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The SLO project’s approach to building capacity? Meet CSOs right where they are

The USAID-funded Strengthening Local Organizations (SLO) project, implemented by IBI, has reached the mid-way point of its second year. The project works to build the capacity of 10 Salvadoran CSOs spanning all stages of organizational development. And, in just a year-and-a-half, it has earned a reputation for providing the kind of high-caliber, individualized support that beneficiary CSOs had been seeking for years.

“This is a gift,” said Ada Montano, director at the CSO FUNPRES, in a SLO stakeholders meeting. “Even if USAID has other, better-funded projects, this one may be among its most valuable.”

How has SLO managed it? In two- and three-day workshops with each CSO, project staff administered the Organizational Capacity Assessment (OCA) and Organizational Performance Index (OPI) tools—both mainstays of USAID’s HICD toolkit—to ascertain beneficiaries’ weaknesses in operational areas and overall organizational approach.

Some weaknesses are common to almost all 10 CSOs—anemic digital presence and marketing, for example. Yet the 10 CSOs the project supports vary widely in their thematic focus, ranging from education and literacy to reintegration and rehabilitation of MS-13 gang members. Against this backdrop, the project quickly learned to parse the results of the OCA and OPI assessments to provide tailor-made or “best fit” solutions to beneficiaries’ unique challenges.

Take Factoria Ciudadana (Citizen Factory), a mid-sized (but rapidly growing) NGO. At present, the Factoria provides job training and psychosocial support to some 400 victims of violence, deportees, those displaced by gang activity—and former Calle 18 and MS-13 gang members themselves.

The Factoria’s hands-on work with highly vulnerable constituents creates some extraordinary dynamics. A few months ago, expelled from one of San Salvador’s gangs and fearing for his life, Ernesto (not his real name) took up residence in the Factoria’s San Salvador headquarters; he never sets foot outside. Other ex-gang members gather in the Factoria’s offices on a regular basis for group therapy. Taught to look threatening to survive, their presence can pose challenges for Factoria’s admin and operations staff, who are not trained to work in close quarters with traumatized or otherwise troubled individuals.

The SLO Project has tackled these challenging dynamics head on. In October 2019, IBI’s in-house conflict resolution specialist—a veteran of several post-conflict environments—began delivering a series of hands-on trainings originally designed to help executives and HR staff negotiate more effectively. However, SLO adjusted training content to meet the Factoria’s needs, featuring easily accessible techniques—body language mirroring, sensory language analysis—that facilitate greater rapport, including among people of disparate backgrounds. At the Factoria’s request, the specialist is developing new trauma sensitivity and self-care recommendations to be delivered through coaching sessions scheduled for spring and summer 2020.

SLO’s work with the Factoria is characteristic of its approach to all beneficiaries. It is an approach that forgoes pre-fabricated solutions in favor of individualized attention. It recognizes that the Journey to Self-Reliance looks different not just from country to country, but organization to organization.

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