We Cannot Do It Alone. Why the Silo Syndrome in the Development Sector must GO!

“Silos can create tunnel vision, or mental blindness, which causes people to do stupid things.” – Gillian Tett, The Silo Effect


Okay maybe stupid things can be extreme but they do happen. The silo syndrome has led to disasters. Cue the US Financial Crisis in 2008. Then cue me – a young girl – a responsible behaviors peer educator – with an information overload from different HIV/Reproductive health organizations in 2001. So, let’s talk about me.


I have always been at my happiest when engaging with people. At parties, the market, shops, school, church… anywhere with lots of people. I am always around people, of course from time to time I find myself alone and then I get too philosophical or deeply spiritual. All good. So it was only natural that I spent my teenage years as a peer educator. This was at the height of HIV/AIDS pandemic in Tanzania where new infections were mostly happening among youth of 15 – 24 years old. So many reasons were behind this. Lack of information, poor access to services, gender based violence and gender discrimination made young people get into sexual relations or forced into them, with multiple partners (or serial partners). One of the solutions was to encourage positive behavior among youth through sharing good practices and sexuality and sexual reproductive health information relevant to their cultural and social contexts. As a peer educator, I often found myself in Iringa, one of the regions in Tanzania with the highest infection rate, for peer-to-peer information sharing and raising awareness on responsible behaviors. Well, you do not just wake up and voila! you are a peer educator. Apart from the Sciences, there is a lot of training in behavior change communications and human centered design thinking even though back then we did not have this name.


The trainings were fun, by fun for a 16 year old from a Catholic boarding school where meals consisted of porridge, rice or ugali with beans, means food and frequently served lots of food. Second, I got to learn systematically how best to engage with people, how do I maximize what I have to do in spaces I already enjoy being present. It eventually occurred to me that I should start saying no to the trainings albeit the food. I found myself meeting and being trained on so many curriculums on HIV prevention and Adolescents Sexual Reproductive Health to the point where I can rank them, like jah, jah, meh, meeh. I did not understand and I still don’t, why all those great impactful organizations could not harmonize the curriculums and focus on what has proven to be working instead of giving us differently worded indicators which practically mean the same thing as the last set, to really serve the community and drive impact.


The development sector players can be very selfish. They want attribution. Because of organization A’s intervention, XXXXXX lives have been improved.


And what does this attribution mean? More funding, more programs, more projects and of course better salaries, allowances, per diems, you name it. I am all up for these mores by the way, but while the people we are meant to serve are actually living the impact we wish for. 


Then you ask yourself, what about the community, the people, the users, and the beneficiaries? At a point I blamed the donors, then I realized I was wrong. Being in this space once again in my life, I realize we have us to blame. Sometimes we are so caught up with our organizational and personal ambitions, we forget the whole point of why we are doing what we are doing. The moment you find yourself not collaboration – friendly especially with peers in the same field, the moment you view them as competitors and not partners, the moment you want to beat and finish them, the more you want to get more money than they do, the more you want you or your organization to be recognized for the impact that perhaps people planted seeds of change 20 years ago, then hold your right arm on your left side of your chest and tell yourself, ‘I am in the wrong business’. You will make a great business person. Please go ahead and be useful there.


I am now a big fan of strategic partnerships, lets serve together, and lets grow together. Selfishly, here goes my declaration, as a team who started a startup in educational technologies, through partnerships we can reach more users, we can scale up faster and in the not for profit world, this only means more impact. Strategic partnerships allows everyone, and by everyone I include Governments, to leverage each other’s strengths and identify opportunities to allocate resources to what works and how the impact can be maximized by each partners’ engagement. So far, we have been scratching the surface; Shule Direct is a proud partner of Policy Forum, Tanzania Education Network (TEN/MET) and Regional Educational Learning Initiatives (RELI) where we have partnered with Universities, CSOs and International Organizations.


We are presented with another opportunity next week through the CSO Week and especially for the theme this year that is focused on Progress through Partnership: Collaboration as a Driver for Development in Tanzania. How important, how timely! Whether you are looking at it from an SDG 17 perspective of Partnerships for the Goals or through the lens of this African Proverb, if you want to go fast you go alone, if you want to go far, go together, the bottom line is Partnerships WORK!


I would like to invite you to our session during the CSO Week on Partnerships for Learning where we highlight the different ways we have engaged with partners to pursue mutual objectives and hopefully you can pick up a thing or two for your own practices.


A 16 years old got a lightbulb moment and knew better, I am sure we all stand a chance to not only know better but do better. I am counting on you, we are counting on you, the whole community you are serving is counting on you! Lets do this partner.


In Service,