With the creation of the World Bank’s Human Capital project and launch of the Human Capital Index in October 2018 it is fitting for social accountability practitioners to ask how countries would be able to close the ‘human capital gap’ and to be accountable for their efforts?
How can citizens’ actions help build a society that is more open, accountable and inclusive? In about a week, social accountability stakeholders from across the world will convene at World Bank headquarters to discuss just that, at the Global Partners Forum of the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA).
Mary Meeker’s 2017 internet trends report: All the slides, plus analysis
Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner Mary Meeker is delivering her annual rapid-fire internet trends report right now at Code Conference at the Terranea Resort in California. Here’s a first look at the most highly anticipated slide deck in Silicon Valley. This year’s report includes 355 slides and tons of information, including a new section on healthcare that Meeker didn’t present live.
Evaluating Progress Towards the Sustainable Development Goals
For this iteration of The GlobeScan/SustainAbility Survey (GSS), we chose to focus on the progress made on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs or the Global Goals). These goals were agreed by the United Nations member states together with civil society and business in 2015, and set forth the agenda until 2030. These goals are new, and progress was expected to be limited. We asked more than 500 experienced sustainability professionals to evaluate the progress that has been made on each Global Goal, rank their relative urgency and also share insights into the priorities within their own organizations. We also wanted to know how companies specifically are responding to the SDGs and where they see opportunities for the greatest impact. Polled experts unanimously agree that, so far, society’s progress on sustainable development more broadly and the SDGs specifically has been poor.
As Mongolia suffers with economic instability due to external and internal circumstances, how can we improve performance of basic public services in a way that works well in the Mongolian context but also brings sustained outcomes?
In 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.
To get a full picture of how social accountability can improve the quality of health services in Indonesia, one only has to travel to the border areas in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) province.
On a scorching afternoon in August 2015 in Bijaepasu sub-district, a six hour drive from the provincial capital Kupang, a queue was forming in front of the village health center or puskesmas. The crowd seemed undeterred by the temperature that hovered around 40 degrees Celcius.
Leaning against its deteriorating walls were mothers and babies, elderly women and men. The queue was long and slow moving. The health center workers appeared overwhelmed. There were barely any medical equipment or supplies.
In 2007, Mongolia’s economy grew at a double digit pace with modest inflation. The slump of the 1990s must have seemed a distant memory in the last full year before the elections in 2008.
The previous year saw several iconic projects approved, and 2007, the next year in our 25 years in 25 days reflection, did likewise. The Renewable Energy for Rural Access Project (REAP) became effective in 2007 and was ultimately expanded. The project brought a modern solution to a century old problem: how can the benefits of electricity be harnessed to benefit the quarter of Mongolia’s people who are nomadic herders living in gers? Connecting them to the grid was not a solution both because distances are vast and because nomadic people move around. The modern solution was to give the herders access to solar power through a program launched by the Mongolian Government supported by the World Bank and the Government of the Netherlands. “Thanks to the National 100,000 Solar Ger Electrification Program, over half a million men, women and children, covering half the rural population of Mongolia and 70 percent of herders, now have access to modern electricity.” For these 100,000 herder families, the off-grid solar home systems generate enough power for lights, televisions, radios, mobile phone charging and small appliances. (Video here.)
In the past decade, efforts to promote more open and accountable governance have proliferated. These endeavors have taken on many shapes and sizes, from international multi-stakeholder initiatives to community-level citizen action, and everything in between.
Most often, these approaches have sought to leverage elements of transparency and information along with some form of citizen engagement or participation, with the goal of influencing government actions to be more responsive and accountable.
Rural communities across Africa face a variety of threats to their customary and indigenous land and natural resource claims. The drivers of these threats are diverse: increasing foreign investment, national elite speculation, rising population densities, climate change, and national infrastructure mega-projects, to name a few.
The introduction of such external destabilizing influences often sets off a cascade of resulting intra-community challenges. In most communities, the challenges are multiple and overlapping: the divisive tactics of investors may pit community members against one another; state infrastructure development may claim the communal areas communities depend upon for their livelihoods and survival and create intra-community conflicts over scarce resources; elites seeking land may make back-room deals with leaders, undermining community trust of local leaders.
Land rights advocates and practitioners are frequently called upon to support communities facing such issues. However, when practitioners engage deeply with these communities, it often becomes clear that a multiplicity of factors and trends have weakened the communities’ ability to respond effectively to the conflict or threat – therefore requiring use of a variety of simultaneous strategies to ensure successful outcomes. The threats and trends are often directly and cyclically linked, with negative trends exposing communities to additional threats.
The debate around social accountability is not short of energy, enthusiasm or ideas. It has gone through many phases over the last 20 years and has become increasingly sophisticated as its evidence base has grown, a trend reflected in discussions at the recent ODI-World Bank conference on “New directions in governance”. Despite this progress is being held back by a lack of clarity on some issues and a narrow focus on the demand side. This blog argues that we need to broaden our thinking beyond a focus on civil society and citizens alone to engage much more strongly and strategically with the state and its divisions, aims and capacity.
One basic issue that raises tensions is whether or not social accountability works – a question that can be endlessly misinterpreted. Often when we talk about social accountability not working what we are actually saying is that external projects to support social accountability have not delivered what we expected them to deliver. Without this caveat, debate on what works can raise hackles amongst activists and SA proponents as it is taken as an attack on the idea of social accountability itself. In fact there is broad agreement that social accountability is a good thing in principle and can produce results. However the need to assert this point of principle is should not hold back attempts to identify where evidence is still needed – particularly on whether external agents can contribute to SA, how they can do so and under what circumstances.