Strengthening institutions in Rwanda using capacity development tools

ACHIEVE uses the ITOCA to help partners guide organizational performance and capacity improvement. Credit: ACHIEVE Rwanda

At the heart of the USAID Adolescents and Children HIV Incidence Reduction, Empowerment and Virus Elimination project, or ACHIEVE, is capacity development to empower local partners to lead and sustain HIV epidemic control for its target population – pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants, children and youth – to reach the 95-95-95 targets. Core to our capacity development approach are interventions that are customized to respond to the needs, situation and priorities of communities, stakeholders and local partner institutions and systems. ACHIEVE’s support focuses both technically and organizationally, enabling local partners to support service delivery and comply with USAID and PEPFAR financial, technical and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) requirements.

ACHIEVE’s support for local partners starts by working with them to assess and identify their capacity development needs, challenges and priorities. ACHIEVE uses the Integrated Technical and Organizational Capacity Assessment (ITOCA), to help partners conduct a detailed review of their current systems, structures and staff skills in a broad range of areas required for USAID programs and for OVC and DREAMS service delivery, which is backed by external validation of the results.

Local Partner Capacity Improvement using the ITOCA

In Rwanda, ACHIEVE has used the ITOCA with two implementing partners (IPs), DUHAMIC-ADRI and YWCA, that provide community-based OVC and DREAMS services in four districts.  ACHIEVE facilitated baseline and midline ITOCAs with each partner in December 2020 and December 2021, respectively. A key outcome of the assessments was the co-development of Capacity Action Plans (CAPs) for each partner, addressing their orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) and Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe (DREAMS) technical service delivery needs and institutional strengthening priorities. The ITOCA process enabled the partners to own and institutionalize their CAPs, with their staff driving implementation, with training, coaching, and mentorship from ACHIEVE. At baseline, both organizations demonstrated strong capacity, with an average score of 3.1 out of 4.  As a result of ACHIEVE’s support, the midline ITOCA results in December 2022 showed an average score of 3.7, a 19% increase in capacity. Further, the baseline assessment results identified 41 CAP priorities while midline assessment results identified only 13 CAPs priorities.  Recently, both partners have been awarded direct funding by USAID Rwanda to implement the OVC and DREAMS Activity from 2022-2027.

What Makes the ITOCA a Powerful Assessment Tool

As a facilitated self assessment process, coupled with a document review, the ITOCA provides local partners with an opportunity to look inwards to identify CD priorities, which can be validated against source documentation and concrete results. The participatory nature of the process enhances collaborative team work through knowledge and skills sharing across staff within an organization, helping individuals learn from one another and build consensus around their strengths and weaknesses. After 12 years of supporting local organizations under USAID projects, Theresa Mutesayire, Capacity Development Manager for ACHIEVE Rwanda, considers the ITOCA facilitated self-assessment process to be best-in-class tools and guides in terms of their holistic coverage across all technical and organizational areas for OVC and DREAMS implementation. These tools enable partners to have a global understanding of an organization’s scope and an enhanced ability to evaluate an organization’s accomplishents. 

"With the ITOCA, we now have new policies, strategies and tools for improved governance and management."

The ITOCA includes standards of excellence, which are benchmarked with qualitative descriptions of what systems and processes should look like in a range of capacity areas.  Local partner teams reported that during the process they learned about how the ITOCA can be used to guide organizational performance and capacity improvement. They said that the tool was easy to comprehend and allowed them to learn about their current state of capacity and what they can strive for as they implement their CAPs. 

“As one of the missions of ACHIEVE was to build the capacity of local IPs to become direct recipient of USAID funding, the partners started with an understanding of having good scores but with the explanations from the facilitators, they changed their mindset by aiming to address identified gaps for sustainability of their organizations which will also attract other funders,” said Perpetue Dusabe, an ACHIEVE Rwanda Grants Manager Specialist who helped facilitate the assessments.

The participants appreciated that the process incorporated results analysis during the action planning process, enabling them to use the data in real time for organizational improvement. They expressed that the entire process was conducted seamlessly at the highest level, delivering high quality results. Theogene Habimana from DUHAMIC-ADRI noted, “In this process the ACHIEVE ITOCA Team has used different strategies focused on team working spirit, empowering the Partner staff to use their skills in the development and upgrading the existing strategies/policies.” Program Manager for YWCA, Jean Pierre Sibomana, described the process as a “game changer in the sense that it is participatory and allows for a thorough self and external assessment from which real gaps are identified.” He added that, “the capacity action planning and its regular monitoring allows for a rapid and consistent implementation of capacity actions.” Jean Pierre recommends that the tool be used annually for their organization to help them develop CAPs for ongoing performance improvement.  

“As a local civil society organization, the ITOCA/NUPAS/OPI tools enabled our organization to have an exhaustive introspection in terms of governance and management to detect the gaps and levels of improvement that are required for more improvement and performance,” said Jean Berchmans Harindintwari, Technical Advisor for YWCA. “With the ITOCA, we now have new policies, strategies and tools for improved governance and management, which has developed within YWCA a team a spirit to ensure that we are updated on and meeting the highest standards.”

Moving forward, ACHIEVE will continue to support the IPs with capacity development and technical assistance as the local partners implement their prime USAID awards for the OVC and DREAMS Activity.  With clearly defined follow-up actions, ACHIEVE and the IP staff are looking forward to taking what they learned through the ITOCA process and using it to enhance program implementation of their new USAID prime awards and strengthen organizational and technical capacities for long term sustainability of OVC and DREAMS services.

ACHIEVE’s Global Capacity Development Team developed an ITOCA Implementation Guide to provide external facilitators with the tools and background necessary to lead the ITOCA process with local partner organizations engaged in capacity development activities. The guide can be downloaded here