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Norec’s theory of change

Why does Norec have a theory of change?

The theory of change describes how Norec envisions contributing to change during the strategic period 2023–2026. The theory is based upon results reported from projects that we support, user surveys, evaluations of Norec’s work, relevant research, and analysis of our experience and

learning. The theory gives direction to Norec’s portfolios and guides the development of Norec- supported projects. Norec places emphasis on continuous learning and testing. Future horizon scanning, data collection and analysis will test the assumptions for the changes described in the theory. Norec recognises that new pathways emerge and others disappear as the context changes and capacities evolve. Periodic evaluations will examine whether the theory of change is appropriate and relevant. Evaluations will also assess whether we have the right tools to document change.

Hence the users of the theory of change are partner organisations, UN offices, Norec’s staff and evaluation teams.

Norec in a nutshell

Norec is a government agency under the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Funds disbursed through Norec stem from Norway’s national budget and are allocated to support the overarching goals of Norwegian development policy. Norec-supported projects thus form part of Norway’s approach to implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

  • Objectives

    Norec’s objectives are:

    • to be a competence centre for international cooperation, supporting the global exchange of knowledge and promoting learning across borders.
    • to strengthen global partnerships that contribute to sustainable
    • to provide young people with international work experience and competence within sustainable development.
  • Target groups

    Our targets group are young people aged 18–35. We reach them through:

    • partnerships that use work exchange in their development projects
    • recruitment of Junior Professional Officers (JPO) and UN Volunteers to the UN system and development banks
    • customised arrangements with
  • Partners

    Our main collaboration partners are civil society organisations, public institutions, private companies and multilateral organisations.

Norec’s vision reads: “The world is full of knowledge and skills. Through mutual exchange, we teach one another to think bigger and live sustainably in order to build responsible local communities.” The vision recognises that everyone has knowledge that can contribute to development. Knowledge is shaped by a number of factors, such as cultural background, history, politics, and social and natural environment. Living and working in a culture or country different from their own challenges people’s inhabited knowledge and their learnt beliefs and values.

One of Norec’s primary mechanisms for contributing to sustainable development is funding the exchange of young people between partner organisations, based both in Norway and in various low- and middle-income countries. Norec places particular emphasis on the central pledge of the SDGs to “Leave no one behind”. Accordingly, it actively facilitates the participation of youth from diverse socioeconomic, vulnerable and marginalised backgrounds in international exchange programmes.

The exchange of technical and knowledge-based skills is at the centre of a Norec exchange project. This requires the recruitment of tolerant and agile people who are ready to learn. Likewise, recruiting individuals with the right qualifications and skills is important in order for organisations to embrace new skills and learning. Sharing expertise between sectors and across borders improves organisations’ performance and ability to reach their goals, and Norec therefore wants to invest in platforms where knowledge is shared and challenged. By learning from one another, we will be better equipped to tackle environmental and developmental challenges as a global society.

What needs will Norec’s funding address?

  • Many young people have little experience of living in a country other than their own. Some lack the resources and, in general, young people have limited work experience and are less likely to be posted abroad or appointed to international roles.
  • Many organisations experience uneven access to the structures and resources necessary to build better institutions through the exchange of skills and knowledge. This means opportunities for organisations to learn from one another are limited. Few organisations have extensive knowledge of intercultural dialogue, and intercultural challenges may be bypassed or ignored as minor obstacles. Yet cultural misunderstandings can lead to major challenges in international partnerships.
  • The United Nations (UN) system aims to have a staff composition that is representative of the world population. However, many countries – including Norway – are underrepresented in the UN system, and in multilateral organisations in general.

The pathways to change

Over the years, we have observed and documented the changes that follow an international exchange project, which in turn may lead to lasting changes for organisations and their beneficiaries. These changes are described as different pathways to change.

  • Pathway 1: Strengthen diversity management and inclusive work environment

    All the staff involved in an international exchange are exposed to intercultural cooperation, but those who travel abroad are exposed to cultural differences to a greater extent and, consequently, experience them more vividly. In particular, attitudes towards religion, power dynamics and gender are challenged when living in a different environment. Through these experiences, individuals gain cultural sensitivity, learn to tolerate ambiguity and become more resilient in their environments.

    They are likely to develop new ideas and they have the tools to become active, global citizens.1

    Management is also exposed to cultural differences. When these differences are addressed in an inclusive way, managers are more likely to grow personally, in terms of leadership skills,2 and institutionally, by becoming able to lead a diverse group of staff based on respect for differences.3 This is why it is important for a Norec project that management plans and follows up strategies for inclusion and learning. This gives all staff the opportunity to develop and grow,4 establishing an inclusive institutional culture.

    Norwegians recruited to multilateral organisations and the UN system learn and develop skills that contribute to the global development agenda. This facilitates information sharing, which eases and assists the flow of knowledge between Norwegian entities and the multilateral bodies.


    1 Chasing civil society? Evaluation of Fredskorpset. CMI, 2016.

    2 Youth Exchange South-South (YESS) programme evaluation report (2015-2020).
    Emily Kemigisha-Ssali, 2020.

    3 Temporary workplace integration. Oxford Research, 2020.

    4 Exchange of staff: Study of Government Institutions. KPMG, 2019.

  • Pathway 2: Facilitate institutional development and learning

    The majority of those who travel abroad to work will gain valuable work experience. Their subject matter expertise will increase, and they may also gain competence and insight in new areas. For those with little or no work experience, the work exchange will provide a valuable start to their career development. More experience will lead to enhanced work opportunities. More importantly, as staff return to their home organisations, they will contribute to the development of their organisations.


    As staff in both home and host organisations become more skilled, they will be able to work more efficiently and find new solutions. They will build expertise, which will benefit their organisations. They will identify new ways of working together. Over time, the skills and learning are transferred between those who have been on an exchange, the new staff welcomed on a work exchange and the organisations’ staff as a whole.5 This can influence and change the organisational culture, product design or operations.

    The more responsive management is to change, the more likely it is that the organisation will learn and develop. Organisations that develop strategies to encourage transfer of learning from individuals to organisational level and sustain these strategies in an organisational learning culture will be even more likely to succeed. In particular, the ability to make space for innovation is likely to develop.

    Note that the age difference between management and junior staff may also affect management’s receptiveness to change.


    5 Exchange of staff: Study of Government Institutions. KPMG, 2019

  • Pathway 3: Foster learning in global partnership

    One of the main motivations for exchanging staff should be the possibility to learn from partners in other countries. Exchanging young staff and building solid partnerships can be challenging, which is why Norec facilitates and guides organisations in establishing strong partnerships. Growing and sustaining trust and respect is viewed as particularly important for partnerships.6 Norec’s training courses give the partners space to share, teach and learn from one another. This contributes to the organisation’s capacity development and project management, which is beneficial in other collaborations.

    Norec’s funding scheme creates learning opportunities across borders. As organisations take a step back and are given space to reflect on practices and achievements, they can adapt and develop. This should not take place in a vacuum, but in collaboration with peer organisations and experts, supported by evaluations and research.

    Whether forming new partnerships or strengthening existing ones, the exchange of knowledge at all stages of a project offers opportunities to build knowledge of a particular context, product or area of expertise. Organisations that manage to capitalise on new expertise and equipment will be in a stronger position to reach their goals and provide better services to their local communities, or to challenge local government to make policy changes.

    Partnering with like- or different-minded organisations will build integrity and strengthen alliances across borders.7 Collaboration is key in solving global issues, but establishing and building solid partnerships is challenging. Partners must align their different interests and combine their resources and competences in order to set aside differences. Power imbalances must be managed. Building and creating good understanding, relations and communication takes time.


    6 Partnership – just another buzzword? NUPI, 2021

    7 Chasing civil society? Evaluation of Fredskorpset. CMI, 2016.

How the pathways contribute to sustainable development

Funding and sending staff across borders contributes to a more equal distribution of knowledge and expertise. This can lead to new knowledge and improved practices that will enhance the services provided in local communities. By working together and letting their own values be challenged, organisations and staff will learn to respect and build on their differences to create more innovative and sustainable development solutions. Accordingly, Norec’s projects qualify as enhanced international support for implementing effective and targeted capacity-building in partnership (SDG 17).

By focusing on the central pledge in the SDGs to “Leave no one behind”, Norec contributes to decreasing discrimination and exclusion, which will in turn help to reduce inequalities or vulnerabilities that undermine specific individuals or groups. Fostering respect for differences is critical to achieving sustainable change globally and to ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls everywhere (SDG 5). A work exchange exposes staff to cultural differences. If guided by inclusive leadership and policies, organisations will become more inclusive. New world views and shared values are the building blocks for global citizenship (SDG 4.7).

A work exchange offers international work experience that improves the individual’s subject matter expertise, which in turn enhances future job opportunities. More than 10,000 individuals have gained international work experience through Norec-supported projects. Each year, Norec’s grants offer hundreds of young people access to decent work (SDG 8).

As expertise is exchanged across countries, Norec funding helps to reduce the uneven distribution of resources to build competence and knowledge, and train staff. This means new skills for all parties involved, evening out the differences between countries and contributing to reduced inequalities (SDG 11).