Last week marked the culmination of a PEPFAR/CDC supported AIHA managed project that strengthened the organizational capacity of Key Population-led Civil Society Organizations in 7 countries in Central/Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa.  During two days of workshops, over 120 representatives from the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American International Health Alliance (AIHA), and Key Population-led (KP-led) civil society organizations (CSOs) shared major accomplishments of this two-year initiative. The participants also discussed challenges, solutions, and next steps to further improve the capacity of KP-led CSOs.  In his remarks, Hank Tomlinson, CDC’s Director, Division of Global HIV and TB, welcomed participants and congratulated everyone on a very important and successful program.

According to a UNAIDS report from 2020, more than half of new HIV infections occur among key populations and their partners.  The rate of HIV infection is more than 20 times higher among men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, commercial sex workers, prisoners, and transgender people than in the general population. Without reducing these rates significantly, it will not be possible to stem the tide of HIV/AIDS among these vulnerable and often marginalized populations nor reach epidemic control in a country.  

AIHA’s Project Director, Inna Jurkevich, remarked that “most projects that work with KP, vulnerable groups and CSOs focus on technical interventions, program and service delivery.  While important, this project instead prioritized the often neglected yet critical need to strengthen the capacity of KP-led organizations so that so that they can deliver project results in a sustainable, effective and accountable way.”  

After an initial intensive organizational capacity assessment, the priority capacity strengthening areas selected for this project were governance, strategic planning, program management, finance management, human resources, social enterprise and revenue generation.  AIHA, KP peer mentors, consultants, and AVAC, a US-based NGO, delivered trainings and conducted one-on-one mentorships.  In all, more than 120 CSOs participated in organizational strengthening capacity initiatives in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Zambia.  In addition, AIHA helped several CSOs obtain official registration in their countries.  

Two very successful components of this project were the 1) Organizational Capacity Strengthening Grants and 2) Social Enterprise Initiatives. 

After a process of training, mentorship and intensive one-on-one sessions and exchanges, AIHA provided 27 capacity strengthening grants to CSOs in Zambia, Kenya and Nigeria.  In Kenya, for example, AIHA provided a mini grant to the KP Consortium that not only served to upgrade their organization’s manuals but also enhanced the organizational structures and governance of the 13 KP-led CSOs within their network. Commenting on this initiative, Sibusiso Malunga, from the Zambian organization The Lotus Identity (TLI), said “the capacity building project strengthened TLI’s capacity in responding to the mental health needs of not only its staff but also the community it serves as this is a glaring gap in the LGBTQ programming in Zambia.” 

The social enterprise initiative was also a critical part of this program as it focused on revenue generation, organizational resilience and sustainability.  Once again, through a series of training sessions, mentorship and exchanges, more than 30 CSOs from 6 countries developed business plans. 

After a vetting process, 16 CSOs from these countries were provided seed funding to implement social enterprise projects.  This enabled them to raise critical capital to strengthen their organizations’ capacity and long-term financial sustainability, and, consequently, deliver much needed program services to communities the KP-led organizations serve.  In Guatemala, with the revenue it was able to generate, the Association for the Prevention and Study of HIV / AIDS, APEVIHS established medical and nutritional clinics in rural areas to provide much needed services to children, women and people living with HIV for free or at no cost, in addition to providing food and medicine.

While much was accomplished through this project, a lot remains to be done.  AIHA’s President and CEO David Greeley said “It is just as critical that support be provided to strengthen organizational capacity as program service delivery.  In fact, they must go hand and hand.  If they are, then we can continue to make progress in stemming the tide of HIV/AIDS through locally empowered, locally capable civil society organizations.”