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In the Driver’s Seat: Local Development Organizations in Kenya

Local Development Organizations (LDOs) are unique structures designed to steer development locally. Here’s how Dexis worked in partnership with multi-sectoral stakeholders to launch LDOs in Kenya.

Sustainability has been a core topic of discussion across the global development community for some time. In ideal cases, investments in development efforts yield lasting results that self-sustain once initial funding ends. Yet achieving true, long-term sustainability is enormously challenging and requires inclusive local ownership, enhanced capacity of a diverse range of local players, and strong local leadership.

In Kenya, Dexis has worked with USAID and local stakeholders to pilot Local Development Organizations (LDOs), as part of the USAID Kenya and East Africa (USAID/KEA) Mission Organizational Development Support (MODS) project. A unique new approach, LDOs represent an ambitious vision to build a collective voice for citizens that empower them to solve their own problems and promote equitable participation by women and young people.

What is a Local Development Organization (LDO)?

Each LDO is an umbrella organization with legal standing that represents local organizations including civil society and the private sector at the county level. As opposed to the more traditional model where donors provide the road map, LDOs spearhead locally designed and locally led programs. LDOs also serve as a platform where civil society, private sector, and government come together and can advocate for issues that affect them and the surrounding community. However, to successfully form an LDO takes time and the involvement of multiple local players.

Using Co-Creation to Form LDOs

As articulated by USAID, co-creation refers to a participatory approach that brings people together to produce something of mutual value. The co-creation approach emphasizes shared power, responsibility, decision-making, and ownership over the ultimate product.

During co-creation launch workshops, successful applicants came together to develop a shared understanding of the purpose and function of an LDO and how it supports county development and Kenya’s journey to self-reliance. As one participant from Homa Bay County said of the process, “We searched together for the meaning of what we are co-creating.”

Organizations seeking to form an LDO explored in depth how the LDO would implement USAID-funded activities if USAID provided funding to the LDO. This led to a series of discussions among the organizations (and with USAID contractors like Dexis providing technical advice) on how the LDO would be structured, how to involve other stakeholders—including ensuring inclusion of marginalized groups—consensus on thematic areas of focus, identifying suitable registration type, and eventual registration of the LDO.

Once an LDO was formed, each developed a framework to bring together local organizations to work as a county-wide unit and with other internal and external partners for improved county governance and service delivery.

LDOs Poised to Drive Local Agendas

In total, Dexis helped to launch seven LDOs in Kenya, collaborating with USAID’s County Liaison Team (CLT) to pioneer this new process. By their very nature, LDOs align with USAID’s renewed commitment to localization in pursuit of locally led action for sustainable solutions. LDOs also support USAID Kenya and East Africa’s Journey to Self-Reliance strategy focused on Kenya-led development.

Given the complex web of development players and projects active in Kenya, forming LDOs lays a strong foundation to both receive and direct development support in the future. To continue the momentum, USAID recently provided the local Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF) with an award to keep providing LDOs with ongoing support as they apply for and receive funding.

LDOs—and using co-creation to form LDOs—are changing the way development is conceptualized and delivered at the grassroots level. As one member of an LDO put it, “LDOs are a disruption creating a new order.” Dexis looks forward to seeing this new mechanism strengthen community participation in development around the world.


Special thanks to the Dexis team who supported the USAID Kenya and East Africa (USAID/KEA) Mission Organizational Development Support (MODS) project and for their contributions to this blog.

Photo by Luo Xiaoguang / XINHUA