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Exchange Visits Among Local Organizations—Here’s How!

Stronger, more sustainable community-based organizations can contribute to a more effective and participatory civil society response to the needs of vulnerable people in the developing world.

Donors can support organizations even at the beginning stages of organizational development with an intent to leave groups stronger than when they first entered into partnership. Different types of capacity building activities such as exchange visits and mentoring relationships between organizations can offer the most relevant and supportive technical assistance through sharing on-the-ground experience among organizations at all levels of organizational development.

The following guidelines offer some sound practices as a starting point from which exchange visits can provide effective and meaningful technical assistance among local organizations.

WHAT IS A PEER EXCHANGE VISIT?

The peer exchange is a practical and effective tool to foster learning between organizations. The objective of a peer exchange visit is to enable organizations to improve program quality and effectiveness for families and communities by learning from each other.

Exchange visits are intended to benefit all participants through an open exchange of ideas, knowledge, and sound practices. The host organization should expect to gain as much from the experience as the visitors, if not more. A peer exchange can be appropriate for organizations of any size, geographic reach, mission, or programs. They often are between two organizations, but may involve three or more organizations if appropriate.

WHY ARE PEER EXCHANGE VISITS IMPORTANT?

In the developing world, there are thousands if not millions of local organizations that are helping vulnerable families and communities. However there is little coordination among them, and as a result lessons that are learned in one organization are not always passed on to other groups. An important way to strengthen organizations is to help them learn from each other. While it is good to network at meetings and events, often the best way to learn from other CBOs or NGOs is to visit them and see with your own eyes what they are doing.

POTENTIAL AREAS FOR SUPPORT OR SHARING AMONG LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS

  • Leadership/management
    • Strategic planning
    • Governance/working with boards
    • Decision-making/communication
  • Budgeting & financial management
  • Administrative systems such as human resources, recordkeeping/information management, etc.
  • Issues around program quality or improved services for children and families
  • Monitoring and evaluation/organizational learning (planning, data collection, analysis, documentation, etc.)
  • Basic skills building for staff or volunteers – such as writing, computer, etc.
  • Fundraising and resource mobilization
  • Networking and advocacy
  • …and many others!

WHAT MAKES A PEER EXCHANGE VISIT SUCCESSFUL?

  • Clear expectations for both the host and visiting organizations developed prior to the visit.
  • A well-planned and well-implemented program, including enough time to discuss what you have seen at the end of the day.
  • A friendly and open atmosphere during the visit.
  • People from both organizations actively taking part in the activities and discussions, including organizational leaders who make decisions in the organizations and staff who are working directly with community leaders.
  • Not just sharing information, but a focus on trying to learn and identify lessons and ideas to use and adapt after the exchange visit
  • Effective follow-up and reporting.

RESPONSIBILITIES IN PLANNING AND CARRYING OUT AN EXCHANGE VISIT

Host Organization

  • Establish availability and identify tentative dates for the site visit. If possible, the visit should happen at a time when the visitors can observe your activities taking place.
  • Determine who will participate in the exchange visit. Designate which staff will be responsible for receiving the visitors and taking them around.
  • Make necessary logistical arrangements, e.g. set up meetings, arrange local transport, meals, etc.
  • Inform key staff, volunteers, and community leaders of the upcoming visit.
  • Prepare and share an agenda for the visit. Consider including discussions with staff, volunteers, participants and community leaders. Don’t forget to estimate and include travel times and distances between locations. Also consider including a wrap-up or closing activity.
  • Prepare any other program materials and share key documents and background information about your organization with the visitors at least 2 weeks prior to their coming.
  • Try to identify good ideas from your organization that you think might be helpful to the visitors.
  • Introduce the visits to community leaders as appropriate.

Visiting Organization(s)

  • Determine who will participate in the exchange visit. People should agree to participate in the team only if they have a genuine desire to both offer and receive new ideas and to report back to others.
  • Review and give feedback on the proposed agenda.
  • Notify the hosting organization (with enough advance notice) of the names, arrival dates/times and other relevant information about arriving participants.
  • Review the materials sent by the hosting organization.
  • Prepare to present/discuss your own organization and programs, as well as your successes and challenges
  • Ensure participants are adequately prepared for the demands of the agenda/program.
  • When you return home, share relevant information, approaches, skills, recommendations and ideas with those who did not participate.

Responsibilities of All Organizations

  • Based on the needs of both organizations, identify focus areas for activities/discussion during the visit.
  • Develop clear expectations about the visit, including:
    • Issues to be discussed
    • Type of activities to be carried out – meetings, focus group discussions, observation, site visits, etc.
    • Who will participate?
    • The program duration/length
    • Financial responsibilities – which organization will pay for what?
    • Who will be responsible for follow-up and reporting?
  • Maintain an open, supportive, friendly environment for discussions about programs and organizational strengths and challenges, as well as past successes and lessons learnt.
  • Provide complete, accurate and meaningful information and feedback to each other during the visit.
  • Do not act in any way that can negatively affect the reputation of the other organization during the visit.
  • Monitor participants’ reactions and comments during the visit. Notify each other of any issues or problems that arise. Communicate and cooperate fully and openly with each other in relation to the solution.
  • Provide participants with a formal opportunity to comment on the program immediately following participation.

FOLLOW-UP

When the visitors return home, it is time to reflect further on what each organization has learned from the exchange experience. It is important to make an effort to share the information with your colleagues after the visit. Discuss what ideas have come out of the exchange visit and how you might go forward to adapt or enhance your organization’s programs or systems.

REPORTING TO DONORS ON PEER EXCHANGE VISITS

Reporting is an important way to communicate with key stakeholders about the purpose and outcomes of your peer exchange visit. The following key questions should be answered in the report to donors in order to share what both organizations have learned during the visit. We also encourage you to include any additional information, insights or ideas of interest to you in the report. Length of these reports should not exceed five pages.

Peer Exchange Final Report Questions

Use of Funds

(1)     Please provide the following general information about your grant:

    1. What is the full name of your organization and your current contact information (mailing address, street address, telephone, fax, e-mail, website)?
    2. What is your grant award number?
    3. How much money did you receive from the donor for the exchange visit and how did you use the funds?
    4. What are the names of those who participated in the exchange visit and what are their roles within the organizations?

(2)     Describe the overall purpose and intent of the peer exchange visit. (Consider: What activities were planned? What key issues were discussed? What did both organizations want to gain from the visit?)

Learning and Follow-Up

(3)     What was the most positive or rewarding aspect of the exchange visit?

(4)     What new information, approaches, skills, recommendations or ideas were identified by the visiting organization(s) as something they would like to consider for their own organization when they returned home? In other words, what aspects of the hosting organization’s programs or systems did they want to adapt?

(5)     What new information, approaches, skills, recommendations or ideas were shared with the hosting organization by the visiting organization as something they would like to consider for their own organization?

(6)     What challenges or constraints did you encounter in planning or carrying out the exchange visit?

(7)     What did both organizations identify as the most important follow-up actions following the exchange visit?

(8)    What advice would you give to others who are planning an exchange visit? How can they make the most of the experience?

(9)     Please provide feedback on the donor’s procedures. For example, you can comment on the process of receiving this grant, the communication with staff and/or any other aspects of the partnership.

If at all possible, these questions should be discussed at the end of the exchange visit. That way, the report can be considered a team effort even if it is the responsibility of only one of the organizations. Before it is shared, the report should be circulated among all participants for review.

***

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21 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. 1

    Exchange visit is definitely beneficial. I wish we can get someone to come to Inwelle Centre at Enugu, Nigeria, especially in December or August when we usually run major activities.

  2. Olutoyin Falade #
    2

    I have heard of Exchange Visits from some colleagues, but I have not tried it. reading through this write-up, I am convinced that my young and growing NGO should embark one very soon to help us growing fast and well, being effective in community service.
    I like this piece.

  3. Bari Rabin-Solomon #
    3

    Excellent approach for encouraging Knowledge Sharing, Jennifer! I like to do this type of exercise at a distance as well. Sometimes local non-profits are the only ones in the area working on their issue and they can learn a lot from their peers in other countries.

  4. 4

    I am very impressed with Mahatma Gandhi’s message.
    I am seeking such exchange visits, especially your visit to Nepal for fundraising and resource mobilization as well as skill building for staff or volunteers. I look forward to you.

  5. 5

    Dear Madam
    i am Abdul Sattar Chairman Community Initiatives for Development in Pakistan is small and local registered NGO working in Sindh Pakistan, CIDP focused on Gender development through economic empowerment, Quality education Social Mobilization , Social mobilization and capacity building can play key role in community development.
    CIDP want to become part of any exchange visit program for new opportunities and learn new tools of global development.
    Waiting your guide line support in future.

    regards
    Abdul Sattar
    Chairman
    Community Initiatives for Development in Pakistan
    CIDP

  6. 6

    Exchange visit is very crucial in building capacity especially for up comming organisation because you learn from experience.

  7. 7

    We are MOCAP uganda thanks for that opportunity ,we would wish to participate too

  8. 8

    Hope for Family Development Initiative (HFDI) was established in 2007 and registered with state and Corporate Affairs Commission Nigeria (RC: 31140) as a movement to improve the lives of Single Parent Families, Marginalized and Vulnerable Groups. The main aim of the organization is to improve the quality of life of the poor and marginalized groups in the society through community-led social development initiatives, which facilitate access to services and resources, while at the same time addressing human and civil rights. Hope for family development initiative works in partnership with civil society groups, government and various developmental organizations. Our approach is based on strengthening the capacity of marginalized people and groups within the society.
    Our organization is ready to receive any organization who are willing to visit our organization in Osun State, Nigeria also we are looking for organization outside the Nigeria for exchange visit. for more information please contact: contact@hfding.org or hopeforfamilydevelopment@yahoo.com website : http://www.hfding.org +23408067262666 thanks

  9. 9

    Exchange visit, cross visit, exposure visit, there are many names for it, but I have found it to be one of the best tools for opening eyes in both the visitor group and the hosting group. In addition, this works at many levels of a program/project, including within an organization’s own structure (between project offices, between projects, etc.). There are often some egos in the groups that are sensitive to feedback, especially on the first visit, but your very well-prepared list of points to consider will facilitate the learning process by demoting egos to a priority lower than learning. Another recommendation is for visits to be budgeted during the project design. Barring security issues in the areas to be visited (or traveled through), funding is usually easily accessed. And, finally, a visit can produce a longer-term collaboration on other programming aspect. Kudos, Jennifer, on posting such a good suggestion!

  10. 10

    Interestingly, we had regional exchage visits in our project early this year.Am happy to report that they were great avanues of learning from each other on the best practices in peacebuilding.I found out during a week long exchange visit that many communities in the post election violence epicentres in North Rift in Kenya have “connector projects” in form of bridges, schools initiated by the Catholic, Justice and Peace Commission, Eldoret
    Diocese which they jointly built together as they interract with one another for lasting
    peace.When we visited Mt. Elgon the widows had organised themselves in saving scheme groups where they were leasing land for farming in order to educate their children. Overrall we had six cross regional exchange visits two for each regions of western, Nyanza and Rift Valley which were very successful and we learned alot from each other. Our project is funded by the European Union.

  11. 11

    To address some of the comments here. This is NOT a specific exchange visit program that I am describing. I was simply sharing the guidelines so that they can be distributed and used widely by donors and local organizations. I hope they can be useful as you connect with other organizations through your own initiatives.

  12. 12

    This initiative is fantastic, how can i be considered to benefit from this initiative.
    We are implementing a project on forestry and also working on an initiativ call the Farmers Media Project on Food governance, we need intereted organisaions to visit our projects in Sierra Leone.

  13. 13

    We facilitate exchange visits between pastoralist communities and without doubt it is one of the most valuable things we do. The remit of our organisation it to help people to start businesses but there are many practical hurdles to this in northern Kenya. Community exchange visits enables those with the most experience of the problems to exchange solutions that they have found to work (rather than speculative propositions from outside experts!). The exchanges also foster business relationships and, in an area where conflict between communities is rife, these sessions provide an opportunity to find practical peaceful solutions. I find that it is not easy to raise funds for this kind of program though, which is a shame, I would love to expand the program to include groups from outside Kenya but it is hard enough to keep the current program running. One thing I would stress though is that to get the best from an exchange program it should include a broad section from your ‘group’ not just the one or two usual suspects who go to everything.

  14. 14

    I organised a great many exchange visits across Mexico and Central America during my 10 years working for a large European NGO during the 1980s. Sometimes the best thing aid agencies can do is to act as a catalyst, using their funds and knowledge to bring together people and organisations who could learn from each other, and then get out of the way.

    It’s important not to try to set their agenda or determine what the outcomes should be, but to encourage them to put thought into how they will share what they learn with others in their organisation. It’s often not the person at the top who is best placed to communicate.

    One such connection between someone from a Mexican NGO and an emerging grassroots organisation in Honduras led to a collaboration over a 7-year period.

    NGOs tend to establish and maintain vertical or bilateral relationships with the organisations whose work they fund, and are seldom active in enabling their ‘partners’ to establish horizontal relationships among themselves. How many NGO websites make it easy for their ‘partners’ to connect with each other? Given the scope for ‘virtual’ exchange visits, and the difficulties of organising physical exchanges across countries or continents, active facilitation (rather than gatekeeping) calls for more open partnerships.

  15. 15

    Tourism and Volunteering Made Easy !!!

    Are you planning to spend your holidays abroad? Are you on a tight budget? Are you looking for an affordable, low cost volunteer placement? Are you wondering if there is a cheap hotel near the airport or down town? Talk to me.Cheers!!

  16. 16

    Thank you for your efforts. First of all, We send you brief information of National Press Club, Nepal{NPCN} hope that bilateral friendship will grow in future. We work hard under the UNESCO principles and International information order to benefit the occupation rights and security for journalism, NPCN believes in peace, progress, democracy to protect occupational rights.

    We are requesting you to extended our friendship relations, we develop our activities to know their effective forward shoulder in their international arena. Although many programmers have been implemented for poverty alleviation in Nepal, only programmers are seen as a poor targeted and rural based. We are keen interested to attend the upcoming events so that what to do? We hope that you will send us details, by post.

    Yours
    Ram K.Karmacharya
    President,
    NATIONAL PRESS CLUB,NEPAL
    P.O.Box 4657 Kathmandu.
    Website.www.npc.org.np
    Email: npc.org.np@gmail.com

  17. 17

    I am Mansoor from Pakistan. Now a days we are facing war in our country. I work for Peace, Tolerance and human rights. Visit to other NGOs and places where extremism have been in past, is a beneficial and informative for us to struggle to make our society peaceful. Thanks.

  18. 18

    Thank you for clearly stated guidelines Jenifer. Have applied them on the exchange visits for the small NGO of “Local Empowerment on Sustainable Development Initiative” based in Lesotho.
    The NGO works with local leaders, communities and other partner organisations to capacitate local communities impliment projects of their choice to improve their lives.
    The laid out guidelines were very helpful in triggering meaningful planing, identifying implimentable practices and ideas, constructively informing the visited organisatio and directly benefited from exchange programme. Both sides gained from one anothers’ideas, successful practices etc, etc. The guidelines facilitated a very fruitful exchange programme as both sides were well prepared and had clearly stipulated objectives to engage on the programme. Thank you once more for these informative guidelines.

  19. 19

    @Mr. Mokati – It is so encouraging to know that you have used the guidelines in Lesotho and they have been helpful to the organizations involved! I am very grateful for the feedback! I also have seen some great results from supporting peer exchange so I hope by sharing the guidelines they can be distributed and used widely. Best to you in your work!

  20. 20

    I just facilitated an exchange visit this summer and was very impressed with how much learning and sharing took place over the 4 days! It was also energizing for the participants as they had the chance to display their work and receive feedback and praise.

    Two challenges we faced: (1) make sure there is someone to translate between different languages or dialects. (2) It was very difficult to determine how much the inter-Africa travel would cost each of the participants. Does anyone have a good method of estimating costs beforehand?

  21. 21

    Exchange visits are not only helpful for sharing skills and strengthening grassroots organisation but they provide an avenue for the development of social movements. As people learn together they develop trust and so the foundation is laid for,working together across organisational boundaries. The experience of the Federations of the Slum/Shackdwellers International is worth taking note of, where horizontal learning is the very basis for horizontal mobilization.



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