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The Hivos Way

Hivos trusts in the power and creativity of frontrunners: progressive critical citizens and their organisations, enlightened governments and innovative businesses. These groups come up with solutions that enable people to take their lives into their own hands, and to live in freedom and dignity. Solutions that ensure sustainable livelihoods, while respecting the planet’s boundaries. In 2016, as in previous years, we worked to incubate, catalyse and bring to scale their innovative, persistent attempts to realise social change.


In 2016 Hivos played a key role in developing India’s first open-source seed system (only the second one in the world); we worked to get control over their seeds back into farmers’ hands, countering the shift towards seed patenting by large multinationals. This project illustrates Hivos’s belief in the continuous need – and search – for innovation. In the Gulf region, our Shelter Me programme developed innovative ways to break the isolation of foreign domestic workers and change their employers’ behaviour. Other examples of Hivos’s innovative approach include the social enterprise we set up on Sumba in 2016, to break the deadlock of companies reluctant to invest in decentralised renewable energy, and the successful Child Labour Free Zones we expanded to Africa and Nicaragua, taking almost 58,000 children out of work and into school. This project is a good example of how Hivos scales innovation. In 2016, we also took the first steps towards putting our innovation fund in place. This innovation fund is aimed at exploring and developing ideas and opportunities for social change, from idea to programme pilot or proposal, originating from and proposed by our own staff members.

Applying our three-step approach in 2016

1. We engage with inspiring and game-changing frontrunners and support their initiatives

Hivos believes that young creatives can become a force for positive social change in their societies and enhance freedom of expression – provided they can find the space to develop their full potential. In the fragile Middle East and North African countries hundreds of young creatives collaborate in our coworking spaces, working together to develop new plans and build their entrepreneurial skills. In 2016 these spaces spread from the capitals to remote towns, became increasingly self-sustainable, and attracted more female entrepreneurs. Other daring frontrunners of social change with whom Hivos works include the infomediaries in our new Open Contracting programme, and the strong Syrian women we support through Women on the Frontline, who help to build peace in their country.

2. We connect all relevant stakeholders around an exciting plan

Hivos brokers coalitions between citizens, civil society organisations, change-makers within governments, and private sector parties who are willing to develop new solutions to their persistent problems. We link usual to ‘unusual’ suspects and provide them with the space to transform ideas into workable solutions that are ready to grow and spread.

In Latin America we co-ordinate the Sustainable Agriculture, Food and Environment (SAFE) platform, a multi-stakeholder alliance of big coffee and cocoa companies, investors and NGOs. SAFE aims to tackle the impact of climate change through support to smallholder farmers and their inclusion in the global value chains.

In our Food Change Labs, we invite all stakeholders to identify the most pressing problems in their local food systems and jointly come up with new, sustainable solutions. In Zambia, where malnutrition and child stunting figures are extremely high due to the maize mono-diet, we approached the food system problems from a health angle. This attracted farmers, government representatives, media, civil society organisations, urban dwellers, private sector parties, budget-tracking organisations and the church to our Food Change Lab. At the end of 2016 participants formed six multidisciplinary groups that in 2017 will come up with concrete proposals on topics such as soil degradation and awareness of healthy diets.

3. We influence policies and scale solutions

Our lobby and advocacy work is mostly evidence-based, using the innovative solutions and concrete results that we realise on the ground and working together with frontrunners and coalitions of the willing. During the COP 22 in 2016, Sumba Iconic Island convinced almost fifty countries that 100 percent renewable energy is a feasible solution for the billions of people living in remote areas without energy access. In addition the concrete solutions developed in our Ugandan Food Change Lab, resulted in decision-makers adapting their food planning systems at the national level.

Hivos’s Women@Work campaign took a new step in 2016, building on its successful advocacy work to improve the working conditions of women in the African horticulture sectors. Focusing on major export products and working on both the production and consumer sides of the value chain, we managed to influence the policies and practices of major stakeholders. In the Netherlands, our Living Wage Lab advocates for living wages for women by engaging a growing number of government agencies, retailers, producing companies and certification bodies to jointly create solutions.


Hivos innovates for social change, and social change processes are known to be very complex. To plan strategically and learn continuously from what we do, we need regular reflection, meaningful monitoring and systematic evaluation. Do we achieve our goals? Does our work have the desired effect? What works and what doesn’t, and under what circumstances? Good management, monitoring and evaluation are the tools to achieve insight into the progress of our work. We learn to improve.

Design, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning

Since 2015, all Hubs, the Global Office and some of the larger programmes have employed specialised staff for Design, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (DMEL) roles. Programme design at Hivos increasingly begins with a Theory of Change (ToC) workshop, facilitated by a DMEL officer. In early 2016 Hivos published its ‘Theory of Change Thinking in Practice’ manual, a stepwise approach for Hivos staff and partner organisations on how to apply our ToC approach in practice. The guide is the fruit of many years of experimenting and learning, and will enable us to be more effective in achieving our goals.

Outcome Harvesting

Much of Hivos’s work and the change processes we are involved in are complex and not easy to predict, and the process of assessing our results is similarly complex. A good example is our new Strategic Partnership with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs which runs from 2016 to 2020. Inspired by the experience of the MFSII ILA (International Lobby and Advocacy) evaluation, Hivos has adopted Outcome Harvesting as a monitoring approach which is inherently able to handle the unpredictable aspects of social change programmes. Outcome Harvesting works through formulating precise statements of changes that have occurred in the behaviour of relevant ‘social actors’, and to which the programme has contributed. All partners involved in the four programmes under this strategic partnership will participate in the assessment of results through Outcome Harvesting. Activities in 2016 focussed on introducing staff, in partner organisations as well as in Hivos, to the principles of Outcome Harvesting. First Outcome Harvesting activities will take place in 2017.

Final MFSII Report

In 2016 Hivos presented the final report on the MFSII funding for the People Unlimited Alliance 4.1. programme (2011-2015) (involving Mama Cash, IUCN, Free Press Unlimited and Hivos) to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Hivos hubs in Jakarta, Nairobi, Harare and San José organised reflection and learning workshops for staff and partners, not only to reflect on the achievements of the past five years but also to look ahead at the challenges of the post-MFS period. The final report analysed the achievements in the four MFSII result areas: Millennium Development Goals, Capacity Development, Civil Society Strengthening, and International Lobby and Advocacy. Alongside the report, 15 short films were produced by The Innovation Station to visualise the results and achievements of different projects. In its final response, the Ministry praised the thorough and reflective report and congratulated the Alliance on its achievements.


Hivos has clearly played a pioneering role in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) process and in open contracting. The Ministry [further] appreciates how Hivos has made use of digital developments – smartphones of young adults – to support larger groups of people in making their voice heard, for example in Tunesia and Egypt.
Letter from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, dated 15 december 2016


Evaluating the HIV programme in Guatemala

Hivos has a long-standing relationship with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the world’s main public-private partnership on health. Beginning in 2016 Hivos manages six Global Fund programmes, covering 25 countries. In 2016 Hivos’s role as a principal recipient for the ‘Containing the HIV epidemic in Guatemala’ grant was evaluated by the Global Fund. The programme seeks to significantly reduce the rate of transmission, morbidity and mortality due to HIV. Priority is given to populations most at risk (and their partners): men who have sex with men; female sex workers; people living with HIV; transgender people; and prison inmates. The analysis refers to the period from April 2014 to September 2016, one of the most turbulent periods in Guatemala’s political history. Within a two-year period the country had three consecutive presidents, as well as seven Department of Health ministers and many more deputy ministers. The researchers made a comparison between the guidelines of the project, events that emerged in the implementation, and lessons learned during the process. The researchers concluded that Hivos has, in the implementation of this grant, managed to maintain and improve performance, even under adverse circumstances.

Evaluating the Expression and Engagement programme

Hivos’s Expression & Engagement programme (E&E), funded by Sida, went through an extensive evaluation in 2016. Mideast Creatives, MAILA and Ubunifu are three of the programmes that were supported under E&E. In line with its main goal – protecting, supporting and advocating for freedom of expression – the evaluation collected the stories of the people involved in order to take a critical look at the programme. The evaluation also takes data and statistics into account, but only as a control system; the core is built from the stories of involved persons. During January and June 2016 around 70 interviews and semi-structured talks were conducted and desk research took place in Kenya, Tanzania, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Bolivia, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. Hivos was praised by beneficiaries for providing them with the freedom to develop their own ideas, to work independently, to criticise and to state their own opinions, and for its flexibility and preparedness to postpone reports and results in the event that something unexpected happens. Hivos learned that some of the successful projects could easily be replicated, and that community, co-operation and networks are key ingredients for success. Smaller cities also need spaces for free expression, so Hivos should focus on these non-capitals too. In 2017 the E&E programme will follow up on the outcomes of this evaluation.


For Hivos, accountability is closely interlinked with trust. Trust is an essential ingredient in the work we do and in the networks we maintain. Accountability – financial accountability in particular – is a sine qua non for trust. A financially accountable partner can trust Hivos to assess its financial records in the spirit of our agreement; this includes taking into account the social and political context in which they operate.

The strong link between trust and financial accountability applies to the whole chain of (financial) relationships. It is essential that Hivos maintain donors’ confidence in our programmes, as well as the trust of the people (often taxpayers) who can hold our donors to account. And last but not least, financial accountability enables an evidence-based discussion about our efficiency and effectiveness, and how these can be improved.

Hivos draws a red line when it comes to fraud. Fraud is totally unacceptable. If a partner commits fraud at the organisational or board level, we will immediately terminate the contract. Only when the organisation has been the victim of fraudulent action (by its financial manager for example) will Hivos consider the option of assisting the organisation to improve its financial systems and checks and balances – provided the donor agrees.

Shift to project accounts

As a result of donor changes, Hivos has shifted from providing mainly core support to its partners to merely providing project support. This entails other financial reporting requirements. As a strong advocate of the organisational approach, Hivos used to require annual accounts from the overall partner organisation, approved by an independent auditor. This ensured that Hivos had a good idea of the organisation’s financial sustainability and that ‘double-dipping’ was impossible, as well as contributing to the partner’s financial management capacity. Given our shift to project support, we increasingly ask for audited project accounts, and often more frequently.

In both cases, overall annual accounts and project accounts, Hivos relies heavily on the work of independent local auditors. These are preferably hired directly by the partner organisation, because trust between the organisation and the auditor is again an important precondition for good-quality reporting. On average, around 75 to 80 percent of Hivos’s contributions to partner organisations are audited in this way. Hivos itself is audited by an independent auditor, both at the level of consolidated accounts and the level of the individual offices and projects. This means that 100 percent of our operating costs are subject to independent audits.

Improved control framework

In 2017 Hivos will continue to improve its control framework of which preparations have been made in 2016. Although no fraud cases were reported in 2016, in previous years we have learned some hard lessons in this respect. We have therefore developed an on-site financial health check which aims to prevent fraud and take timely measures to develop partners’ financial management capacities. The trend towards more project audits and fewer organisation audits will continue. In select cases, Hivos will require the partner to provide supporting documents and the general ledger in addition to the financial report. All in all, the controls will be tighter and more specific, while Hivos will ensure that trust and financial accountability remain intrinsically linked. They will also continue to be linked to the institutional development of partner organisations.


Communicating the results of our work in a transparent manner is essential if we are to engage with our donors, partners and other stakeholders; it is also crucial to demonstrating that they contribute to a more fair, free and sustainable world by working with Hivos. We actively engage with our stakeholders through the media, on our website and via social media channels, on events and in networks, and we inform them about our work by developing brochures, magazines, reports and newsletters, and contributing op-eds.

Among other things, Hivos gained media attention in 2016 on the Women’s Advisory Board, set up by UN Special Envoy for Syria as a result of powerful advocacy by Hivos programme Women on the Frontline. Prominent Libyan activist and WAB member Zahra’a Langhi was interviewd in the Dutch equivalent of Newsnight, i.e. ‘Nieuwsuur. Hivos’ sustainability approach of the food system gained attention in different media outlets such as the Volkskrant, and Oneworld. Furthermore, opinion pieces, blogs and interviews on sustainable energy were shared on international platforms: Thomson Reuters and Huffington Post.

One of the highlights of 2016 was Hivos’s ‘Budget Maid’ campaign, part of the Shelter Me project, which was awarded with the Hoogvlieger Award for best campaign film. The Dutch organisation ID Leaks initiated this award to draw attention to the debate around communicating on developmental aid. ID Leaks honours organisations that create campaigns that tell a nuanced and honest story, give people a voice, and don’t create unrealistic expectations or use clichéd images. The Budget Maid campaign also won the Silver Lovie Award in the Internet Video: Public Service & Activism category. Hivos is very proud to have received these awards in 2016.

Online outreach

In 2016 we focused on further strengthening Hivos’s online presence and growing interaction via social media. We made significant steps in measuring our online output to allow us to reach our target groups more effectively.