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Published on 19 April 2021

After many years working in Guatemala Christian Aid is closing its country programme at the end of this year. Alix Tiernan, Global Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Manager, shares insights from the Guatemala Learning Review.

I have visited Guatemala twice in the past six years, in order to support Christian Aid’s staff and partners in their monitoring, evaluation and learning practice. During this time I was able to witness the emergence of a strong direction to our work, as it focused on building the capacity of citizens to claim their right to peace, to services from their local authorities and, in particular, to see young people gain confidence in participating in decisions that affect their lives. Our partners in particular impressed me with their commitment to creating an empowering space for women and men of all ages and abilities to build better lives.

In 2020, then, I was delighted to have the opportunity to re-engage with our partners, to see how the original programme which Christian Aid had supported had grown into the Jotay programme as part of the learning around our closure of the Guatemala programme in 2021.

The Guatemala learning review is part of a series of reports which share the approach and experiences of six country programmes which we are exiting from, so that we can better support our partners in countries where we continue to work. The aim of the Guatemala review is to apply some of the lessons to our future work with the ACT Alliance and with other agencies, complementing, in particular, the South African learning review, which discusses ACT Alliance collaboration in South Africa.

Jotay: beautiful together

Since 2017, Christian Aid’s Guatemala programme has been delivered through a joint programming initiative with five other ACT agencies: Bread for the World, Act-Church of Sweden, ICCO Cooperation, Norwegian Church Aid and Lutheran World Foundation. The programme, called Jotay-ACTuando Junto (Jotay), was seen as a way to realise the ambitions of a wider ACT Alliance initiative to work together more closely, with the following expectations: 

  • efficiency savings achieved
  • increased impact (results greater than the sum of the parts) and
  • joint fundraising or new resources mobilized that would otherwise not be available

“Jotay is like a flower with many petals of different shades – beautiful together!" This is a quote from one of our partners in Guatemala, who was interviewed for this learning review. Another described  Jotay as: “A beautiful rose with many petals, but also thorns.”

For Christian Aid, working together – standing together – with others is how we describe our theory of change towards poverty reduction. The flower pictured includes insightful metaphors from the review process about collaboration, which tell us a little about the journey that Christian Aid, other ACT agencies, and Guatemalan partners have been on in the last five years.

Image of a flower - each petal of the flower has a quote from a partner describing Jotay.

Guatemala learning report findings

  • People are key to success. Although there were many challenges related to the different perspectives and priorities of the five ACT agencies, obstacles were overcome, and significant results achieved when staff in the ACT agencies and in our partner agencies really committed to collaboration because they believed in its benefits.
  • Focus on flexibility, agility and be open to alternatives. Although the different agencies all had different approaches to programming, recognising the value of adaptation and flexibility made working together and taking advantage of new opportunities a stronger alternative than working separately. However, the cost of bringing all the different agencies together needs to be factored in in terms of time and joint resources.
  • Develop a joint model for programme cycle management. Probably one of the biggest challenges to the Jotay programme was the development of common approaches for planning, monitoring and evaluation. This took a lot of staff and partner time and energy. Perhaps greater willingness to agree to the host agency’s programme cycle management approaches may have made the process smoother. In the case of Jotay it was probably right to retain the consensus approach, which was more partnership focused and was more appropriate to this specialised programme, but in future collaborations it would be recommended to apply a “minimum standards” approach rather than adopting all the standards of all the collaborating agencies and their donors.
  • Promote more joint action between (faith-based) partners and strengthen joint advocacy campaigns. Not all opportunities for collaboration at partner level were taken advantage of, and external advocacy campaigns could also have been stronger. The review found that there is also scope to strengthen the faith-based focus of the joint programme going forward, given that this is a strong driver of the commitment of the E8 agencies to effective collective action.
  • Recognise the limitations of joint programming. The challenges of operationalising a joint programme with quite different partner agencies can be quite significant. There was a sense that Jotay may benefit now from the departure of Christian Aid, as that simplifies by 20% the number of procedural standards and requirements that have to be taken into account for operational integrity. Perhaps any collaboration should aim for a maximum of five participating agencies, to promote joint working without overburdening the accompanying bureaucracy.
Read the Guatemala learning review report