support on the ground. Using technology to significantly expand the reach of projects to many more institutions and learners is also a major strategy to explore now that we know how to work online much more. This requires increasing access to broadband in underserved regions where poverty is growing. Donors and associations could seek contributions from international and local broadband firms who want to reach such potential clients as well as invest in renewable sources of electricity. With more access to broadband, adapted pedagogy and local mentors the reach of programs could expand significantly.
Finally supporting partners in stamping out corruption within their systems is a delicate but essential component of our work moving forward. Corruption, if left unchecked, will sabotage the attainment of results, reduce enthusiasm for change and consolidate authoritarian tendencies and regimes. Broadly publicizing the agreed-to results to attain, the budget allocations, as well as the roles and responsibilities of each partner can equip honest participants with information to better hold their leaders and colleagues to account.
B) Greater Integration and Networking
Investing in the creation and sustainability of national, regional, and international networks of college leaders, trainers, lecturers, civil servants, employer sector HR council leaders, etc. is a low-cost yet effective manner to expand learning and innovation amongst developing country leaders. Daily questions and sharing of resources from participants around the world on the UNEVOC TVET Forum illustrate the potential of such groups. International donors need to support such networks to optimise their role and results. Being part of such active networks increases participants’ confidence to develop their own plans and to access and adapt existing resources. Networks such as the Commonwealth Association of Polytechnics in Africa (CAPA) for anglophone Africa and their equivalents in other regions of the world need to be supported more actively in all regions and encouraged by the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics (WFCP). While donors do not often consider this in their plans, it is a key element in building ownership and sustainability.
Associations and funding agencies need to better align their priorities, or at least allow projects and institutions to pursue a range of related results at the same time. The past two years have highlighted even more that in today’s world a host of different challenges are all connected and need to be addressed in more integrated, multi-faceted approaches. Prioritizing the education of girls and women is essential to reducing poverty and inequality, but helping these poorer populations learn to prevent and mitigate climate disasters or health pandemics is also needed at the same time. A priority should not mean neglecting other realities of poor villages or slums.
Finally for Canadian colleges, institutes and polytechnics it is time to get rid of old internal separation of international activities into development, international student recruitment, mobility of Canadians abroad and internationalizing Canadian curriculum divisions. Smart colleges have begun to integrate all of those aspects into an overall institutional plan to be more effective and efficient. Why not develop multi-faceted international partnerships where there is sharing of expertise for sure but also mutual learning and two-way mobility, online joint classes, joint applied research, even joint programs with student and faculty exchanges rather than isolating each activity on its own, and again keeping much of the control in Canada?
The massive and urgent challenges the next generation face require us to rapidly develop many more active global citizens and leaders around the world, and to be smarter and more effective in attaining sustainable results on multiple levels. Greater ownership, reach, accountability, integration, and networking are all essential to expand at this point in time.