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The Journey to Self-Reliance during COVID-19 and beyond:  Challenges, Opportunities and Impact

18th December 2020

A view from Crown Agents

Development defeats its purpose if its results cannot be sustained. USAID’s “Journey to Self-Reliance” prioritizes programmes that build a country’s ability to plan, finance, and implement locally-owned solutions to solve its own development challenges.

Crown Agents works with governments, non-governmental organizations and the private sector to integrate its development work into existing systems and structures. Matching USAID’s approach in this way, Crown Agents USA currently implements two key projects: the USAID-funded Accountable Governance for Improved Service Delivery (AGIS) project, which strengthens local capacities in Zambia to improve public financial management in the education and health sector; and the USAID-funded Climate Economic Analysis for Development, Investment, and Resilience (CEADIR) activity, which makes the business and economic case for climate mitigation and adaptation and financing in over 30 countries.

Strengthening accountable governance during the COVID-19 Pandemic: the USAID AGIS Project

USAID/AGIS works with the Ministry of Health (MoH) and the Ministry of General Education (MoGE) in Zambia to strengthen public financial management, particularly in the areas of internal controls, procurement, and internal audit. The project’s aim is to strengthen transparency and accountability in the delivery of health and education services in Zambia. This, in turn, will increase the country’s self-reliance by supporting a healthier and better educated population. By embedding our programmatic approach into local systems, we ensure sustainability. Crown Agents USA is the prime contractor on the USAID/AGIS project, working alongside sub-contractors RTI and Connexus.

Within days of the Government of the Republic of Zambia’s instituting safety measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the programme, in partnership with the Ministry of Health’s IT team, pivoted to delivering our technical assistance and training virtually.

With some districts disconnected from the national power grid, and some provinces experiencing unstable power supply and intermittent internet connectivity, the team thought at first that it would be impossible to conduct the trainings via Zoom. However, with the use of generator sets to supply power and switching between more than one internet provider during the trainings, these challenges were navigated successfully. To ensure participants could attend virtually, the project team arranged for data bundles for all attendees, which synced directly to their chosen devices.

This enabled the USAID/AGIS team to hold its first Specialized Public Financial Management (PFM) Training for accounting staff from the primary and secondary schools in Lusaka District on Zoom. The pilot training attracted over 70 participants, exceeding by far the number of 35 participants initially targeted.

So far, USAID/AGIS has trained over 900 public health and education officials in Muchinga, Lusaka and Eastern provinces.

Developing capacity for economic analysis and planning for low-carbon, climate-resilient economies: the CEADIR project

Crown Agents USA is the prime contractor for the $20 million CEADIR activity,  making the business and economic case for, and facilitating public and private financing, to accelerate climate change mitigation and adaptation. Since its inception in 2014, Crown Agents USA has implemented CEADIR sub-activities in renewable energy (RE), energy efficiency (EE), sustainable landscapes, climate change adaptation and climate finance in over 30 developing countries. This work has contributed to creating environments conducive for sustainable economic activity by increasing local capacity and private sector engagement, key drivers of the Journey to Self-Reliance.

In Senegal, for example, with Power Africa funding, Crown Agents USA provided technical assistance and transaction advisory to financial institutions to increase their readiness and capacity to lend to Renewable Energy (RE) and Energy Efficiency (EE) projects. This work builds on earlier technical assistance in eight West African countries. Overcoming the challenges posed by COVID-19, Crown Agents USA delivered virtual technical assistance sessions to two leading local commercial banks and additional webinars for the broader Senegalese banking community. These sessions included assessing market opportunities for lending, diagnosing institutional readiness and capacity to respond to market opportunities, and developing tailored lending products and processes for the banks.

In Zambia and Malawi, CEADIR analysed the financial, economic, health, and environmental costs and benefits of charcoal use and its supply-side and demand-side alternatives. These cost-benefit analyses will inform the implementation of the USAID-funded, Resilient Modern Energy for Healthy Forests and Livelihoods activity in Malawi, and the Alternatives to Charcoal activity in Zambia and are serving as a model for a similar study in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


Integrating development activities into local systems and processes is more important than ever in these challenging times. COVID-19 has not only exposed vulnerabilities, but also shown how important it is that national and local systems show resilience in light of this global challenge.

It is critical that aid interventions create sustainable outcomes through long-term, systemic changes. At Crown Agents, we believe it is crucial to not solely focus on the “what” we do, but rather on the “how” we do it: This requires us to effectively link into local structures, take local needs into account, and work with key decision-makers to mitigate any challenges and ensure long-term impact.

We are therefore proud to support USAID’s “Journey to Self-Reliance”, its principles and concepts, and look forward to working even more closely with USAID in the coming years.