Strengthening Aid Effectiveness through Intercultural Good Practices

Every two years the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and its partners organize International Cooperation Days (ICD), an international forum that brings together civil society leaders, academics, international development experts and private sector representatives who come to debate, exchange ideas, network and meet CIDA representatives. This year’s edition, ICD 2006, offered a wide range of stimulating presentations and plenary sessions that shared a common theme: Working Together for Effective Aid.

The Centre for Intercultural Learning participated in this year's ICD by hosting a kiosk and presenting a workshop on the first day of the event. Intercultural Effectiveness as a Best Practice in Aid Effectiveness featured leading intercultural practices from three perspectives: the development of skills and knowledge for individuals; the development and implementation of organizational practices; and building healthy intercultural partnerships and ensuring common alignment of projects and programs. The Centre's acting Director, Doug MacDonald, led off the presentation by providing a definition of intercultural effectiveness for individuals and organizations. "The ability to perform successfully and live contentedly in another culture" indicates individual intercultural effectiveness. For organizations, it is "the ability to work in and/or with other cultures/organizations to accomplish goals and objectives. “MacDonald added, "In the words of organizational learning guru Peter Senge, 'If you put a good person in a bad system, the bad system will win every time.'"

Intercultural policies of international organizations such as UNESCO, the European Union and FAO were presented to demonstrate the importance of intercultural effectiveness at the organizational level and the contribution to achieving the Millennium Development Goals(MDGs). Many donor organizations, including USAID, DANIDA, AUSAID and DFID, provide some form of intercultural effectiveness and/or pre-departure training for their staff. Other organizations, including larger NGOs and executing agencies, offer debriefing support for their returnees, which is also recognized as a good practice.

Nicole Paulun, Senior Learning Specialist at the Centre, demonstrated the importance of selecting the most technically competent person and the most interculturally effective person for international assignments. Organizations that implement specific processes for assessing intercultural competencies not only reduce the risk of project or program failure, but also support the strengthening of aid effectiveness and sustainable development. Paulun briefly described the Centre's Behavioural-Based Interview process, which complements current technical assessment tools by focusing on specific individual intercultural competencies.

The third panellist, Michael Hope-Simpson, who manages the Centre’s Intercultural Facilitation and Organizational Development (iFOD) line of service, presented other good intercultural best practices that support aid effectiveness. "When working across cultures for effective aid, it is important to consider the following themes: Harmonization and Alignment, Managing for Results, and Ownership and Mutual Accountability," said Hope-Simpson. His presentation pointed out that to achieve harmonization and alignment, efforts must be made to build an environment of trust and dialogue, leverage differences, establish and protect what is of value to everyone, and build a shared understanding and not insist on consensus. When managing for results, the focus should be on results and assets, not on problems. In terms of ownership and mutual accountability, parties must use the knowledge and creativity of local actors, which is also supported by exposure to international expertise and best practices. Additionally, partners should build shared commitment to mutually agreed-upon development targets and build the capacity for people to take ownership of the development process.

In conclusion, the workshop established intercultural effectiveness as a cross-cutting theme throughout CIDA's four-part Canadian agenda: Strategic Focus, Strengthened Program Delivery, Cost-Effective Use of Agency Resources, and Clear Accountability for Results.