Leveraging Change for Early Childhood Services in Nicaragua

Cross-sectoral Partnerships: Cooperation over Competition

Dr. Deborah Young, the founder of Americas Association for the Care of Children (AACC), has experienced firsthand during her work in Nicaragua that cross-sectoral partnerships for leveraging change are an essential aspect of Education Diplomacy. She understands that Education Diplomacy can bridge divides by bringing “together the various groups so they are in partnership rather than competitors for resources.” In this instance, these groups include government institutions, nongovernmental organizations, higher education institutions, community-based organizations, and community committees.

Through cross-sectoral partnerships, Dr. Young and the AACC helped community-based organizations and committees gain a space at the negotiating and decision-making table as Nicaragua’s government moved toward a more centralized provision of pre-natal and early childhood services. To do this, AACC facilitated skills workshops on negotiation, strategic planning, organizational development, social mapping, data collection, and proposal writing,  to help communities work effectively with local and national ministries. With these skills, they were able to enhance their Education Diplomacy engagement.

Overcoming Challenges by Creating Shared Value

The formation of a pre-and post-natal and infant development education program was a key outcome of this community-level Education Diplomacy capacity building. Government agencies such as the Ministries of Health and Education often do not want to be perceived as unable to provide public services to outlying communities. This presents a challenge for NGOs seeking to create partnerships with governments because their efforts may be considered as interference with local ability to address their own issues.

Dr. Young describes how her NGO bridged the divide in this case by partnering with the local university to provide the necessary link to the Mayor’s office, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Education. Through this cross-sectoral partnership a consensus was shaped around providing healthcare access to remote areas, resulting in local NGOs having the opportunity to provide pregnant mothers and mothers of infants the necessary education and skills to reduce maternal risks and increase infant/toddler health. It was critical to create shared value among the Ministries of Health and Education so that they could work collaboratively with local NGOs toward a common goal.

Education Diplomacy Skills for Transformational Change

Education Diplomacy involves the use of the skills of diplomacy to promote effective cooperation between sectors, diverse actors, and borders to address education challenges and move transformative education agendas forward. The practice of Education Diplomacy includes interactions that cultivate partnerships, create shared value, and shape consensus about mutually beneficial solutions that position education as a force for positive change in the world.

Dr. Young offers this advice to those working in Education Diplomacy:

To include partners that may not be obvious. To be sure that the community/village-based members’ voice is strong during the entire process – that is where the ultimate implementation and impact will be needed. Be sure to have a large tool box of participatory and culturally appropriate community development skills, tools, strategies, and knowledge before entering the process. 

Finally, the skill of active listening is necessary for building cross-sectoral partnerships to leverage transformational change. In Dr. Young’s words, “Education Diplomacy is critical in being able to name the value that is not being met and facilitate discussion of how this value can be met. This process brings forward innovative ideas of how all stakeholders’ values are heard, held, and addressed.”