Advisors are often outsiders to the culture, history, political context, and social norms of the host country and institution. Local counterparts are a valuable resource in this context.
The creation of an efficient and amicable peer-to-peer relationship is therefore essential.
In part 1, we will discuss how and why you need to establish a peer-to-peer relationship with your counterpart. You will also learn about the importance of establishing yourself as a resource in order to ensure that your advice is accepted, and, most importantly, you will learn ways in which you can make your counterpart feel that he or she can come to you for advice.
When you assume your functions as an advisor—and throughout your mission—you should strive to establish and maintain a peer-to-peer relationship with your counterpart. Bear in mind that you may have a specific set of skills and expertise, and indeed, it may be for this very reason that you were chosen to be an advisor within a particular context. However, in no way does this imply that your counterpart has none. For example, both you and your counterpart could be technical experts on budgetary issues. You may not both see or handle an issue in the same manner, but this is a result of your different backgrounds and experience. Acknowledging the fact that you both have some level of technical expertise and knowledge to offer is the first step towards building a peer-to-peer relationship.
On the other hand, both the advisor and the counterpart will have specific strengths to bring to the relationship. The advisor, for example, could bring in a comparative analysis of the situation based on [their] prior experience. She or he could also act as a catalyst, promoting linkages between various international actors and local counterparts working on a specific issue. The advisor could also bring an outsider’s opinion on a particular subject and help interlocutors think ‘out of the box’. The advisor could act as a sounding board where counterparts could voice opinions and concerns, and discuss possible consequences. At times, the advisor can become an important ‘bridge’ for importing good international practice into the host country or institution.
Your local counterpart will bring knowledge on the country or region you are working in, including its culture, history and political context etc. The counterpart could also bring insight to the structure and functioning of your host institution. She or he will be able to offer you information and explanations on specific issues, or guide you to those who can. Your local counterpart could also vet your proposals for cultural acceptability. Being more aware of the capacity of the individuals and institutions involved, he or she could also help verify the economic and political viability of a proposal.
It is by acknowledging that both you and your counterpart have distinct, yet complementary, skills and experience to offer that you will be able to identify the most effective solution to a particular problem.