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Author: Salam Shebli, Regional Program Manager for the MENA region, Viamo


The idea of effectiveness came in 2005 during the second High-Level Forum on Aid - 5 years into the Millennium Development Goals MDGs of 2000-2015 which are proceeded now with the Sustainable Development Goals SDGs of 2015-2030[1]

You don’t need great math skills to calculate that it’s been 17 years of intention towards actual aid effectiveness, however, much more needs to be done to mainstream gender across development co-operation. 

From the perspective of a 10-years international co-operation practitioner working in the MENA region, the past 17 years included a more top-down approach from the international community in the global north towards the global south, giving little to no space to ownership. Actors in international co-operation have become competitors, giving little room for harmonization. Results continue to be debatable in between results based management, outcome harvesting and the never-ending debate on whether we should focus on quantitative results/data or qualitative results/data or perhaps both. And while accountability is certainly in place in reporting to donors, but not with local communities.

A still unfortunate trend in gender programs is that programmes are written and implemented without undergoing adequate consultative mechanisms, inclusive of local communities and beneficiaries of such programs. This results in programs that are unable to respond effectively to contextual factors, evolving needs and demands of beneficiaries, with little, if any tangible progress in the long run. Not to mention concerning mechanisms whereby communities become dependent on IOs and donors, as adequate support in developing capacity to take full ownership of development at the local level is still quite missing.

In addition to this, when it comes to women-led, women-centered programs, it must be acknowledged that women face different challenges in terms of ownership[2] and partnership[3] to some extent, and this is strictly related to cultural, social and economic factors. In this regard, women’s rights play a critical role in sharing best practices around gender-responsive localization. An example to this would be engaging women in identifying challenges affecting their economic, social, and civic participation and being the leaders in assessing what would be the solution and how it shall be implemented. Arab Women’s Organization of Jordan[4] has founded Mosawa network that brings 80+ CBOs from across Jordan together and engages them in shaping and designing solutions rather than just recipients of services. 

A barrier to progressive aid and development effectiveness is organizations continuing to work in silos, and failing to acknowledge the importance of multi-stakeholder partnerships in catalyzing impactful programs. 

The international community still struggles to accept that governments, private sector, media, the civil society, and individual activists are all players who can achieve real impact. Not each of them aside, but all together as partners. 

Those players are not only recipients of aid, but should also be (jointly) designers and decision makers in setting the long-term plans of development, more inclusive partnerships mechanisms, as well as donors coordination and harmonization of requirements to ensure local actors can play their role in programs implementation, also and especially in a gender-sensitive and responsive perspective[5]

A win-win situation is possible if all actors are given the right role and space. 

Media will have the space for freedom of press. Individual activists will have the needed civic space to hold governments accountable. In turn, governments will use resources effectively. The private sector will be more aligned with all other actors and will grow exponentially. And the civil society will work as an observatory to hold those actors accountable and connect them with the community. This needs an actual political will from the international community to shift from top-down to bottom-up approaches, where more space is given to country ownership, southern-led and south-south co-operation, to achieve effective usage of resources, be accountable to tax payers and the communities we are serving. 

We cannot afford to further experiment on what effective programming , continuing to effect the lives of the most vulnerable, including but not limited to women and persons with disabilities. We need to see enhanced resource utilization, clearer roles for players, and eventually more solutions to the pressing issues affecting women. 

The upcoming 2022 Effective Development Co-operation Summit is an essential time to revisit the principle of country ownership and mainstream gender across key development co-operation priorities, to ensure a meaningful shift in power and more effective localization can help finding long-lasting solutions to pressing issues affecting women.


Salam Shebli 



About the Author:

Salam Shebli is a Feminist Program Management Professional with 10 years of experience in International Cooperation and Human Rights with a special focus on civic space and digital rights in the MENA region. Salam holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer and Systems Engineering, a Diploma in Leadership and Project Management, and is a certified Project and Financial Management professional by APMG International. Currently working as a Regional Program Manager for the MENA region with Viamo; an ICT4D global social enterprise, improving lives via mobile.


[1] OECD (2005). Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness 

[2] OECD (1998) DAC Guidelines for Gender Equality and Women’s empowerment in Development Co-operation

[3] IFC (2012) Gender Impact of Public Private Partnerships

[4] Arab Women Organization of Jordan

[5] Making development co-operation more effective: How partner countries are promoting effective partnerships. PART I OF THE GLOBAL PARTNERSHIP 2019 PROGRESS REPORT