Coming Together

© Bob Condon/Ben Brown

Community Partners International emerged out of a trip through the villages of Burma/Myanmar, with the executive directors of Foundation for the People of Burma and the Global Health Access Program, and a donor for both organizations traveling together to visit local partners and program sites.

The trio quickly discovered synergy and a common vision: Over meals and dusty back roads, they shared experiences, their rich knowledge of the region and ideas for approaching the vast community and health needs in Burma/Myanmar.

Foundation for the People of Burma (FPB) and the Global Health Access Program (GHAP) had each facilitated and supported effective programs serving the people of Burma for more than ten years. Both based in Northern California, the two groups had already worked in tandem on several initiatives, and had complementary missions, with GHAP focusing on health, and FPB on education and community development.

“We realized that we could do so much more together,” said Therese Caouette, now CPI’s Executive Director. “We really have the same approach and philosophy.”

“We were doing things in silos, and recognized that we could do a better job by coordinating and having a holistic approach to partnering with local groups,” said Stan Sze, Director of the B.K. Kee Foundation and a member of CPI’s Board of Directors.

The three brainstormed about creating an organization that provided a platform, said Sze — “a transparent, trusted avenue” for local partners to tell donors about their needs and projects, and for donors who want to work directly with people on the ground.

“CPI is focused on supporting local community groups,” said Caouette, “to build up their capacity, to support them in what they can do in their context, and to address their own needs long after we’re gone.”

There are challenges in stepping away from the model of the large international non-governmental organization, Caouette said. “Having local people identify their needs, develop their own project plans, and write proposals and program reports not in their native language, it may not be the same quality as if we did it ourselves. But if we’re talking about sustainability, building leadership and ensuring ownership, that’s what it’s about.

“We also have to go slower, because a lot of these communities work in very tenuous situations, and have to work discreetly and quietly,” Caouette added. “It’s a bit more tricky, but it’s wise to let local partners lead – they know the situation on the ground better than we do.”

With careful, thoughtful planning, FPB and GHAP’s complementary skills, knowledge and passion for community-driven health and education partnerships in Burma and its border regions, came together over a year. Community Partners International, with our new 16-member Board of Directors, became the official merged organization on December 31, 2010.

“We’ve been doing this for 10 years and needed to take it to the next level,” said FPB founder Hal Nathan and President of CPI’s Board of Directors.

“GHAP was growing, “ said GHAP co-founder Dr. T. Lee, CPI’s Health Director and a member of the Board. “There was potential to do so much more for our partners by combining resources and expertise.”