One of the key challenges related to international assistance is sustainability. Many international actors often carry out a series of initiatives but do not always think of the longer-term sustainability of their programs.
Linked to local ownership is the issue of sustainability. Due to time constraints, reporting requirements or a limited assessment of one’s own capacity and/or that of your host institution or government, many international actors are tempted to take the lead in carrying out various activities. However, when this occurs, local institutions find themselves without the adequate human and financial resources or political will to continue these activities once the international partner has left. Imposing one’s ideas can also lead to resentment and/or rejection.
As an advisor, you should aim at developing the capacity of your host country or host institution and ensure that this capacity will remain in place and be effective after you leave. For this, you need to focus on building capacity at the individual, institutional and societal level.
Ensuring the sustainability of a programme implies that you always aim at jointly seeking out a solution with your counterpart. It is also recommended to vet ideas for feasibility and appropriateness with local counterparts. As part of this process, you will need to assess the available financial and human resources, and seek political buy-in and long-term commitment. Involving a range of partners who can contribute different resources and institutionalising procedures and practices will reduce the possibility of a programme ending abruptly either due to lack of resources or loss of leadership.
Recurring costs are an important issue often overlooked by international actors. When considering the sustainability of a project, you also need to bear in mind the recurrent costs that the host country or institution will have to incur. If for example, you decide to offer computers to a certain country or institution, you will not only need to teach [train] your counterpart how to operate them, but you will also have to consider maintenance and reparation costs of these computers, software upgrades, power consumption, and also, the possible ramifications of relationships if one department or institution receives computers and another has none.
Finally, you should also seek to maintain continuity in the delivery of advice. A rapid turn-over of advisers can lead to “advising fatigue” among national actors as well as limiting the implementation of initiatives due to the potential loss of ideas and energy each time an advisor leaves.