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What Makes Blood:Water Unique: Why We Created the Leader Collective

Leader Collective Logo

We’ve talked about this a lot recently (and over the years), but when you want something done well, you really ought to go to the people with the most intel and experience in the field. Without them, you may be able to make some change for people you want to help, but it won’t be done nearly as well or efficiently as it could have been.

The experts are the people who are local to the area, who already have experience, and who know and love the places and people they’re serving. They know how to tailor each program to the specific community, taking culture, context, needs, and community structures into consideration. Partnering with local organizations selflessly serving communities across sub-Saharan Africa is one of Blood:Water’s great privileges and the key to achieving generational impact.

How OS Works and Why Expansion is Essential

Healthy Partners = Healthy Communities


Because of this, Organizational Strengthening (OS) is a key part of our mission, because we want our partners to be strong enough operationally, financially, and programmatically to continue the work long after our partnership concludes. They need to be invested in growth so they can improve their work and continuously interact with changes internally and externally, even if they need to pivot for a season. This means investing in ongoing development of the policies, people, systems, and practices that make up the organization as a whole.

We started OS in 2015, and since then, we have seen amazing strides in our partners’ growth and our ability to be a helpful resource. We provide up to $10,000 in every 2-year funding cycle to help each partner grow through specific project activities that strengthen systems and enhance quality of services and accessibility to their community. We come alongside them to help complete their goals, based on best practices in sustainable development.

One aspect of OS we’ve been doing for a while is our Partner Summits, designed to create opportunities for partners to share ideas, experiences, and victories through training and peer learning sessions. We cover topics like diverse income streams for sustainable lifelines, effective storytelling for communication and connection, organizational transparency, and how to adapt to change without altering organizational identity. There are also technical workshops and a network of resources that hopefully combine to leave partners feeling encouraged and energized in the heroic work they are doing.


Organizations are made up of people, policies, practices, and systems





Hypothesis: Paired Grants & OS

Measuring Progress in OS

The Institutional Development Framework (IDF) Process is a trusted organizational assessment tool used to determine the health of the organization, identifying strengths and opportunities for growth. Over the course of a grant cycle, a partner implements the Improvement Plan they built based on their results, and we check in to see how they’re doing and if we can provide support. After our partnership concludes, they can keep using this tool to analyze themselves and create next steps for sustainable development as an organization.

In each category, they work together as a group to rate themselves based on 4 stages of Organizational Development:

At the start of the IDF Process, our partners’ average placement by resource area is Developing for Human Resources, and Expanding for Technical Resources, External Resources, Management Resources, Oversight & Vision, and Financial Resources, for an overall average score of 2.09.

For 3 of our current partners, their improvement since their first IDF has been an average of 0.96 points for Human Resources, 0.71 for Technical Resources, 0.88 for External Resources, 0.75 for Management Resources, 0.95 for Oversight & Vision, and 0.19 for Financial Resources. That means that our partners improve by nearly a whole stage on average in their time working with us.




all partners’ aggregate assessment data by resource area




Stages of Organizational Growth

To give examples of how current partners are using OS funding, one partner received M&E resources based on their specific needs from a consultant and shared with their team, including a Quantitative Outputs and Institutional Results Capture Tool, School and Household Data Collection Tools, and an M&E Framework. A few partners input human resource and finance manuals and systems for better performance and improved accountability. One partner held a leadership workshop to counteract Zoom fatigue and isolation as a result of COVID-19 that built trust through fellowship and conversation, and inspired empowerment and confidence to take initiative.

Since 2015, we have helped organizations in the areas they determined would improve their operations, and they learned things they can share and implement as regular practices throughout the whole organization! They developed or updated 45 organizational policies, such as board development manuals and policies for financial management, human resources, and resource mobilization strategies. They deployed 28 systems to improve operations and programs like software for project management for community health workers, financial accounting, and tablets for mobile electronic data collection. And 360 board and staff members have been trained for skills development in change management, supportive supervision, communication, HIV/AIDS, and other topics spanning organizational health.

Adapting to COVID-19




Before the first cases of COVID-19 emerged on the African continent, our partners were already pivoting their services and mobilizing teams to educate communities on the virus and how to prevent it. Our partners remain leaders in their community and sometimes national responses, positioned where the need is greatest, especially since the global AIDS response provided a template for action. Blood:Water is standing right beside them, equipping and empowering them by providing financial resources, organizational strengthening, and systems support.

We were seeing positive trends in organizational strengthening initiatives, but some of these activities revolved around group gatherings and physical proximity of staff, so we had to adjust some of our operations. To foster connectivity in face of forced isolation, we instituted weekly calls with our partners that enabled them to connect with each other and with Blood:Water, share resources and insight, and support and encourage one another. We saw a lot of great responses to virtual organizational strengthening events (such as webinars), and since these are so cost-effective, accessible, and can be archived for future reference, we expect to accomplish a lot more in this realm.

To diversify the technical services available, we also started individual leadership coaching, so leaders could work 1-on-1 with a trained and certified coaching professional to identify and work towards professional, organizational, or personal goals. Over the course of 10 coaching sessions based on the schedule and agenda set by the leader, they work on goals to move teams and visions forward powerfully.

Opening New Opportunities Through the Leader Collective 

In 2021, our AP team launched a new resource for organizational strengthening, the Leader Collective, to be a public good that amplifies and leverages our impact. The intent is to scale virtual OS activities to better serve partners in the ongoing COVID-19 constrained context, borne out of our missional mandate to invest in partners and their visions for lasting change. It is a virtual community that exists to convene, cultivate, and amplify African leadership, driving change in health and development sectors.

While it exists primarily for Blood:Water’s community of partners, it is also meant to be a valuable platform for wider public engagement and participation. With other aligned organizations, the Collective’s diversity, expertise, and influence will expand. All of this will work together to catalyze change that positions African leaders and communities at the center, owning and driving development processes, compounding investments over time. We are very proud of the ways it is already shaping up to be an amazing resource for groundbreaking organizations developing their communities.

The Leader Collective fulfills its mission by creating a community that:

  1. Builds connections, virtually and in-person, through meaningful thought exchange, peer support, mentorship, and learning.

  2. Expands access to resources and tools that strengthen leaders and leadership practice with intentionality.

  3. Generates research and best practices on models of community development, health, leadership, equity, and social change.

  4. Positively influences the practice of development and the philanthropic sector by promoting African-led and community-driven partnership models




The Leader Collective seeks to Influence the practice of international develop, build community, generate research, and provide access to resources

As a starting point, the Collective will achieve its objectives through the following services, accessible by general membership to the B:W community of partners and other aligned organizations:

  • Webinars (see on YouTube)

  • Expert Panel Discussions

  • Community Networking Forums

  • Resource Library

  • Expert Directory

  • Funding Opportunities & Partnership Building

  • Community Events Calendar

  • Self-Paced Virtual Learning

  • Masterclasses & Workshops

  • Research & Publications (including members’ blogs, case studies, technical briefs, and more)

  • Partner Summit

The Advisory Committee for Co-Creation




The Collective will be a community in continuous co-creation with demands of membership over time, and since July 2021, the Advisory Committee for Co-Creation has made significant strides to formalize the Collective as a partner-owned community! Collaboratively-developed Terms of Reference guide the committee’s scope and operational mandate, and they have approved the Collective’s objectives, membership tiers and criteria, and an expanded menu of service offerings.

They nominated PaCT as the Committee’s chair and Blood:Water as secretary, with representative membership from the leadership of other current partners. We’ve already started the technological build of our online platform for web-based services and made them available to Blood:Water partners and alumni. By the close of December, they developed parameters for Community Guidelines to steer acceptable norms of interaction, which are currently being developed further.

Accomplishments in 2021

In the Collective

In the first half of 2021, we already had 12 leaders participating in individualized Leadership Coaching, and last year we convened 4 interactive webinars led by African experts on succession planning and building leadership pipelines, opportunities for gender mainstreaming in WASH and HIV programs, organization sustainability and resource mobilization, and writing grant proposals. With the Segal Family Foundation, we also hosted a partnership roundtable for networking between partners and potential new funding relationships.

We shared 9 e-Newsletters, connecting partners to resources, free virtual conferences, and webinars relevant to their work. These were about digital marketing, online fundraising skills, building webinars, WASH job aids, service quality guides, regional learning forums for virtual engagement, the SIWI World Water Conference, and the inaugural Public Health Conference in Africa hosted by the Africa CDC.




From August to September, we completed a 5-week Masterclass entitled Leadership in the New Normal and Organizational Resilience for Blood:Water’s active partners. 12 leaders successfully completed it!

Our Greater Involvement in the African Philanthropic Community

As we reported in 2020, we’re proud of our relationship with the East Africa Philanthropy Network (EAPN), and our Director of Africa Programs, Nadia, is even on its board. All of our work with the EAPN is centered around two priorities: community-focused partnership modeling and standards, and monitoring results of organizational strengthening.





In 2021, we held two peer learning sessions for the EAPN, the first entitled, “The Community Philanthropy Paradigm: Learning and Actions for Change,” with the Mott Foundation, CivSource Africa, and PaCT. The second was called, “An Outcomes Approach to Defining Organizational Strengthening,” and it continued conversations from the 2019 EAPN Conference. Participants affirmed the value of organizational strengthening investments to cultivate longevity and health among grantee organizations with resource and funding constraints. It also identified key inputs that framed capacity strengthening processes in the context of grantmaking, focusing on outcomes evidencing impact.

Blood:Water co-sponsored, convened and moderated two sessions at the 9th East Africa Philanthropy Conference (EAPN) in September. The first was, “African-led and Community Philanthropy: Intersections of Equity, Agency and Sustainability.” It was set up as a panel discussion including representatives from LWALA, the Mott Foundation, and CivFund Uganda, with a focus on actual evidence of partner-driven and community-focused models of philanthropy. The second, “An Introductory Launch for the Leader Collective,” was in the conference’s virtual marketplace, to prime potential membership expansion for the Leader Collective in 2023.

In the Africa Philanthropy Forum, we were honored to have two articles featured in its newsletter (see pgs. 17-21), among other involvement with the APF. One of these highlighted our model and impacts achieved. We are proud of relationships we’re cultivating in Africa, helping to spread our message of localized, community-based leadership. All of these relationships help us build resources for partners and support for similar organizations!

Looking Forward

In 2022, new partners will begin their initial IDF assessments, but we’re also developing a training curriculum for IDF Trainers (ToT) to make that whole process smoother. We will continue leadership coaching, and hopefully be able to reinstate partner exchange visits. Also in the pipeline is a menu of webinars for financial health and viability, and another masterclass on Mentoring for Transformational Leadership.

In the coming years, we look forward to continuing buildout of the online platform of the Leader Collective and expanding its membership offerings to aligned, African community-focused organizations. Eventually there will be a full range of in-person and online services and membership, and access to eligible organizations with limited access to resources and events.

We’re proud of the great strides we’ve made in the OS space since adopting it as one of our foremost priorities to invest in our truly life-changing partners. Dan explains our theory well:

“I want to help cultivate the imagination and dignity of a person “stuck” listening to the voice of poverty. I want the very presence of Blood:Water in an African community to affirm the dignity and potential of the people in that community.

The Blood:Water approach to organizational strengthening and capacity building of our African partners is designed to uncover what is already in that community. When you drill down, you eventually reach clean water. That water has always been there; it has just been covered. This is true of African innovation, creativity, opportunity, and ingenuity…

So if you want to know what makes Blood:Water different from other water or health-related organizations, it is the way we offer dignity through partnerships. It is the way we serve our African partners and grow their capacity. It is in the way our African partners serve the communities where they live and work.”

– From PART II: What Makes Blood:Water Different

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