Give people the ability to engage, and they will change the world. Or will they?
The massive expansion of political voice and social activism over the past several decades -- ranging from the mushrooming of citizen-led initiatives for transparency and accountability, to the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, and the eruption of protest movements in countries as diverse as Brazil, India, Turkey and Mexico – has generated great enthusiasm about the transformational potential of popular participation.
The reality, however, is more complex than that.
Think back to the Arab Spring and the extraordinary mobilization of so many people who managed to topple one authoritarian regime after another. The streets were theirs, but in most of these countries ousting dictators has turned out to be much easier than building political systems that are more democratic and open for citizens to engage. While much in demand,
I recently prepared a module on Citizen Engagement and Development Outcomes for a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) on “Engaging Citizens: A Game Changer for Development?”, just launched by the World Bank Group and partner organizations in both Washington, DC and London.
I’ll admit there was a tiny part of me that wanted to do that whole Angelina Jolie thing – go deep into the heart of a developing country and be surrounded by a gaggle of school children, whom I would go on to pinch, squeeze, and coddle. Last I checked I was not an UNHCR ambassador (and zero movie credentials), so instead I found myself face to face with four resolute high school students in the western region of Cameroon asking in broken French: What does corruption mean to you?
“It means to give money, to be sexually harassed, to be absent from school and then to pay teachers to say you were present,” said Floriane Masso, a student of a government school of Bamendjou. Masso is one of many students who are part of Clubs d’Education Civique et d’Integration Nationale (Cecine) established under the ZENU Network. With financing of about $15,000 from a Development Marketplace competition organized under a $1.8 million “Banking on Change” Governance Program in Cameroon--funded by the Governance Partnership Facility (GPF)—the ZENU Network set out to fight corruption in 16 high schools across 8 districts in the Western parts of Cameroon. One of the tools used were to put in place “corruption observatories.” The activity focused on victims of corruption and provided a whistleblowing mechanism, while pressuring authorities to impose sanctions for corrupt behavior.
If you live in a country where electricity never or rarely goes out, you are lucky. In my country, Nepal, we are pleased when we get uninterrupted electricity for even eight hours a day.
Like Nepal, many countries around the world struggle to deliver basic services to their citizens. But things are slowly improving.
1. Participatory budgeting
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, citizens of South Kivu Province are using “mSurvey” to obtain information about budget meetings. Using just their mobile phones, they can actively monitor, discover what was decided at meetings, and evaluate those decisions via online voting. by actively reminding local authorities of their commitments while ensuring that citizens are getting services they deserve.
Change is what development is all about. The hard part, as the well-chosen title of a new World Bank book makes clear, is persuading the right kind of change to put down roots and flourish.
Institutions Taking Root is a collection of success stories about building state capacity in challenging contexts. The common theme of these stories is not success in itself. They move us firmly on from the old ‘cometh the hour, cometh the leader’ cliché. A good harvest takes more than one seed; years of preparation go into the fertile ground that yields it.
The book looks at the committed group of leaders in Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Finance and Economic Development who continued to perform key functions during civil conflict. It considers the pool of leaders who have filled key positions inside and outside The Gambia’s Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, and yet have held onto a common and consistent vision of policy and implementation.
The World Bank is in the middle of restructuring itself into fourteen 'global professional practices.' One of them will be governance. At the moment, its orientation and its priorities are still in the melting pot.
Education has long been a focal point of struggle in South Africa: the 1976 Soweto uprising, which set in motion the chain of events that resulted in the end of apartheid, was led by schoolchildren. In the 1980s, the contribution of youngsters to the liberation struggle took a starker turn: ‘No Education before Liberation’ became the watchword of many.
I want to share something puzzling that has troubled me for some time: Why don’t development agencies use results-based financing more consistently as a way of supporting stronger governance in developing countries? Let me explain the source of this puzzle and give you my personal take on the issue.
We are increasingly—and more openly than ever—grappling with what to do about the problems of politics and government accountability. Much emphasis and faith seem to be placed on the role of information and transparency. Using information interventions to enable civil society to hold their governments accountable seems so eminently sensible that it’s become an end in and of itself, an “already known” and ticked box. Is it?
I had heard (and read) about the community schools in Nepal for several years. Last February, I finally had a chance to visit them. Community-run schools are often seen as a potentially powerful way of improving accountability for results. While there are many variations across the world, the basic idea is actually quite simple: give parents and community members the authority to make key decisions (such as hiring teachers) and managing resources.