What is country ownership?

What is country ownership?

Earlier this summer, the Center for Global Development hosted a guest lecture by the Ministry of Health of Ethiopia Dr.Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus with a panel of experts from Zambia, Mozambique and Uganda and representatives from United States Government (USG) agencies to discuss one of the most challenging concepts to define right now - Country Ownership.

For the last two years, the USG has tried to find a way to partner with developing country governments while they balance their accountability to Congress.  In recent development reform plans like the Global Health Initiative and Feed the Future, there are numerous references to country ownership, country driven, country-led, and country guided but neither actually come out and define the term “country ownership.”

So, what is country ownership? How will we know when we achieve it? It is an end in itself or the best way to ensure long-term sustainability?

Perhaps the best way to define country ownership is to describe what it will look like. Dr. Ghebreyesus said it means a commitment to planning, resources, implementation, and Monitoring and Evaluation. He said we must “put the country in the driver’s seat” but clarified further by saying that the driver must decide where to go.

The country must have a vision and practical steps to realize the vision; the country must own its policy and others must accept it. Panelist Freddie Ssengooba of Uganda added to the driving metaphor by clarifying that country ownership cannot be like driving school “where the teacher has some control, chooses direction, and manipulates control of the wheel.” Country ownership means the country must be in control and own the process.

But who is the “country”? In the past country ownership has meant that the donor engages with the government but doesn’t include civil society in their plans before agreements are made.  Panelist Dirce Costa from Mozambique was categorical in requiring that it also “includes all stakeholders at different levels for countries to achieve real ownership.”

Country ownership means shared responsibility and accountability among numerous partners within the country, including the public and private sector, women and men, urban and rural, rich and disenfranchised.

MSH is committed to country ownership. When MSH supports a program, the country owns and implements the process and results. It is central to The Tao of Leadership, which is one of MSH’s guiding principles.

MSH knows that real country ownership can and does work. In our work with Country Coordinating Mechanisms (CCMs) through Grant Management Solutions (GMS), the project has assisted with the management of 197 signed Global Fund grants totaling $2.58 billion. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria awards grants to principle recipients and CCMs, which typically include multiple line ministries, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders. CCMs by their broad representation exemplify country ownership.

Watch the event online.

Sara Holtz is MSH’s HIV & AIDS Initiative Manager.