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Project development and implementation is shaped by a particular methodology yet does not conform to a pre-determined plan or rigid manual. The following description captures the flow of the life of a project and illustrates how the AVSI method is put into practice.

A Proposal Emerges

Before the idea of a project in a new country or context is even considered, there is always an invitation or a request from a community or a leader interested in creating a space for AVSI to have a presence and role in helping the people to address a certain challenge being lived. An invitation generally originates as a proposal from the government, Church leader, or community who is aware of the work carried out by AVSI and local partners in other regions and is interested in either replicating or adapting an intervention to the local context.

In front of such an invitation, the board of AVSI responds by considering the request, taking into consideration the real possibility of supporting a long-term presence in the country, which includes the commitment and level of engagement of the agency requesting support. Another fundamental consideration is the openness of the society and of state towards the free engagement of civil society, and in particular faith-based communities and minority groups. Additionally, the board must consider the logistical feasibility of responding to the request, taking into account the demand for human resources, financing needs and AVSI’s experience and know-how related to the proposed area of intervention. AVSI gives preference to initiating new projects in countries within geographic proximity to areas of existing AVSI presence in order to more effectively scale-up regional support and maximize resources.

The portfolio of current programs can be divided into three categories reflecting the paths of their development. First are new projects initiated in a new country as described above. Secondly, there are projects that develop from and expand an existing project. Third, there are replications of successful projects in different regions.

  • An example of the first path is in Romania, where after a few Italian families living in Romania began to offer exchanges for Romanian children to study in Italy and introduced a local hospital to the work of AVSI. This hospital proposed a program of technical support by AVSI and, in 1995, an agreement was negotiated with support of the Romanian government. From this starting point, a number of programs have emerged.
  • The second category is reflected in the experience in Nigeria, where AVSI volunteers had been working with teachers in a small educational program and remedial school since 1995. By 2003, the community had proposed an expansion of activities to benefit a greater proportion of the community, and a new school building had been built and the project scaled-up considerably.
  • An example of the third category, replication of a successful project, took place in Brazil where AVSI volunteers and staff had been working in a day-care center and in small urban rehabilitation initiatives in Belo Horizonte. The government development agency and the World Bank recognized the achievements of the AVSI project, including the added-value of AVSI’s close relationship with the communities for implementing a complex initiative such as urban rehabilitation. The proposal to replicate a similar project in Salvador Bahia was subsequently extended to AVSI and made a significant impact.

The Opportunity is Assessed

Responding to an invitation, AVSI volunteers/staff begin to build a relationship with the local people and organizations, working together toward common goals. Trust among the partners is a crucial factor which grows out of a lived commitment to partnership, and confirming the possibilities for future collaboration. It is necessary to first live with the people in the place where a project will be developed in order to give the staff the affective proximity to know the needs of the community. At times, this initial period of gaining familiarity with the local community and context will overlap with language training and adaptation for AVSI staff. When a project is proposed, the AVSI staff can then take the decision to pursue the opportunity and asses the extent of the needs and the capacity of the local people and institutions. This evaluation is done through actual encounters with the people, rather than at a distance relying on annual reports and publications.

A Project is Formulated

Once the conclusion is reached that a project is both necessary and possible, the more specific details of a program are elaborated. In this stage, AVSI staff identifies direct partners and engages stakeholders. Direct partners are representatives of the community, generally local associations or organizations, or local government agencies. When looking for NGO partners, AVSI gives preference to those organizations which are deeply rooted in the communities and thus have clear links and understanding of the reality being lived. The stakeholders in the project are also engaged to ensure that the project supports existing priorities and earns long-term support from stakeholders. The government can be involved as either a direct implementing partner, or as a stakeholder, depending on the context. As a project is formulated, AVSI makes an effort to include the person or people who will be directly responsible for its implementation. In addition, there is the need to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the direct partners. Coordination means the creation of a stable and permanent team of staff joining local actors with joint responsibility and involvement of local institutions as “true subjects” of the action.

Once formulated, the formal project is prepared according to international standards.

The Project Moves Forward

At the heart of project implementation is a human relationship between staff or volunteers and beneficiaries, rather than statistics of project impact or reach. As a project is implemented, the human resources provide the energy for the project’s success. The implementing team, including AVSI staff, local staff, and volunteers, must share the characteristics of enthusiasm and flexibility in a way that complements the technical capacity and skills of each individual. Projects are driven by the situation, and the personnel do not see their individual role as strictly defined by their technical skill, job description, manuals or timeframe, but are open to all aspects of reality and willing to adapt to and address the challenges that emerge. Equally important, project staff is attentive to continual teaching and learning-by-doing that takes place among the staff and is motivated by a commitment to fostering long-term capacity of local organizations.

AVSI projects and staff operate with a long-term perspective, centered on the objective of building capable and effective institutions that will have a sustainable presence in the local context. AVSI hopes that individual projects will nourish local institutions which can gain from and contribute to the richness of experience of the AVSI network worldwide.

Consistent monitoring and reporting are carried out, including financial controls.