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civil society

Is Civil Society Uncivil?

John Garrison's picture

Having worked with civil society engagement work at the World Bank for many years, it is not uncommon for colleagues to see me in the hallway and jokingly ask: “is civil society still acting uncivil?”. The assumption being that when Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) criticize the Bank they are not being constructive and thus not acting civil. While I understand the good-natured ribbing, I and most of my Bank colleagues actually believe the opposite is true. Most advocacy CSOs are being effective global citizens by monitoring the policies and programs of governments and inter-governmental organizations such as the World Bank. After all, governments and multilateral development Banks serve at the behest of citizens and thus they should welcome a watchful eye from CSOs, media, and citizen organizations to ensure that its taxpayer-generated international development funds are being well spent. In addition, as Bank President Jim Yong Kim recently said at the closing plenary of the 2013 InterAction Forum, important changes and reforms in history – such as the concerted response to the AIDS epidemic – are often driven by citizen activism spearheaded by CSOs. He further argued that what is now needed is a global citizens’ movement to advocate for effective climate change policies.

The Legislator’s Dilemma: Following or Moving against the Tide of Perverse Incentives

Fletcher Tembo's picture
Listening to an expert discussion of the role of elected representatives in social accountability interventions at a recent event hosted by the Mwananchi Governance Programme and CIVICUS in Johannesburg on 16th May 2013, I was reminded of this quote by Joe Khamisi, a former Kenyan MP:

“Save, you may not see Parliament again”, one two-term Member liked to tell us.  In many cases non-performers with deep pockets are preferred than stingy doers. “As much as possible, avoid your constituents in the first three years and show up only towards the last half of your term, with plenty of money!”

In response, a Member of Parliament (MP) from one of the countries where Mwananchi works said, “You need to put premium on leadership”. In other words, we should not expect leaders to deliver the change we want if society encourages them to pursue perverse incentives to attain and remain in office, and to achieve solutions to collective action problems. 

Looking at the backgrounds of MPs in many countries in Africa, you find that some MPs have been activists in civil society, respected civil servants or faith leaders, often suggesting that things would be very different if it was them that were in office. This is a clear case of a common African saying ‘one finger forwards, four fingers backwards,’ reminding us how easy it is to criticise without examining ourselves. This is why it should not be surprising that again and again we find that when the ‘self-imagined’ leaders get into public office they are equally caught up in the quagmire of perverse incentives as their predecessors.

'Citizens Against Corruption: Report from the Front Line'

Johanna Martinsson's picture

Prepared by Partnership for Transparency Fund

Citizens Against Corruption: Report From The Front Line tells the story of how groups of courageous and dedicated citizens across the globe are taking direct action to root out corruption. Based on extensive practical experience through the work over more than a decade supported by The Partnership for Transparency Fund (PTF), this book shows how ordinary people are no longer prepared to accept the predatory activities of dishonest officials and are successfully challenging their scams.

Author Landell-Mills, co-founder and first president of PTF, states: “This book draws on over 200 case studies that describe impressive initiatives undertaken over the past decade by 130 civil society organizations (CSOs) in 53 countries which engage directly with public agencies to stop the bribery and extortion that damages peoples’ lives and obstructs social and economic progress.”

He adds, “This book challenges the notion that, at best, civil society can only have a marginal impact on reducing corruption. Quite the opposite; it argues that CSOs have demonstrated again and again that their impact can be game-changing.”

Examples from some of the poorest countries in the world show how a single CSO initiative can save several million dollars. Several million such initiatives can transform the way government does business, making public agencies accountable to those they serve.  The message is clear: aid donors need to radically rethink their assistance for governance reform, tilting it dramatically in favour of supporting CSOs.

Challenges for Community Radio in India's Rural Development

Abhilaksh Likhi's picture

India’s 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017) talks of challenges emanating from the economy’s transition to a higher growth path, the structural changes that come with it and the expectations it generates. One pertinent challenge in India, in the context of economic growth at the rate of 8%, is the extent of progress towards the multi dimensional process of inclusive growth. Without doubt, the latter should result in lower incidence of poverty, significant improvements in health care, universal access for children going to school and increased access to skilled development.

These parameters are more critical for an estimated 833 million people in India who continue to live in rural areas and a very large proportion of whom, both men and women, are either wholly or significantly still dependent for their livelihood on farm as well as non-farm activities. A plethora of centrally sponsored flagship rural development programs such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) have been given special impetus aimed at building rural  infrastructure and providing basic services with the aim of reducing poverty. These are mandated to be implemented by the provincial governments through institutions of local self governance in the gaze of the well oiled administrative district machinery and increasingly in collaboration with the civil society.

An unprecedented injection of public funds during the 12th Plan Period through decentralized governance, calls for a renewed focus on the dynamics of grassroots empowerment that could enable rural communities to access information about their rights and entitlements made available under these programmes, both by law and policy. This consequently also has implications for accountability in the reach and impact of the public delivery system that the poorest approach. The key question, thus is, what kind of an accessible communication medium, amongst today’s robust social media, should be utilized during the next four years extensively to sensitize and empower the poorest in rural areas in partnership with civil society?  Secondly, what are the governance challenges that need to be identified in the above partnership to make the benefits of the envisaged inclusive growth more transparent, participatory and bottom up?

Is It Time for a New Paradigm for "Citizen Engagement"? The Role of Context and What the Evidence Tells Us

Simon O'Meally's picture

The meteoric rise of "citizen engagement"

Almost all development agencies promote some form of citizen engagement and accountability, often framed as 'voice', 'demand-side governance', 'demand for good governance' or 'social accountability'.   The current World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, recently put it that, "citizen voice can be pivotal in providing the demand-side pressure on government, service providers, and organizations such as the World Bank that is needed to encourage full and swift response to citizen needs".  There has, in turn, been a mushrooming of useful operational guidance on different "tools" for social accountability - i.e. steps, inputs and methodologies - that guide discrete interventions, ranging from citizen score cards to participatory expenditure tracking.

One might, however, be forgiven for thinking that some of the debates on citizen engagement need an injection of realism; especially as contextual factors can make or break a "tool's" implementation.  A review of experience to date would be one good place to start.

The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World. Synthesis > Novelty in a Big New UN Report

Duncan Green's picture

Of the big reports that spew forth from the multilateral system, some break new ground in terms of research or narratives, while others usefully recap the latest thinking on a given issue. The recently launched 2013 Human Development Report, The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World, falls into the latter category, pulling together the evidence for a tectonic North-South shift in global economic and political affairs, summarizing new thinking on inequality, South in the North etc and asking what happens next. If you’re currently sunk in the depths of Europessimism or US political stalemate, you may find such an upbeat story refreshing (or even disturbing). You can read the exec sum online, but it doesn’t seem to allow you to cut and paste (v annoying for lazy bloggers like me).

Some useful numbers to demonstrate the extent of the shift: From 1980 to now, developing countries’ share of global GDP rose from 33% to 45%, their share of world goods trade from 25% to 45%, and South-South trade as a % of the world total rose from 8% to 26%.

Now Operational: Groundbreaking Social Accountability Fund

John Garrison's picture

After an extensive consultation process and over a year of planning, the Global Partnership on Social Accountability (GPSA) is getting off the ground with the first call for proposals just announced on February 11, 2013. With its transparent policies, inclusive governance structure, and strategic thematic focus on social accountability, the GPSA clearly represents a milestone in Bank – civil society relations. After 30 years of engaging civil society through policy dialogue, consultation, and funding, the establishment of GPSA is a clear signal that the Bank intends to institutionalize and scale-up its support to CSOs.

The idea for the GPSA emerged from a speech former Bank President Zoellick made at the Peterson Institute in April 2011 in the wake of the Arab Spring, in which he spoke of the need for a new social contract between citizens and governments.  He indicated that the Bank would explore with its shareholders means to support CSOs working on social accountability.  This was followed by an extensive multi-stakeholder consultation process conducted on the design and scope of the proposed fund.  From January through March 2012, more than 870 stakeholders from 57 different countries participated in 25 face-to-face meetings and video conferences organized across the world. In addition, nearly 300 persons submitted written comments online directly onto the GPSA website.  As a result, several CSO recommendations were incorporated into the design of the GPSA such as the need to support core and longer term funding of CSOs, and ensure that CSOs had adequate representation on its governing body.

What have We Learned about Crisis/Fragile States? Findings of a 5 Year Research Programme

Duncan Green's picture

Cards on the table, confronted with a closely argued 11 page exec sum, I am unlikely to then read the full report. But the short version of Meeting the Challenges of Crisis States, by James Putzel (LSE) and Jonathan Di John (SOAS), is a meal in itself. It summarizes 5 years of DFID-funded research by the Crisis States Research Centre, led by the London School of Economics, and is a great way to take the temperature of academic thinking on ‘states with adjectives’ – fragile, failing, crisis etc etc.

The key question it seeks to answer is why the daily and inevitable tensions of politics and ‘conflict as usual’, which exist in any society, tip some states over into a downward spiral of distintegration, grand theft and violence, while others, even poor ones, prove resilient. Key Findings?

Like most political scientists, Putzel and Di John believe that if you want to understand politics, you have to understand elites. And that means jettisoning preconceptions of ‘good governance’ (aka how much do the institutions resemble an idealized notion of American/European democracy) and thinking instead about the underlying political settlement. How do individuals and groups with different slices of power protect and negotiate over their pieces of the pie?

What leads to fragility? In the rather disturbing language of the report:

Sierra Leone’s Cold Spot? Young People, Elections and Accountability in Kono

Jessica Sinclair Taylor's picture

Ibrahim Fanday, Chairman of Kono Youth Commission smiled proudly as he says ‘Kono is known as a trouble hot-spot – but at the end of the day, the elections were peaceful.’ Martha Lewis, a member of the local women’s network, agreed, saying ‘Hot spot? Cold spot!’ 

When Sierra Leone went to the polls in November last year, it followed months of speculation and fears that the hotly contested elections would be a flash-point for violence.  And Kono, the state which saw the worst of the ten year civil war, and remains notorious chiefly for its diamond miles and its instability, was predicted to be at the centre of any trouble.

The elections passed without major disturbances and were pronounced free and fair by the EU observers following them.  Ibrahim believes that the youth of Kono played a role in keeping the polling peaceful, by acting as ‘peace ambassadors’ in their communities.  His pride is echoed by everyone I speak to - Sierra Leone seems to have passed some kind of test, in both national and international eyes, by holding an election where 87.3% of the population turned out to vote, and the peace held.

Civil Society, Public Action and Accountability in Africa

Duncan Green's picture

An important new paper from some big development names – Shanta Devarajan and Stuti Khemani from the World Bank, and Michael Walton (ex Bank, now at Harvard Kennedy School) – directs a slightly fierce (but welcome) political economy gaze at donor efforts to strengthen civil society (one of the more recent developmental fads). As with most such papers, after a monumental literature review, one of the striking conclusions is how little we really know, but it gropes gamely through the fog of ignorance and confusion and arrives at some interesting conclusions.

First, the authors find that something significant is going on among Africa’s citizens: “a large shift in Africa in organization among citizens. Village-level group formation in Africa increased dramatically over the 1990s when participatory approaches were emphasized in international development paradigms, promoted through aid, and adopted deliberately by country governments to deliver projects to communities.” Interestingly, that increased participation applies to both democratic and less democratic systems. The question is in what situations that upsurge in civil society has impact, and how (if at all) aid agencies can help.

The paper adds its support to the growing demand that aid interventions abandon futile searches for ‘best practice’ in favour of understanding what are the ‘best fits’ for any given context:

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