For me, one of the most fruitful aspects of ‘field trips’ such as last week’s visit to see Oxfam’s work in the Philippines is the exchange it sets up in my head between the academic literature and debates I’ve been ploughing through in the UK, and the reality of our work on the ground. A good trip confirms, improves or adds to your thinking, and occasionally shows you that you have got it all wrong. This was particularly true on this occasion as our staff and partners in the Philippines are both real thinkers (one guy passed a long car ride by listening to a lecture on Hegel on his laptop ‘for fun’) and activists (more on that tomorrow). The quality of discussions in a Manila seminar on active citizenship and food justice was truly impressive – nuanced and open minded, with no sign of the dogmatic, fissiparous Left I saw on my last visit in 1998 (when I had to give the same lecture twice because different fractions refused to sit in the same room). First some (relatively minor) new insights from all these interactions:
Last week I visited Oxfam’s Philippines programme. Such trips follow a pretty standard format - our national staff and relevant partners with the moringa farmers whisk me through a series of site visits and conversations with farmers, civil society organizations, local government officials and anyone else who’ll talk to you. For a few days, I’m engrossed, wrestling on multiple levels, first to understand the intricacies of the projects, and then to try and get at the meta-questions: what are the strengths and weaknesses in our work? What could we be doing better? Is there a clear power analysis and theory of change? Discussions continue in vehicles to and from the visits, over dinner and (sometimes) in the bar, as everyone grapples with the incredibly difficult business of ‘doing development’. It’s intense and definitely the best bit of the job.
I went to Mindanao, one of the poorest and most conflict-ridden islands in the Philippines archipelago, and home to 23m of its 94m population. The focus was our livelihoods work (I hate the term, but can’t think of anything better to describe the complex ways poor people find to put food on the family table). Such work forms the backbone of many of Oxfam’s programmes. In Mindanao, we’re working with women farmers to introduce new crops or upgrade existing ones:
I’ve got a paper I want you to read, particularly if you work for an NGO or other lobbying outfit. Not because it’s good – far from it – but because reading it and (if you work for an NGO) observing your rising tide of irritation will really help you understand how those working in the private sector, government or the multilateral system feel when they read a generalized and ill-informed NGO attack on their work.
The paper in question is from a reputable institution (Manchester University’s Brooks World Poverty Institute) and authors (Nicola Banks and David Hulme), and is about ‘the role of NGOs and civil society in development and poverty reduction’. Here’s the abstract:
Unlike the 1984 movie “Blame it on Rio”, which attributed a bawdy affair between a middle-aged man (played by Michael Cain) and a teenager on the tropical vibes of the stunningly beautiful city, the recent hosting of the Rio +20 Conference served to showcase a different face of the Rio ambience -- its global environmental leadership role. The city not only maintains the world’s two largest urban forests, Pedra Branca and Tijuca (see photo), but has just completed a state of the art waste treatment center which will allow for a 8% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and are installing 300 kilometers of bicycle lanes. For the World Bank, the city has been the setting for the improbable significant improvement in relations between the Bank and environmental CSOs over the past 20 years.
When Rio hosted the original UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, the Bank participated with a small staff delegation and its modest publications booth at the parallel NGO “Global Forum” held on Flamengo Beach was set on fire by environmental activists. They were protesting the Bank’s financing of the Narmada Dam project in India, which threatened to displace hundreds of thousands of small farmers without a fair and sustainable resettlement plan in place. Some were expressing disapproval of the Polonoroeste project funded by the Bank in Brazil where the paving of a highway linking two Amazonian state capitals led to widespread deforestation in the 1980s.
Development organizations operate at the global level, partnering both with countries to implement country strategies, and within sectors to tackle sectoral challenges. NGOs on the other hand, operate at the grassroots level, working with individuals towards the betterment of communities. Development organizations have the advantage of resources, many years of experience and knowledge but are generally several degrees removed from the individual. NGOs are in touch with the needs of citizens and are able to respond quickly to challenges but unable to scale up. The two have worked together, but so much more can be done. Over the last several years the dynamic has undergone a fundamental change. Cue to technology, which is fast emerging as a game changer in the world of development. Technology enables linkages based on mutual agreement (e.g. development institutions-NGOs) as well as linkages that evolve organically (e.g. a grassroots human rights group in Kenya that builds a relationship with a Swedish development institution focused on social inclusion).
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
“As the desire to utilize mobile phones in international health projects has increased in the last few years, organizations continually ask a similar question, “We want to use mobile phones. Now what?” But the decision to introduce or start a mhealth project needs to come after answering many questions before “now what?” especially when dealing with behavior change communication projects. Enter Abt Associates, FrontlineSMS, and Text to Change. Two guides have recently been released to help organizations assess whether or not mobiles are the right tool, and if they are, the process moving forward. One is from Abt Associates and is entitled mBCC Field Guide: A Resource for Developing Mobile Behavior Change Communication Programs. The other one was created in collaboration between FrontlineSMS and Text to Change and is entitled Communications for change: How to use text messaging as an effective behavior change campaigning tool.” READ MORE
This was a question asked by numerous participants during a consultation meeting held in Washington on February 29 on the Bank’s proposed Global Partnership for Enhanced Social Accountability (GPESA). They noted that this lack of trust comes from a longstanding view that the Bank tends to favor governments in detriment of the broader society in many developing countries. Others noted that the lack of trust comes from the perception that the Bank is not accessible and does not effectively engage civil society in some countries. This contrasts with the view, expressed by several participants, that the Bank has made important strides in opening up and reaching out to civil society at headquarters over the past decade and that this positive momentum should guide GPESA implementation.
- The World Region
- Global Partnership for Enhanced Social Accountability
- GPESA Consultation
- civil society organizations
- civil society
- Citizen Participation
- Citizen Voice
- Civil Society Engagement
- Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue
- Public Consultations
- social accountability
- Citizen Networks
Just spent a fascinating week in Nairobi, taking part in a review of our three-year- old urban programme there. Like many large development NGOs, Oxfam is deeply rural – goats, irrigation, drought, that kind of thing - but the world has gone urban, and so in a few countries, we are dipping our organizational toes in the water. Some impressions on the challenges of urban work:
Perhaps most striking are the multiple centres of power and association compared to the rural world. Tier upon tier of government, dense networks of clubs, traditional and tribal structures and militia, social and community organizations, churches, ‘merry-go-round’ savings and loans groups, youth groups, sports clubs, cultural groups – the list is endless. Power is dispersed and often hard to map or even detect. How to chart a way through the forest of organizations and identify potential partners and targets for influence?
Mentoring has become a very important means for social entrepreneurs to gain skills from an experienced entrepreneur. It has become one of the most effective ways to build an organization's capacity. Mentor's can give advice, encouragement and leverage their contacts to help an organization grow. Jennifer Lentfer offers some practical guidelines for developing an effective mentor relationship.
Stronger, more sustainable community-based organizations can contribute to a more effective and participatory civil society response to the needs of vulnerable people in the developing world.
Donors can support organizations even at the beginning stages of organizational development with an intent to leave groups stronger than when they first entered into partnership. Different types of capacity building activities such as mentoring relationships and exchange visits between organizations can offer the most relevant and supportive technical assistance through sharing on-the-ground experience among organizations at all levels of organizational development.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
"Corruption is a very big problem in many nations of the world-some would assert that it is becoming more extensive, and more areas of development activity are being affected. Corruption is also becoming, de facto, an attack on governance as more and more of the rules under which nations are governed are breached with impunity. Citizen engagement is very important in fighting corruption, and there are particular advantages in getting NGOs more involved in the fight. NGOs have limitations, but also great potential strengths, and these can be better realized through better project management." READ MORE