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civil society

Why/how should corporates defend civil society space? Good new paper + case studies

Duncan Green's picture

I saw some effective academic-NGO cooperation last week, and even better, it involved some of my LSE students.

The occasion was the launch of Beyond Integrity: Exploring the role of business in preserving civil society space, commissioned and published by the Charities Aid Foundation and written by Silky Agrawal, Brooks Reed and Riya Saxena, three of last year’s LSE Masters students. They researched and wrote the report as part of a student consultancy project, and CAF were so impressed that they decided to publish it. Result.

First the content: the authors went looking for cases where businesses had got involved in defending civil society from attacks by government, and identified four really interesting cases (see table). They interviewed a number of the players in each case.

They found some ‘key learnings’ (bit depressing to see them already adopting the barbarisms of aidspeak!):

  • Firms in consumer-facing industries are responsive to large-scale social movements that raise awareness regarding human rights abuses;
  • Privately owned companies with strong ethics and values tied into the core business model, led by engaged leaders, are likely to respond to civil society;
  • At times, privately held dialogues between key stakeholders and host governments can be more effective at initiating positive action than a public challenge, as the respect and dignity of each stakeholder is maintained;
  • Leveraging formal and informal cross-sectoral networks is instrumental in convincing corporations to act on behalf of civil society.

Holding the state to account

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

women at a community meeting, Mumbai IndiaIn a democracy, a critical element in the engagement between citizens and state is “accountability”. There are several definitions—one among them from the World Bank reads: “Accountability exists when there is a relationship where an individual or body, and the performance of tasks or functions by that individual or body, are subject to another’s oversight, direction or request that they provide information or justification for their actions”.

Citizens and civil society organizations seek accountability from the state. Where this builds on broad-based civil society engagement, we hear of “social accountability” whose advocates believe that a regular cycle of elections alone are not enough to hold the state to account. For instance, a decline in the quality of public services or cases of denial of (social) justice call for mobilization outside of the electoral cycle. But how does the state respond?

When the state is under sustained pressure to reform, it could take one of these positions: (1) respond to civil society using physical force and/or its legal prowess; (2) stoically “do nothing”; (3) formulate a response that emphasizes form over function; and (4) undertake genuine reform. These options represent a sliding scale of state response, and on any given issue, the state might change its position over time, depending on how the context evolves.

The reality is that more often than not, status quo rules: the space for citizens seeking accountability relies primarily on the willingness of the state. It is not in the nature of states to do this of their own volition, and often, a sustained campaign by a strong coalition of interests is required to influence them.

Youth and peacebuilding one act at a time

Bassam Sebti's picture

Aristotle once said “Good habits formed at youth make all the difference,” and what a difference a group of young Lebanese men and women are making to advocate for peace to make a difference!

Their ages range between 16 to 25 years old. They are poor and unemployed. They once fought each other, literally, in their sectarian-divided Lebanese city of Tripoli. Sunni residents of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Alawite residents of Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods fought each other repeatedly.

But at the beginning of 2015, the government imposed a ceasefire that put an end to the endless rounds of fierce clashes and restored calm in the city.

And that’s when a Lebanese non-profit organization promoting peace through art went there looking for a different kind of recruitment: one of peace. March brought the youth together to perform in a play!

The biology of budgeting: to strengthen accountability, think ecosystems

Paolo de Renzio's picture

There are few better ways to reveal whether a government’s rhetoric matches reality than examining how it raises and spends public money. Are funds being spent on the things it said they would be? Are these investments achieving the outcomes that were intended? In short, are government budgets accountable?   

The traditional model for how accountability functions is rather simple. "Horizontal accountability" describes the oversight exerted over the executive arm of government by independent state bodies such as parliaments and supreme audit institutions. "Vertical accountability" describes the influence citizens hold through the ballot box. 

Between elections and outside of formal institutions, however, opportunities for influencing how governments manage public resources are limited. As a consequence, this simple vertical/horizontal model has proved increasingly inadequate for capturing how budget accountability works (or doesn’t) in the real world; this is especially true in developing countries, where democratic processes and formal oversight institutions can be somewhat fragile and ineffective. 

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Corruption? The developing world has bigger problems
Few challenges in international development ignite as much passion as corruption. Perhaps ironically given the recent Panama Papers scandal, the UK government has encouraged the “zero tolerance” approach to corruption in international development. This approach may be the ideal, but an effective strategy for tackling corruption must acknowledge that it is a social and political problem, rather than purely a moral one.  In March, we contributed to the UK parliament’s International Development Committee inquiry on tackling corruption overseas. In our evidence, we argued that corruption in the developing world is not the worst of all evils—and that it cannot be wiped out without collateral damage.

Time to let go: remaking humanitarian action for the modern era
The humanitarian sector is suffering a crisis of legitimacy. Despite a decade of system-wide reforms, the sector is failing to adapt to meet the needs of people in crises. As humanitarian emergencies become more frequent, more complex and last longer, the need for radical change is ever growing. Drawing on four years of research, this report argues that the humanitarian system needs to let go of some fundamental – but outdated – assumptions, structures and behaviours to respond effectively to modern day crises. It argues for a new model of humanitarian action, one that requires letting go of the current paradigm.

How civil society and others achieved the Paris Climate Agreement

Duncan Green's picture

Michael JacobsA brilliant analysis by Michael Jacobs of the success factors behind last year’s Paris Climate Agreement appeared in Juncture, IPPR’s quarterly journal  recently. Jacobs unpacks the role of civil society (broadly defined) and political leadership. Alas, it’s over 4,000 words long, so as a service to my attention deficit colleagues in aid and development, here’s an abbreviated version (about a third the length, but if you have time, do please read the original).

The international climate change agreement reached in Paris in December 2015 was an extraordinary diplomatic achievement. It was also a remarkable display of the political power of civil society.

Following the failed Copenhagen conference in 2009, an informal global coalition of NGOs, businesses, academics and others came together to define an acceptable outcome to the Paris conference and then applied huge pressure on governments to agree to it. Civil society effectively identified the landing ground for the agreement, then encircled and squeezed the world’s governments until, by the end of the Paris conference, they were standing on it. Four key forces made up this effective alliance.

The scientific community: Five years ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was in trouble. Relentless attacks from climate sceptics and a number of apparent scandals – the ‘climategate’ emails, dodgy data on melting Himalayan glaciers, allegations surrounding its chairman – had undermined its credibility. But the scientists fought back, subjecting their work to even more rigorous peer-review and hiring professional communications expertise for the first time. The result was the IPCC’s landmark Fifth Assessment Report, which contained two powerful central insights.

First, the IPCC report introduced the concept of a ‘carbon budget’: the total amount of carbon dioxide the earth’s atmosphere can absorb before the 2°C temperature goal is breached. At present emission rates, that would be used up in less than 30 years. So cutting emissions cannot wait.

The other insight was that these emissions have to be reduced until they reach zero. The IPCC’s models are clear: the physics of global warming means that to halt the world’s temperature rise, the world will have to stop producing greenhouse gas emissions altogether.

The economic community: But it was a second set of forces that really changed the argument. Since the financial crash in 2008–2009, cutting emissions had fallen down the priority lists of the world’s finance ministries. The old orthodoxy that environmental policy was an unaffordable cost to the economy reasserted itself. A new argument was required.

‘Preferential option for the poor’ at the World Bank?

Dani Clark's picture
On April 6, in the chapel hall of Union Theological Seminary in New York City, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim shared insights on the moral foundations that guide his personal philosophy and work to end poverty. The setting had special significance for Kim, whose mother studied philosophy there in the 1950s with theologians Paul Tillich and Rienhold Niebuhr.

Mercy: Where religion and development can intersect

Adam Russell Taylor's picture
A high-level panel of faith-based organizations and religious leaders and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim discussed the role of faith in combating poverty at the 2015 Spring Meetings. © Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim will deliver a keynote address, “The Principle of Mercy,” at Union Theological Seminary in New York tomorrow night. The event is co-organized with the Jewish Theological Seminary and Riverside Church and will be livestreamed

At first glance, a seminary may seem like an unusual venue for a speech by a World Bank Group president. However, Kim’s speech fits into the broader context of the Bank Group’s revitalized engagement with faith-based and religious organizations over the past two years. He will share how faith communities have impacted his own journey and describe how the Catholic commitment to an “option for the poor” has served as an anchor and guiding ethic in his career — from his work at Partners in Health to his term as director of the World Health Organization’s HIV/AIDS department, to his present leadership of the World Bank Group.

Macro hype, micro hope: Optimists champion ‘Community-Led Development’

Christopher Colford's picture

Now there’s a guy who really puts the full-scale dismal into “the dismal science” of economics – spurring optimists to quickly seek out more hopeful visions of the future.

Those seeking a glimmer of hope about the economic future were well-advised to keep their expectations low as they awaited the gloomy analysis by Prof. Robert J. Gordon, the esteemed economic historian from Northwestern University, who spoke at the World Bank Group’s Macrofiscal Seminar Series on March 31. As anticipated, Gordon’s expertly documented but relentlessly downbeat scenario, based on his latest book, “The Rise and Fall of American Growth,” persuasively made the case for a future of chronically sluggish growth in the world’s advanced economies.

Gordon’s chilling projections combine some of the darkest aspects of Lawrence Summers’ worries about “secular stagnation,” Christine Lagarde’s lamentations of a “New Mediocre” and private-sector leaders’ struggle to strategize for the “New Normal.” Gordon’s bleak thesis foresees “little growth” – although, significantly, not zero growth – as the developed world’s weary economies endure perhaps decades of drift.

Policymakers in the world’s largest economies are surely exasperated by the painstaking crawl out of the global financial crisis – yet they don’t have much positive news to look forward to, asserts Gordon. With “declining potential productivity growth” compounding the impact of declining population growth and a declining labor-force participation rate, there’s probably no technological deus ex machina that can soon propel the world’s advanced economies toward restored prosperity.

That viewpoint defies the techno-utopian visions that have been so eagerly peddled to anxious Western voters, who can only dream of a return to brisk late-1990s-style growth. Quipped the Macrofiscal seminar’s discussant, Deepak Mishra: Gordon “has made a career of busting the technology hype.”

Yet Gordon’s logic need not trigger total despair among the Bank’s poverty-fighting professionals and their counterparts at other development institutions. Gordon emphasized that his analysis is about the American economy, and, to some extent, about the mature economies of Western Europe. His book’s foreboding predictions, he said, do not extend to developing economies, which enjoy “great potential for growth.”

For can-do pragmatists who strive for stronger growth and sustained progress in developing economies, there’s a ready antidote to Gordon-style macroeconomic gloom. By happenstance, immediately after Gordon delivered his grim analysis in the Bank’s J Building auditorium, optimists seeking inspiration needed only to cross the street to the Bank’s Main Complex to hear an energetic appeal for greater hands-on activism.

With an update on the movement for Community-Led Development (CLD), a seminar sponsored by the Bank’s Community-Driven Development Global Solutions Group learned of the promise that CLD offers for inspiring inclusive, sustainable solutions that enlist citizens’ engagement and build community-level confidence in strong governance standards.

Moving from macro to micro – dispelling the dread of inexorable global forces and embracing positive citizen-centric action – the CLD leaders leapfrogged Gordon’s macro-level angst to highlight micro-level opportunity.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Redefining aid could undermine fragile nations, says UN development chief
The Guardian
The decision to redefine overseas aid to include some military spending in fragile countries will hinder international efforts to help the poorest nations and could even undermine their stability, the UN’s development chief has warned. Last week, the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) revised the rules on what can be counted as foreign aid – technically known as official development assistance (ODA) – following lobbying from the UK and other member countries. Although proponents of the new definition argue that supporting military or security forces in fragile or war-ravaged states should be seen as a development aim and paid for from the aid budget, the move has been criticised by charities who fear it will mean less money reaches the poorest countries.

Emerging, developing countries gain ground in the tech revolution
Pew Research
A new Pew Research Center survey shows that across 40 countries surveyed in 2015, a median of 67% use the internet and 43% report owning a smartphone. But one trend stands out: People in emerging and developing nations are quickly catching up to those in advanced nations in terms of access to technology. Here are five takeaways on technology use in the emerging and developing world: