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How iACT Builds Sustainable Partnerships

Three iACT team members sit on the ground in an outdoor Little Ripples classroom in Chad. One is holding a soccer ball and speaking as they have a brainstorming meeting.
Brainstorming meeting with iACT team members in Chad in 2021.

Over the years, iACT has focused on maintaining strong partnerships in our work. These partnerships sometimes exist between our organization and other NGOs, but, more often, we create partnerships directly with the conflict-affected communities we work with. Our refugee- and community-led model embraces the mutuality between parties who are in collaboration with each other, creating solid and sustainable partnerships.

This model and our relationships with our refugee and conflict-affected colleagues are a core aspect of how iACT works. They are central to our mission and vision, and who we are as an organization. Let’s take a moment to look at several primary aspects of our approach:

Mutual Trust and Respect

When there are genuine feelings of trust and respect, there can be genuine partnership. This kind of partnership respects each party’s capabilities, knowledge, and experiences; and trusts that each party will make decisions that are in the best interest of the program. Having trust and respect means that a community is not only trusted to lead a community program, but that the community is essentially expected to lead; a “hands-off” approach – specifically when it comes to oversight or management – is the default, because the community’s own abilities are truly respected.

Coach Nelli in Armenia taking time out with her Academy players.
Coach Nelli in Armenia taking time out with her Academy players.

In iACT’s youth soccer program, Refugees United Soccer Academy (RUSA), a team made up of two women and two men manage the day-to-day operations. Although iACT offers support through funding, material resources, and trainings, these men and women lead the program by determining the schedule and location of Academy sessions, deciding on activities, creating budgets, coaching children, and communicating and coordinating with community members and other NGOs. The communities that have RUSA trust that the trainings we offer are impactful and that we will continue to find financial support; we trust that the coaches are leading children with integrity of the approach modeled during our training sessions with them, and we respect their decisions in making adaptations which they feel would benefit the program.

A group of teachers and community members huddle over plans for the building of a new preschool building.
Planning for a new Little Ripples Pond in eastern Chad with our refugee-led expansion team.

Hearing and Listening

One common refrain we hear from our friends living in refugee camps is about how they often don’t feel listened to. Few non-community members ask them what they need, or what their opinion is. When starting every relationship, iACT comes to the table with an attitude of learning and care. This attitude is at the core of our work. If we all care about and for each other, then we will truly want to hear what everyone has to say. Then, work that actually addresses a community’s expressed needs can be done.

Knowledge Sharing

We see all knowledge as having value. The community’s knowledge is particularly important, as it is knowledge that is localized and contextual. The community knows not only its needs, but also the environment and context of how these needs may be addressed. A sustainable partnership will foster continual and consistent sharing of knowledge between parties, which will in turn strengthen and improve programs and processes.

Little Ripples (LR), an early childhood education program facilitated by iACT, was first co-created with a community living in refugee camps in Chad. This community was familiar with its resources (human and material), as well as with its own cultural attitudes and traditions. Little Ripples began as a school, and, after one year of implementation, transitioned to an in-home model (where preschool centers are hosted in homes of camp residents). This modification occurred after the community, through its initial year-long experience, felt that in-home centers would be more beneficial and impactful.

Children playing at a home-based Little Ripples early childhood education center.
Children playing at a home-based Little Ripples early childhood education center in eastern Chad.

Two-way Advocacy

Advocacy can go both ways. When we work in new communities, our refugee- and conflict-affected team members become our advocates. They are the ones who build trust for our organization within their communities, and champion our contributions to the programs that we’re partnering on. At the same time, we advocate for our colleagues to the global community, sharing our team members’ challenges, successes, news, and thoughts.

Joy and Fun

Program Coordinator Alfateh “Oumda” Younous Haroun once famously said, iACT is the “home of the fun!” No matter what activities we are doing with a partner, we recognize that having fun is vital to continuing a sustainable partnership. While engaging with and working alongside each other, laughter is not only present, it is organic: jokes and light-hearted teasing always emerge even during “serious” training sessions and meetings about mundane matters, or even while we are merely walking together through refugee camp “blocks.” We are able to find joy in simply being with each other, regardless of the circumstances.

These characteristics of the way we work were naturally there from the start, but in identifying the ingredients (so to speak) we have come to appreciate the significance of each as inseparable from our approach. All the partnerships we have are deeply valued, and we will continue to ensure that our partnership principles are instilled in every new relationship we begin.


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