The Value of Localized Expertise in International Development Proposals

How to get the right stories and vignettes to support your technical approach

You’ve done your homework. You know about this proposal, about the technical area, about the country and the local context. You’ve worked with the right subject matter experts, both local and global, and you’ve come up with the best possible approach for this proposal.

You’ve put your team together – you have a great Chief of Party, your list of preferred consultants is top notch. Everything is in place and good to go.

But how do you get that extra touch of local flavor that shows your team really knows what’s happening on the ground? How do you provide the real narrative the overarching story that shows how your technical approach is going to solve this particular problem in this particular country?

You need real-life anecdotes to provide weight and immediacy to what you’re proposing 

Why do SME’s in Lebanon have a hard time exporting their products and getting connected with other markets? What has that meant for individual companies and their ability to grow and hire more people?

What happens to children and youth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo when they don’t have access to the right educational opportunities? What has been preventing those opportunities to date? What prevented young Daniel or little Phiona from those opportunities and what happened to them because they weren’t able to participate in the right programs?

How do you get these anecdotes and vignettes?

To get these stories, you need to speak with experts on the ground who are doing the work. It’s that simple. These real-life stories are why development professionals are in this business in the first place – to support the struggling SME and to provide opportunities for at-risk youth, to protect local communities, and to get mothers and children connected to quality healthcare. It’s about the individual stories.

But sometimes it’s easy to forget those stories and focus on numbers, on data and statistics, on win-rates and cost-benefits. It’s easy to be over-confident in past experience and forget that proposals are not about getting new contracts and awards, but about solving real problems for real people around the world.

Not all experts have Phds

In many cases, the best experts aren’t the people with Phds in a certain technical area who have supported USAID or DFID projects around the world for the past 50 years. The best experts are the people on the front lines – the nurses who have worked in the hospitals and health clinics for their whole careers; the farm managers who have to deal with how climate change affects their crop yields; the social workers and teachers who work with at-risk youth day in and day out.

How do their stories and their realities factor in to your proposal? And just as importantly, how do you connect with them to hear their stories and experiences in the first place?

Here’s a few examples of questions that OnFrontiers teams have asked experts on the front lines:

To a nurse in Tajikistan:

  • What are the main challenges in providing maternal and child health care in Tajikistan? 
  • Do you have any specific stories which demonstrate why this is difficult and what the challenges are?

To a social worker in Mozambique:

  • Which populations are the most vulnerable to violent extremism recruitment in northern Mozambique? 
  • Do you have any examples of specific cases which show why these groups are particularly vulnerable?

To a renal nurse in Kenya

  • What are the dialysis treatment options currently available in Kenya? 
  • Can you share examples of how different factors ( cost, location accessibility and private vs NHIF payer) have affected patients seeking treatment?

To a commercial farm manager in Tanzania

  • How do the current government regulations affect your business in value-added beef and poultry products?
  • Are there any deals/ opportunities you were unable to pursue because of these regulations?

To a community conservation manager in Congo-Brazzaville

  • How has the timber exploration and palm oil culture expansion negatively affected specific communities in the Republic of the Congo?


An Innovation Disrupting Foreign Assistance Delivery: Remote Technical Assistance (RTA)

International development and relief assistance increasingly turn to remote technical assistance for fast, quality knowledge access

Whether it be a local market nuance in Bangalore or specific ways to improve quinoa crop yields, it’s no secret that tailored expertise improves project outcomes. Enterprises are constantly consulting with experts to gain an edge. But how do you harvest this intelligence and at what cost?

When seeking quality technical assistance (TA) or short-term technical assistance (STTA), we encounter a few major obstacles:

  • Limited pool of experts
  • Inefficient/expensive selection process
  • Difficulty extracting maximum value

How is remote technical assistance eliminating these stumbling blocks? Let’s take a look.

Reach Out Farther

When seeking expert advice, our sphere of personal contacts might be relatively small or even non-existent — especially when dealing with distant emerging market challenges. What if you could access an online platform that curates a wide range of high quality technical experts? Would you rather have 1 or 2 candidates to choose from or a pool of 20?

“Remote strategies expand the possibilities available to the forward thinking enterprise.”

Larger numbers increase the likelihood of capturing quality as well as the chance that you’ll find the right person for your specific situation. Remote TA isn’t meant to replace conventional TA models. Personal recommendations always count. Instead, remote strategies expand the possibilities available to the forward thinking enterprise.

Demand Driven

How does one go about searching for experts? You can ask around, search the web or look towards social media (LinkedIn, Quora, etc.). Still, these methods are cumbersome and can be hit-or-miss. It makes more sense to tap into solutions that are purely demand driven. If you need to know about the current status of grain storage supply chains in Mozambique, remote TA can answer specific inquiries like this.

This level of specificity cannot be found on crowd-knowledge sites as the intent is different. With remote TA, the objective is to connect directly with an expert, converse with them and drill down into knowledge specifics. To facilitate the vetting process, it’s even better when you can see feedback offered by others who have worked with the same expert.

“Plus, it’s an expensive gamble to fly candidates across the globe out based on credentials instead of proven value.”

Speed, Cost & Quality Factors

Traditional TA methods generate a static roster of talent. Plus, it’s an expensive gamble to fly candidates across the globe based on credentials instead of proven value. With remote TA you can be connected to a verified expert within 24-48 hours at a fraction of the cost.

Traditionally, experts fly in, offer advice and fly out, taking their knowledge with them. Remote TA relationships allow for ongoing engagement with local players to build at home capacity. The lean bottom line makes remote TA more sustainable than conventional approaches.

“Remote TA relationships allow for ongoing engagement with local players to build at home capacity.”

Data Leverage

The traditional consultant model can never match the depth offered by data backed solutions. For instance, talent selection can be enhanced by algorithms that precisely match seeker to solution. Once collaboration begins, the exchange of ideas can also be archived to increase value.

Interaction data (messages, transcripts, expert matches, reviews) between expert and client can be analyzed to monitor progress and improve outcomes. Also, machine learning and text analysis can identify knowledge gaps and themes across multiple interactions. Finally, favorable outcomes can be traced back to a specific source which can be tagged as being of superior value.

Actionable Knowledge

In one example, OnFrontiers provided remote TA solutions for an international development company in the West Bank and Gaza. A wide range of issues had to be considered, such as:

  • Providing transaction support for improved business outcomes
  • Need for granular knowledge of systematic constraints
  • Ability to leverage knowledge for other firms
  • Local political and security issues

One start-up involved already had an established market in Saudi Arabia and sought to break into new markets in Bahrain and Kuwait. The company’s de-centralized customer base created unique challenges for further growth.

After two conversations with a remote TA expert (selected specifically for this scenario), the start-up identified an even larger market opportunity. Furthermore, conversation transcripts uncovered trends that could apply to other West Bank businesses leading to further sustainability.


Private Equity Firm Builds a Global Expertise Network on OnFrontiers

New York, NY – The CrossBoundary Group is a fast-growing investment firm focused on unlocking capital to make a positive difference in developing economies.  Founded in 2011, The CrossBoundary Group now has over 45 professional staff and offices in Bamako, Johannesburg, Lagos, Nairobi, New York City and Washington, DC. In 2015, The CrossBoundary Group launched CrossBoundary Energy Fund I, Sub-Saharan Africa’s first investment fund for commercial and industrial solar.

When the firm’s founders set out to unlock finance for frontier markets, one thing they agreed on was the importance of a deep understanding of the real context of every transaction.  “We value expertise and the only way to obtain that is to speak with the experts. Accordingly, we have made sure to be deeply embedded within the markets we work in. Our team in Africa is over 80% African and we now have offices in Nairobi, Lagos, Bamako, and Johannesburg” said Matt Tilleard, Co-Founder and Co-Managing Partner at CrossBoundary Group. He continued by saying “this means we are often able to access expertise through our extended networks. But this process is not always the best fit, it can take a large amount of time and the results are not always predictable. We also need to be respectful of our network and the demands we place on it.”

“We found OnFrontiers to be a perfect fit to supplement and expand our access to expertise”  Tilleard continues.  “Through OnFrontiers, we have access to a highly curated selection of experts qualified on virtually any topic within 24-48 hours.  We’ve tested OnFrontiers on broad questions but also highly niche areas, such as solar systems in Bamako and warehouse solutions in Nairobi, and the results have been consistently strong.  Having this resource allows our teams to access insights in a highly efficient and frictionless way.  Ultimately, our clients benefit through better-informed analysis and recommendations provided more cost-effectively.”

Through more than a year of using OnFrontiers, CrossBoundary has embedded OnFrontiers into its workflow and has over 20 investment professionals utilizing the platform. “We are now collaborating with OnFrontiers to use the platform in more strategic ways” says Tilleard. “OnFrontiers’ enterprise solution makes it easy to build out our own expertise networks and re-engage experts who become integrated into our service – this is a quality I haven’t seen in other providers.”

The partnership with CrossBoundary has been a strong fit for OnFrontiers as well.  “CrossBoundary aligns with our core competencies of locating Experts fast across a range of sectors in Sub-Saharan Africa and in frontier markets globally,” said Anne Kroijer, Co-founder, and CSO at OnFrontiers. “From a cultural standpoint, our teams share an appreciation of the importance of leveraging and managing expertise in smarter ways.  It is also great to support the team’s growth and mission of enhancing capital flows to under-developed regions in the world.”

For further information, please contact

How Chemonics Uses Knowledge Networks To Find Local Expertise While Abroad

With over $1.5 billion in USAID contracts, Chemonics is the U.S. Agency for International Development’s largest implementing partner. The international development firm is owned by its over 5000 employees in 100 countries around the world.

Here’s how their capture teams use OnFrontiers to engage the knowledge and talent they need, when they need it, to continue securing international development contracts.

The challenge: Finding local expertise to manage political dynamics and local relationships

The first time Isaiah Oliver, Director of Trade and Growth for Chemonics International, used OnFrontiers to find an expert, it was a rush job.

“We were doing some work for a supply chain program that was looking to manage the distribution of school books to schools in Honduras,” says Isaiah. “I had a very, very short turnaround — we had like 10 days or two weeks or something. The client, USAID (The US Agency for International Development) wanted us to show that we understood how to work with counterparts from The Ministry of Education and not just deliver these books on time, but also strengthen the local capacity to do so in the future.”

It was precisely the kind of challenge the OnFrontiers platform was designed to address.

The solution: OnFrontiers Knowledge Network Platform and Expert Marketplace

Faced with this challenge, Isaiah did what has become his first move whenever he is looking for expertise. He requested an expert through the OnFrontiers platform to initiate the process. Our research team conducts a search of the existing experts on the platform, then leverages known experts as referrals to expand our reach exponentially beyond our existing relationships. In tandem, the research team also uses the powerful tools, processes, and incentives that we’ve put in place to search across Linkedin, and other public and private platforms to recruit and onboard new expertise quickly for our customers.

The OnFrontiers difference is not simply the breadth of expertise of the platform, or the machine learning we use in the background to continually improve the process. The difference is that we create a context and marketplace for micro-consulting engagements to happen. Clients can immediately book consultations with the people that best match their needs. Experts, meanwhile, are incentivized to help. The model produces the right kind of results quickly and at a lower price point than traditional capture techniques.

The results: expertise and intelligence that contributed to a contract win

“OnFrontiers found somebody within 48 hours,” says Isaiah. “The expert had previously worked on book supply chain management and within the Ministry of Education and had existing relationships. That seems to me like a pretty spectacular result. It was surprising, for example, that the turnaround was that quick.”

Finding local expertise with the specific domain knowledge they were seeking helped Chemonics win the contract. To Isaiah, the process seemed exceedingly simple and solved a real need, quickly. “Okay, maybe through LinkedIn we can identify [an expert] and contact them and come to some sort of agreement with or without paying them,” says Isaiah. “But with OnFrontiers they’re already incentivized to provide really good input and help me get the information I need in such a short time frame. It is really quite remarkable. From that perspective, I really think that the service OnFrontiers provides is incredibly valuable.”

Advice for other contractors

“There’s no downside risk,” says Isaiah. “If they don’t find someone that you like you just doesn’t talk to them. I don’t know why other people aren’t doing this!”

Isaiah’s enthusiasm does not come solely from the above story, but from his prolific experience with the platform. Tasked with growth at Chemonics, Isaiah looks for efficiencies in his processes and comes back to OnFrontiers often with new searches. “Every time I come to OnFrontiers with a request, they find people who fit what I’m looking for. They exceed my expectations again and again.” In fact, at the time of this writing, Isaiah has a number of open searches on the platform for existing and future projects. OnFrontiers has become a crucial part of his capture toolkit.

Try OnFrontiers and see for yourself how we can match you with the expertise you need

Contact to learn more about how to use the OnFrontiers platform to find you the expertise you need. Or if you’d like to read another case study, read about how Washington Business Dynamics used OnFrontiers to win and deliver on their first USAID contract and expand their capabilities into new areas.