RTI Helps Iraq Recover from War and Devastation
"No one had seen a reconstruction program of this magnitude since the Marshall Plan"
In 2003, RTI embarked on one of the most demanding international projects in its history: the Local Governance Program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to help establish democratically elected local governments following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
Under Iraq's previous, highly centralized regime, citizens had almost no experience with local governance or active participation in the governing process. To inform and train Iraqis in local governance systems, RTI set up offices in each of Iraq's 18 provinces. A staff of 200 people drawn from 33 countries, augmented by 800 Iraqis, was deployed initially, and in succeeding months these numbers grew. "It was extraordinary; no one had ever seen a reconstruction program of this magnitude since the Marshall Plan," recalls Aaron Williams, then RTI vice president of international business development and the company's liaison with USAID.
RTI's first task was to provide technical assistance and training to local administrators, to help them improve their management skills and understanding of municipal services. As USAID outlined in its field manual, the empowerment of local government institutions was "designed to improve the delivery of public services to the Iraqi people and make the Iraqi government more responsive to their needs."
RTI experts worked with councils, governors, mayors, and other political institutions in Iraq's 18 provinces, and helped technical departments improve the delivery of public services. The Institute also set up information and communication technology and trained local elected officials and governmental agencies in a wide range of disciplines, including democratic structures, accounting, resource allocation, budget planning and implementation, and the empowerment of women. Last but not least, RTI staff also helped to restore essential services such as water, power, health care, and education.
Ultimately, two factors were key to this project's success. First, local Iraqi elected officials persevered in the face of discouragement and danger; and second, RTI staff convinced provincial council members to meet together across provinces so they could develop their own solutions to the vexing problems facing them all. "It took us almost two years to persuade them that they should meet," said Ron Johnson, a former senior policy advisor for international development. "There was a lot of suspicion, with each province initially maintaining that they would only meet with neighboring provinces."