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Documenting the development and implementation of the BRAC Strategic partnership agreement

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As one of the world’s largest and most celebrated NGOs, BRAC has long attracted keen interest from international donors, development agencies and academics. In 2011, a Strategic Partnership Arrangement (SPA) was launched between BRAC, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Under the terms of the partnership, DFID and DFAT committed £358 million in core funding (£226 million from DFID and £132 million from DFAT) to BRAC over a five-year period, 2011-2015.

SDDirect (commissioned by DFID in collaboration with SPA partners) has found that the SPA is a unique, globally significant innovation in development collaboration with a Southern NGO, based on core budget support and the aspiration for a more equal partnership.

International development assistance has come under pressure in recent years as the perceived failure of traditional aid has intensified the pursuit of new, more effective forms of development cooperation. Unleashing the potential of partnerships is a recurring theme in current dialogue on aid effectiveness and the post-2015 development agenda.

The story of the SPA is an evocative case study in the power of partnerships. In many ways BRAC is a uniquely qualified and credible civil society partner with impressive coverage – it is estimated that BRAC reaches 138 million people in Bangladesh and 10 other countries. From its own thriving social enterprises, BRAC currently generates about 10% of its development programme costs and is, as a result, a significant co-funder of the strategic partnership. Tracing the evolution of the partnership from 2008 to present, the SPA research study found that the development of the SPA was motivated largely by pragmatic and opportunity-based concerns, and not by a pre-conceived theoretical model of partnership. The central objectives at the start were to achieve greater efficiencies and to lower programme transaction costs for all parties. But, according to the study, as the SPA developed it learned from good practice thinking about development partnerships and has generated valuable lessons that should be shared internationally.

The SPA was made possible by strong pre-existing common interests and relationships of trust between the partners. WE found that from its inception the SPA mobilised ‘bridging leaders’ from all of the partner organisations – ‘the right people at the right time’ – to broker the strategic partnership. With its provision of core budget support within an agreed strategic framework, the SPA advanced a shift in focus from activities to development outcomes. The strategic partnership has created opportunities for richer, more systematic technical and policy engagement between the partners as well as increased funding flexibility to act nimbly on shared development priorities. As BRAC grows its programmes and nurtures a new generation of leaders, the SPA provides critical core support to organisational development and governance, sustainability planning and innovation.