Roula Moussa is the CEO and founder of Netways. In 2017, she created DiasporaID, a digital platform that connects and promotes collaboration among Lebanese diaspora communities worldwide. As a partner under the USAID Asia and Middle East Economic Growth Best Practices (AMEG) program, Roula shares her experience pitching and scaling DiasporaID to USAID and recommends ways that the development community can further engage private sector partners.
Chemonics Project Management Director Christy Sisko also contributed to this interview.
1. How were you introduced to USAID and how did that result in future collaboration on DiasporaID?
I was introduced to USAID/Lebanon while working pro bono with USAID and Microsoft on the global Ta3mal initiative. Ta3mal, as part of Microsoft’s YouthWorks program, is a platform that offers solutions for both enterprises and job seekers by providing easy access to hundreds of online private-sector skills training modules, job matching services, and career guidance, free of charge. As a dedicated partner to USAID, Ta3mal shares Netways’ corporate social responsibility objectives of supporting youth employability and skills readiness. Ta3mal also introduced us to the idea of private sector engagement with donors and how it could spur technology innovations.
After this positive experience, I approached USAID/Lebanon to pitch DiasporaID. I researched the Country Development Cooperation Strategy and current programs implemented in Lebanon to understand development priorities for the mission prior to my pitch. I encourage the private sector to be proactive and reach out to USAID to discuss innovations and solutions. I have always found USAID to be welcoming and open to new solutions to meet development objectives. You don’t need to wait for anyone to approach you first! After my pitch, USAID/Lebanon, with the help of USAID/Washington, invested in the rollout of our platform domestically and internationally through the Asia and Middle East Economic Growth Best Practices (AMEG) program. My research, proactive engagement, and solutions-oriented pitch is what led to my successful partnership with USAID.
2. What concerns did you have about donor engagement, and what were some lessons learned? Do you have recommendations for other private sector partners searching for opportunities to work with donor organizations?
We had already developed DiasporaID when it was pitched to USAID, so we had to think strategically about the intellectual property rights and how that language would be worded in our agreements with AMEG. Our biggest concern was about sustainability, because we knew that DiasporaID could be applied to future programs in any technical area that could benefit from diaspora engagement. We always kept an open dialogue with USAID about sustainability of DiasporaID, from the initial pitch to contract negotiations with AMEG. USAID, through AMEG, provided the exact support we needed to help us during startup. AMEG helped us with user adoption, including spreading the word about DiasporaID to get users on the site. In this respect, USAID’s investment in DiasporaID contributed to its sustainability. I encourage the private sector to work with donors from the outset to create a tangible medium- to long-term plan of support and engagement with a focus on sustainability.
Donor funding can often be tied to specific activities or objectives with specific requirements that we pour time and resources into, but — when the funding ends, private sector partners are sometimes left wondering — was this really where we should have been spending our time and resources? Businesses don’t have the luxury to work this way. We must dedicate our attention to the aspects of our interventions that will ensure sustainability, progress, and growth, and we are hopeful that donors will keep thinking of ways to engage the private sector that align with these goals. For example, working with AMEG allowed us to focus on our outreach and pitching the platform internationally to increase the number of users on the platform, which aligned perfectly with AMEG’s goal of increasing diaspora engagement in economic development.