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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.

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
Prospect
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
ODI
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.

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:
 

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.
 

Measuring the Information Society 2015
International Telecommunication Union
The Measuring the Information Society Report (MISR), which has been published annually since 2009, features key ICT data and benchmarking tools to measure the information society, including the ICT Development Index (IDI). The IDI 2015 captures the level of ICT developments in 167 economies worldwide and compares progress made since the year 2010. The MISR 2015 assesses IDI findings at the regional level and highlights countries that rank at the top of the IDI and those that have improved their position in the overall IDI rankings most dynamically since 2010. The report will feature a review and quantitative assessment of the global ITU goals and targets agreed upon at PP-14 and included in the Connect 2020 Agenda.

Prosperity Rising
Foreign Affairs
Since the early 1990s, daily life in poor countries has been changing profoundly for the better: one billion people have escaped extreme poverty, average incomes have doubled, infant death rates have plummeted, millions more girls have enrolled in school, chronic hunger has been cut almost in half, deaths from malaria and other diseases have declined dramatically, democracy has spread far and wide, and the incidence of war—even with Syria and other conflicts—has fallen by half. This unprecedented progress goes way beyond China and India and has touched hundreds of millions of people in dozens of developing countries across the globe, from Mongolia to Mozambique, Bangladesh to Brazil.  Yet few people are aware of these achievements, even though, in aggregate, they rank among the most important in human history.

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.

The Closing Space Challenge: How Are Funders Responding?
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
As restrictions on foreign funding for civil society continue to multiply around the world, Western public and private funders committed to supporting civil society development are diversifying and deepening their responses. Yet, as a result of continued internal divisions in outlook and approach, the international aid community is still struggling to define broader, collective approaches that match the depth and breadth of the problem.
 
The Prosperity Index
Legatum Institute
Is a nation's prosperity defined solely by its GDP? Prosperity is more than just the accumulation of material wealth, it is also the joy of everyday life and the prospect of an even better life in the future. This is true for individuals as well as nations. The Prosperity Index is the only global measurement of prosperity based on both income and wellbeing. It is the most comprehensive tool of its kind and is the definitive measure of global progress.  The annual Legatum Prosperity Index ranks 142 countries across eight categories: the Economy, Entrepreneurship & Opportunity; Governance; Education; Health; Safety & Security; Personal Freedom; and Social Capital.
 

Civic Space Initiative: Storytelling for impact

Roxanne Bauer's picture
According to the Yearbook of International Organizations, the number of international CSO's has increased from 6,000 in 1990 to more than 66,000 in 2012, with approximately 1,200 new organizations added to the registrar each year.

CSOs are also significant players in global development assistance, with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimating that in 2011, USD$19.3 billion in official development assistance was channeled through CSOs.

The power of CSOs lies in their ability to facilitate conversations—between governments and citizens, between policy makers and vulnerable communities, and among citizens.

The right to Freedom of Assembly and Association is critical to making these conversations happen. Without the ability to congregate and create relationships, the ability of citizens and CSOs to mobilize around issues is obstructed.

Ryota Jonen of the Civic Space Initiative, argues that engaging citizens in the deliberative process and in decision-making process is critical to responsible public policy because, at the end of the day, if citizens are not involved, it is hard to know if policies are addressing their needs.

He also argues that for citizen engagement to be beneficial, information must be available to citizens. This information, though, doesn’t need to come in the form of reports and text-heavy dossiers that just “sit in the bookshelves”. Rather, creative storytelling through visual communication or music, is often more useful to sharing information
 
VIDEO: Storytelling for Impact

 

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.
 

Projecting progress: Reaching the SDGs by 2030
Overseas Development Institute
This month the United Nations launches the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a global plan to spur action across the world on areas of critical importance to humanity. With 17 goals and 169 targets, the SDGs replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which end this year. The SDGs will significantly shape development efforts for the coming 15 years. But are they really achievable? And what can we do to improve our chances of success? Our SDG Scorecard 2030 is the first real attempt to project where the world will be in 2030 across the SDG agenda.

The Politics of Media Development: The Importance of Engaging Government and Civil Society
Center for International Media Assistance
In the field of media development, the public sector is often viewed as a barrier to the development of independent and sustainable media. Although governments do frequently pervert and capture media sectors in countries around the globe, the enabling conditions under which media can achieve and maintain independence are nevertheless reliant on institutions of government. Therefore the media development community must rethink its approaches to public sector engagement in efforts to improve the environment for media systems in emerging and fragile democracies. This paper outlines the key role of political support, the need for more nuanced understanding of political context, and how donors and implementers can more effectively engage drivers of change in the public sector to build support for media and media development work.

Why is there no ‘Fundraisers Without Borders’? Big missing piece in development.

Duncan Green's picture

There are statisticians and musicians without borders- even clowns and elephants without borders. So why not "Fundraisers without Borders"? Duncan Green on how civil society organizations might benefit from an organization that could raise funds across borders and why better resource mobilization at the local level may be more important.

keep calm and fundraiseThere are an extraordinary number of ‘without borders’ organizations (see here, or an even longer list here) – every possible activity is catered for, from chemists to clowns (and that’s just the c’s). But one seems to be missing, and it may well be the most useful – why is there no ‘fundraisers without borders’?

Mike Edwards argues that ‘we should focus as much attention as possible on strengthening the financial independence of voluntary associations, since dependence on government contracts, foundations or foreign aid is the Achilles’ heel of authentic civic action.’

That is true both because no-one in their right mind would prefer national organizations to be aid dependent, when they could raise funds from their own societies, but also because many of the increasing attacks on ‘civil society space’ are justified by governments on the grounds that CSOs are pawns of foreign funders.

It would be unrealistic (and probably disastrous) to just try and export today’s northern fundraising techniques to CSOs in developing countries. Like everything else, fundraising is highly context specific both in terms of culture and history, so helping people identify what works locally and encouraging south-south exchanges of ideas might be better. One such example is Zakat, which has massive potential in any country with a significant Muslim population. Fundraisers without Borders could help by collecting and publicising Zakat-compatible fundraising drives from around the world.
 

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.
 

State of Civil Society Report
CIVICUS alliance
The scale of the threats to civic space should not be underestimated. CIVICUS’ analysis suggests that, in 2014, there were serious threats to civic freedoms in at least 96 countries around the world. If you take these countries’ populations into account, this means that 67 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guaranteed our freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, 6 out of 7 humans live in countries where these freedoms were under threat. And even the most mature democracies are not exempt

6 Astounding Ways Africa Is Paving the Way for the Future of Technology
Open Mic
Every week, the American tech sector uses the most advanced mobile technologies in the world to create some new meaningless distraction. Tinder for dogs, Airbnb for boats, Yo — all sorts of luxury convenience tools created to manufacture and solve problems that don't exist and extract some in-app purchases along the way. Meanwhile, in Africa, a budding generation of technologists, coders and entrepreneurs are rising to solve their continent's most pressing problems. Entire new industries around payment solutions, crowdsourcing and entertainment media are springing up in tech hubs in Kenya, Nigeria and other countries.  This is the rise of Silicon Savannah — and a few ways it's going to change the global face of technology.

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