Symposium 2020: Collaboration for Local Capacity Development

Five Collaboration Principles for Local Capacity Development

Dr. Ann Hudock, President and Chief Executive Officer of Counterpart International, started her plenary speech by addressing the fact that after a full day and a half of intriguing presentations, engaging conversations and shared wrestling with big ideas in collaboration in international development, it’s safe to say many attendees of the Posner Center’s 2nd Annual Symposium were likely feeling both exhilarated and perhaps a bit exhausted.

After acknowledging this, she set out to dive into the topic at hand, “Collaborating for Local Capacity Development: Partnership with Purpose,” a topic that seems integral to her life’s work thus far, and certainly to the mission of Counterpart International. In order to set the stage for the breakout sessions to come, Dr. Hudock offered five collaboration principles for successful local capacity development:

  1. Relationships must be mutually beneficial. Dr. Hudock stressed the fact that it is important that collaborative relationships between global and local partners must go both ways rather than being characterized by a one way transfer of resources.
  2. Clarity of purpose is essential. It is important to calibrate and manage expectations from both parties in order to ensure that the collaboration successfully meets everyone’s shared goals.
  3. Partnerships should be a safe space for constructive dialogue. Partnerships are most successful when both parties are able and encouraged to share perspectives, ideas, criticism and suggestions.
  4. Create (and leverage) unlikely partnerships. Referencing the unlikely alliance of a movie star and a priest that began Counterpart International in 1965, Dr. Hudock reminds us to think outside the box in terms of whom we should partner with in order to magnify our positive impact.
  5. Embrace failure. Last, but certainly not least, great collaborative partnerships should be characterized by the ability to talk, reflect — even laugh! — about our failures. This practice allows us to learn from our mistakes by determining where we went wrong and ideating about how we can improve our strategy in the future. (In fact, this year’s Symposium featured a “Fail Fest” over lunch to do just this!)

 These five principles that Dr. Hudock offered provided an excellent framework for the following breakout session titled “Closing the Technology Gap: Arrow’s Digitruck Project.” Joe Verrengia, Global Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Arrow Technology, led a smaller and more casual conversation in the Posner Center Boardroom in which he described the partnership of Arrow Technology with Close the Gap, an international social enterprise with a mission to close the digital divide. Together, they built and deployed the first Digitruck — essentially, a repurposed shipping container configured as a solar-powered, mobile classroom that consisted of 1 flat screen with projection system and 28 refurbished computers each loaded with educational software.

The partnership, as Verrengia described it, met each of the criteria set out by Dr. Hudock. Perhaps most notably, however, Verrengia described the relationship with a certain admiration and appreciation for both his partners at Close the Gap and the partners who would often we categorized as ‘beneficiaries’, which included the director of an orphanage in Tanzania. Despite some challenges due to the orphanage’s remote location and ongoing needs, he described the orphanage director as “part of the Arrow family,” exhibiting the importance of a safe space for constructive dialogue in strengthening their ongoing partnership.

Ultimately, the two talks ended the Symposium on a high note. Though quite different in their format and specific expertise areas, each emphasized the importance of collaboration in the development space, and demonstrated recognition of the interdependence of organizations seeking to make a positive social impact.

With these valuable principles in mind, and in keeping with what Dr. Hudock’s mentors taught her when she first began working in international development in Sierra Leone, I was left with the reminder that all are teachers, all are learners.


Kearney Newman is a Master of Science Candidate at CU Boulder studying Information & Communication Technology for Development. She is particularly interested in issues that affect women and girls, has experience working on education and empowerment-based programs, and is eager to contribute to more collaborative projects in the development space using culturally-appropriate technology-based solutions.

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Photo by Jamie Hansen