The world of development and humanitarian aid is awash with different types of agreements, contracts, sub-contracts, memorandums, expressions of interest and declarations. All of these documents are created in an attempt to determine both the rights and the duties of the individuals or groups they affect. In other words, they are important (although, I admit, important to varying degrees).
As an independent consultant or small business, top shelf work comes in the form of contracts directly from donors, or directly from the “source” of the money you’ll be paid with. Not only is this usually the best rate you’ll get, but it also means that you have direct contact with the people for which you’re performing work.
Much of your work, however, will also come in the form of sub-contracts. Or sub-sub-contracts. Or … you get my point. As with any line of work that depends upon supplemental technical assistance, there are always plenty of middle men (and women) who lock down work and are interested in having you contribute to their team for delivery on a project or program. Working on sub-contracts usually has an reductive effect on the rate you can charge, and it can confuse the supervision and decision-making processes.
Here are three tips to help you keep things straight and transparent:
1) Named supervisor: Make sure there is a single person who is named as the supervisor of your work in your contract. This clears away any confusion about where you are expected to receive your direction from, who you are working with, where you deliver your work and how you address any issues or challenges.
2) Respect the end-client relationship: One of the best parts of being contracted directly by a donor or the program’s “money source,” is that you have no layers between you and the organization(s) invested in the results of the programming. However, when you are sub-contracted, you are removed – to varying degrees – from this relationship. It is imperative that you recognize and respect this distance. Whomever you are sub-contracted to depends upon their relationships with their clients for the future of their business. If you go outside or “over the heads” of your contractor (for good or for bad), you are potentially damaging these relationships and that could land you in legal hot water.
3) Be a good team member: Its likely that, no matter what your field of expertise, the work you’ll be performing will be done as a part of a team. This applies to individuals as well as companies, as many programs require multiple sub-contractors. No matter how well you personally perform, you’ll ultimately be judged on the greater success or failure of the program’s outcome. Even if you have a supervisor named in your contract, its essential you develop the skills and emotional intelligence to work in a team effectively. This skill will go a long way to ensuring your long-term success as a development or humanitarian professional.
There are a number of other issues related to contracting and reporting (e.g. ethical and legal issues) that need to be considered as you remember who you’re working for. Using these three tips as a starting point can take you a long way.
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