About CDA

CDA Collaborative Learning Projects (CDA) is an international non-profit organization headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. CDA improves the effectiveness of peacebuilding, development, humanitarian organizations and corporations working in fragile and conflict-affected contexts.

Through its unique collaborative learning approach, CDA combines rigorous analysis and evidence-based methodologies to produce useful tools and guidance for practitioners and policymakers alike. In strengthening the work of its partners, CDA contributes to positive, systematic, and lasting change for people and communities, while also influencing policy and practice across the sectors in which it works.

CDA’s work is driven by the same two fundamental beliefs it was founded on twenty-five years ago:

– The perspectives and abilities of people affected by conflict are essential to constructive engagements in fragile and conflict-affected contexts.

– Context matters: Effectiveness depends on a deep understanding of and adaptation to the range of complex local dynamics of communities engaged with social change.

Providing evidence-based approaches to today’s complex challenges is what CDA does best: it creates opportunities to identify good practices, reflects on learning from fragile and conflict contexts, documents the evidence, and develops practical tools. One of CDA’s collaborative learning projects, Stopping as Success: planning for success from start to exit, for instance, examines successful and responsible transitions of international NGOs in support of locally-led development and peacebuilding.

More Important Than Ever Today

CDA’s trusted expertise and capacity for understanding and working effectively in complex situations is more salient than ever. The cascade of crises, from Syria and South Sudan to Yemen and Myanmar, paired with increased global fragility and rapidly evolving forms of political violence, highlights the critical need for the nuanced analysis and practical tools CDA has honed over the last two decades. This is particularly true in the face of increasingly precarious and politicized donor support for international engagement.

Positioned at the intersection of applied field research, global policy, and local practice, CDA offers its partners and clients rigorous, nuanced, multi-level analysis, and practical tools for engagement. These include strategies and programs that are locally-driven, grounded in a systemic understanding of the complexity of fragile and conflict affected contexts, and based on evidence and context specific theories of change.

What We’re Known For

CDA is best known for the principle of Do No Harm, a framework for analyzing the impacts of aid on conflict which has been widely endorsed and adopted in the policies and practices of operational aid agencies and donors. Do No Harm has not only made aid programs and business practices more effective and accountable to local populations, but also affected the policy and strategic level. CDA’s work supporting a multi-donor conflict-sensitivity resource facility in South Sudan, is a current example of influencing the policy and practice of donors and implementing partners.

Lessons from CDA’s ‘Listening Program’ and subsequent research have been integrated into key global aid effectiveness processes, such as the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan and the World Humanitarian Summit.  The criteria for effective peacebuilding, and approaches to rigorous theories of change that CDA developed through the ‘Reflecting on Peace Practice’ program, provided key contributions to influential policy guidance, such as the OECD/DAC Guidance on Evaluating Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding Activities.


Neil A. Levine, Board Chair

Mike Pejcic, Treasurer

Jeannette Carneiro McLaughlin

Sharon Flynn

Rebecca Miller

Pushpa Iyer

Fred Kama Kama

Alain Ondias-Souna

Jessica Wattman

Seth Owusu-Mante

Ruth Rhoads Allen

Learn more

Advisory Council

Ambassador Rick Barton

Irene Santiago

Elisabeth Kvitashvili 

Graeme Simpson

Seth Owusu-Mante

Cully Lundgren 

Rob Ricigliano 

Millicent Otieno

Lisa Williams 

Craig Zelizer

Learn more

Foundational books

What’s Next

Although CDA’s foundational work on conflict analysis, Do No Harm, and Reflecting on Peace have been widely adopted, significant challenges remain in delivering effective and accountable aid programs, often with far-reaching effects. Indeed, the deadly unintended consequences of efforts to counter violent extremism highlight the critical need, not only for a much more sophisticated understanding of local contexts, but to rethink the fundamentals of international engagements in fragile and conflict-affected states, beginning with a much more sophisticated understanding of local context.

CDA’s unique expertise in this area positions it to continue to play a catalytic role in advancing policy and practice.  Maintaining a sharp focus on today’s emerging and evolving challenges, CDA remains committed to ensuring that increasingly constrained resources are used as effectively as possible to support positive and durable change in people’s lives.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does CDA stand for?

The Collaborative for Development Action 1985 – 2003. CDA used to stand for the acronym of our legal name between 1985-2003: The Collaborative for Development Action. The Collaborative for Development Action, Inc. was founded as a small consulting agency by Mary B. Anderson (the founder of the Do No Harm approach) and Catherine A. Overholt. CDA, Inc. was active in health policy, primary and secondary education, rural development, alternative technologies and evaluations, and gender dimensions of international assistance.

CDA Collaborative Learning Projects, Est. 2003. As CDA, Inc. increasingly raised its funds from government donors, it became clear that a non-profit entity would provide a better base for its work. Consequently, CDA Collaborative Learning Projects was created as the continuing non-profit home for these efforts. While the “CDA” in our name no longer stands for the acronym, it is kept to symbolize the connection to the foundational learning projects that took place under CDA, Inc. In similar fashion, since 2003, our legal name is: CDA Collaborative Learning Projects.

How is CDA structured?

Until December 2014, CDA worked through four discrete programs: The Do No Harm Program (DNH), the Reflecting on Peace Practice Program (RPP), the Corporate Engagement Program (CEP), and the Listening Program (LP). In January 2015, CDA operated under a staff structure including an Advisory Services “wing” and a Collaborative Learning Projects “wing.”

Since January 2019, CDA has undergone an exciting new phase as an organizaton. We are implementing a new collaborative platform that will allow us to continue being the rising tide that elevates those working for positive, lasting change in fragile and conflicted-affected contexts. By collaborating with local and global actors to address common challenges and the next big questions, this platform model will allow CDA to have a broader base to lead collaborative learning, invite diverse insights, and synthesize guidance to drive systematic change across humanitarian, peacebuilding, development and responsible business fields. Stay tuned!

Land Acknowledgement

CDA recognizes that our office is located on the traditional and ancestral land of the Massachusett people. We acknowledge and are grateful to the Massachusett people as the original caretakers of this land. We pay our respects to their community, their elders both past and present, as well as future generations. In our presence in Cambridge, MA, USA and our work globally, we will continue to expand visibility about Indigenous Peoples, their stewardship and care for the natural world, and their knowledge, perspectives, and capacities for peace.