The Integrity Story
Integrity was the result of a series of discussions on how to bridge the gap between international actors and local communities in fragile and complex contexts such as those caused by conflicts or disasters. Our desire was to change the nature of the relationship to one based on dialogue and engagement; to improve interventions, programming and policy by grounding them in research, analysis and evidence. Our vision was to evolve a new standard for ethically-delivered, expert services to aid effective relief and longer-term, inclusive development. We aimed to help transform conflict, disaster and poverty and build stability, accountability and prosperity.
Damascus: The Beginning
Integrity’s geographic genesis was Damascus, Syria in late 2009. For all its problems, Damascus at that time wasn’t the capital of a country at war with itself. For many citizens of neighbouring Iraq, it was a sanctuary from their war-torn country. These refugees were hosted and assisted by their Syrian neighbours and by a talented community of conflict specialists and humanitarians. International donors worked with local NGOs and service providers to support the hundreds of thousands displaced by the tragedy unfolding in their country. Crucial to their work were the linguistically and culturally fluent Syrians and Iraqi aid-workers who facilitated key research at a local level, debriefing and liaising with the refugee communities.
A network developed in Damascus of specialists and experts with a shared passion for bringing a local focus to the work of the international community. Individuals and communities in conflict-affected states, were often subject to international programming that was unaccountable to them. For international interventions to be effective, they needed to be based on more and better evidence of the circumstances in which local communities lived and their priorities and needs.
Afghanistan: Case in Point
The years of international presence in war-torn Afghanistan were case and point. Work there provided first-hand experience of the indispensable value of bringing local knowledge to international programming. To collect the necessary evidence and to monitor, evaluate and learn from ongoing programming, local team members were often the only staff able to access and understand the communities amongst whom they worked.
In spite of this, local staff and organisations were rarely permitted to deliver projects funded by international donors. Most of the larger programming went to international corporations able to develop relationships with donors, respond to complex English-language tenders and bring capital to bear to meet formidable financial eligibility and insurance criteria.
The only people who could often deliver the work, were also usually the last link in a chain of procurement and subcontracting. By the time the work came to them, most margin with which to invest in the accuracy and quality of their work had been stripped away. Those working in the field were often kept at subsistence levels with little opportunity to train, build organisations around their expertise, or even ensure their own safety in the sometimes-dangerous conditions in which they worked. Where donors did step in to fund local capacity, it was often bilateral, uncoordinated and liable to collapse at the end of specific funding streams or grants.
In June 2010 we incorporated as Integrity Research and Consultancy Limited and began work in earnest. The founders were a core team of talented development, conflict and humanitarian specialists, driven by a desire to build an organisation that not only recognised the necessity to work more equitably with local people and organisations but to take a business-led and service-oriented approach to growth and sustainability. As a consultancy, Integrity would exist on the basis of the contracts it won and demonstrate the value of its services to clients, without the cushion of grants or core donor funding. We would advocate based on evidence, not ideology, and remain focused on delivery and service, not introspection and internal debate. Our focus was on geographies and communities affected by violence, disaster and poverty, struggling to rebuild social and political contracts and generate inclusive economic markets.
From the outset Integrity offered key services like research and analysis, project management and implementation, monitoring, evaluation and learning, and stakeholder engagement to a range of democratic and accountable governments, development sector agencies and NGOs, and private sector companies. By building lasting relationships with local research teams and working with them on an equitable basis, Integrity set out to build an institution that bridged the gap between donors and communities and fostered the skills and talents of people on the ground in the countries in which we worked. This approach to partnering and the combination of local and international insights produced extraordinary results.
Juba, South Sudan: First Delivery Office
Integrity opened its first delivery office in Juba, the capital of soon to be independent South Sudan, in May 2011 and mapped, assessed and engaged with the most effective local organisations, networks and individuals providing aid and development support services to the international community. In many ways, Integrity’s work in South Sudan was the test case for the model, demonstrating that a commitment to being on the ground and equitable long-term collaboration with local partners resulted in rigorous, high-value services. Over five years Integrity built a network of over two hundred individual researchers, data collectors and project managers covering all ten states. We have delivered more than 40 projects providing substantial, qualitative and quantitative research, evidence and analysis, monitoring, evaluation and learning, stakeholder engagement and project management and implementation services for a range of donors, NGOs and international agencies.
The Syria Crisis
When the founders first met in Damascus, no one realised what was just around the corner for Syria. Witnessing the collapse of the country into civil war, the brutality with which it was waged and the devastating effects on large numbers of Syrian people has been a sad and personally painful experience. We set about helping do what we knew best. We brought the best evidence and research to bear to help guide the hand of the international NGOs, relief agencies and donors looking to rebuild communities, prevent the worst atrocities and provide urgent relief. Over the course of an eight-year conflict we have delivered a continuous portfolio of research, monitoring, evaluation and learning services, involving work in all of Syria’s regions and main cities, delivered through an evolving network of more than 140 researchers and field officers inside Syria, and over 30 international specialists and consultants, on more than 30 projects, coordinated and run from specially established offices first in Beirut, then Gaziantep and now Amman. Our work has helped design and implement large-scale relief efforts, donor government implementation strategies on Syria, education programming for refugee children and monitored the accountability and effectiveness of millions of dollars of programming including on peacebuilding processes, human rights, civil society protection, security, justice and healthcare provision.
Africa, Asia and the Middle East
In 2013 Integrity capitalised on our learning in South Sudan to build our first regional portfolios of work in Eastern and Central Africa based from the Nairobi offices of our Kenyan subsidiary Integrity Uadilifu Limited (Uadilifu is Swahili for Integrity). We have now been working in the region for over five years and delivered over 80 projects across Burundi, DRC, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. With over 40 project consultants working on our East and Central Africa portfolio, we provide comprehensive coverage and a range of country, technical and thematic expertise.
Similarly, in the Middle East and North Africa, we have grown from our extensive experience in Syria to develop a regional portfolio of projects and programming in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Yemen, and the Palestinian territories, more than 40 specialists and 60 consultants work on our MENA portfolio. They bring extensive experience delivering projects and programmes in fragile and complex contexts around the world. Our success in the region is based on our deep understanding of the context and the ability to mobilise expertise at a local level.
In 2018, Integrity opened its office in Arlington, Virginia and officially registered in the US as a small business – Integrity Global Incorporated. Over the years, Integrity has built a strong reputation delivering a range of services to USAID and the US Department of State, across a number of important development and humanitarian programmes. The opening of a local office serves as a great opportunity to build on that experience and become one of the US Government’s go-to partners for research, monitoring and evaluation and strategic advice in the fragile and complex contexts in which they work. Through building a better understanding of the market and strengthening relationships with clients, Integrity will be able to provide even more impactful and valuable services to US programming.
It takes a lot to go from an idea to an organisation. To make it a place where people want to work, where positive change and social impact happen. To ensure it is well-governed, accountable and profitable. Since 2010 a lot of hard work has gone into underpinning Integrity’s vision and mission and evolving it into a best-of-sector consultancy. We have developed empowering, enabling and supportive approaches to our staff and people (see our pages on career development and total reward for more information). We have designed and implemented a company-wide platform to share and secure our knowledge and data, we have structured a directorate approach to Services, Business, Corporate and Operations that weaves the team together across our multiple offices. We have driven innovation and learning across our seven technical services, 13 core thematics, and delivered more than 200 projects across more than 40 countries. We have secured strategic levels of investment and funding to ensure we are here for our second and third decades and able to deliver to our vision and mission. Our simple formula, crafted on our first day, has served our clients, investors, staff, contractors, and the communities and tax-payers in the countries where we work ever since: Listen, Comprehend, Recommend.