The Power of Local Partnerships to Scale Nutrition Programs in India
During nearly four years of programming through a USAID-funded project (October 2017-March 2021), WorldFish collaborated with government and local actors to implement nutrition-sensitive aquaculture interventions and related activities. Although brief, the project had an outsized impact. The project scaled many of its activities through its partnership with the Government of Odisha. USAID Advancing Nutrition reviewed project documents and interviewed WorldFish, USAID and local partners to better understand the project’s challenges, successes and lessons learned. We identified recommendations for other implementing partners on how to build partnerships with governments and complement existing local systems and structures to support program effectiveness and sustainability.
Work together to address local priorities
A key lesson learned was the importance of aligning project objectives with local government priorities to gain support and scale interventions. The project intentionally oriented its objectives and approach to meet those of the government. For example, a major priority of the Government of Odisha is to improve convergence, or collaboration, between sectors. The project’s nutrition-sensitive polyculture activities provided an opportunity to strengthen collaboration among multiple government agencies. It brought together departments focused on women and child health, fisheries, water and marketing, among other sectors, to implement activities and demonstrate how they could collaborate to meet shared goals. More details can be found on the WorldFish website.
Implement through existing organizations and systems
The project demonstrated the importance of working within existing organizations and systems. By being co-located within the Fisheries and Animal Resources Development Department, Government of Odisha (F&ARD), WorldFish project staff provided timely and consistent assistance to the government that built their level of trust in the project. Furthermore, the project identified an opportunity to partner with government-supported community organizations engaging women in income generation and empowerment activities across the country. These Women’s Self-Help Groups (WSHG) were a natural partner for the project as they were already organized, integrated into their communities and some already practiced aquaculture. In its first year, the project piloted an activity to train and support 20 WSHGs in small fish polyculture and other agricultural activities. The government was quick to recognize the effectiveness of this partnership and, over the next three years, expanded the activity to include 6,000 WSHGs. Over time, the project broadened its activities with the WSHGs to include hygienic solar drying, marketing and packaging of fish products. These new activities for WSHGs were successfully taken up by the government and further scaled.
Generate evidence to demonstrate feasibility and gain support
Trials and pilots were used to demonstrate the feasibility of project activities and garner buy-in from the government. Some government stakeholders initially expressed concerns about the acceptability and safety of fish products. In response, the project led small-scale trials to test adding hygienically dried fish into feeding programs in several public and private institutions. The fish products were well received and easy to incorporate into existing protocols. As a result of these efforts, the government partnered with the project to conduct a larger pilot and signed a memorandum to formalize the partnership. This will involve adding dried fish powder to hot cooked meals and include dried fish in take-home rations distributed through the Integrated Child Development Services’ (ICDS) Supplemental Nutrition Program. The pilot aims to deliver fish products to 1,200 children and 800 pregnant women and adolescent girls.
Invest in relationships for collaboration
The project spent significant time and resources building relationships with relevant government stakeholders from the outset to improve scalability and sustainability. It took nearly two years to build relationships with the government. Staff spent significant time learning about government priorities and adjusted the activities to support collaboration, while achieving project objectives. Staff used scientific evidence, field visits and implementation trials to demonstrate the potential impact and feasibility of activities. These efforts resulted in strong partnerships that fostered the project’s success. This approach was time-intensive and required flexibility, but ultimately supported scale-up and amplified long-term impact.
Overall, the project provides many examples of fruitful partnerships and recommendations that can be applied to other complex, multisectoral nutrition programs. USAID and WorldFish intend to use these recommendations to inform future programming. Read the brief detailing the findings and recommendations on the USAID Advancing Nutrition website and visit the WorldFish website for more project details.