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
Just read a new case study of women’s empowerment in Colombia, part of ODI’s Development Progress series (summary here, full paper here). What’s useful is the level of analysis – a focus on the national rather than global or a project case study enables them to consider the various drivers of change at work. Some excerpts:
Signs of Progress:
- "Colombia is home to the longest armed conflict in Latin America. In this context, women have mobilised effectively to influence emerging law on transitional justice mechanisms and to ensure that understanding the gendered experiences of conflict informs policy and law.
- Colombia has more women in relevant decision-making positions than ever before. In 2011, 32% of the cabinet were women, compared with 12% in 1998; in 2014, 19.9% of parliamentarians in the Lower House and 22% in the Senate were women, compared with 11.7% and 6.9% respectively in 1997.
- Girls’ enrolment in secondary and tertiary education outperforms boys’, while women’s participation in the labour market has also seen sustained progress. Women constituted 29.9% of the labour force in 1990; by 2012 this had risen to 42.7%." (Summary, page 1)
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.
There 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.
As you may have noticed, I’ve been writing a series of 10 case studies of Oxfam’s work in promoting ‘active citizenship’, plus a synthesis paper. They cover everything from global campaigns to promoting women’s leadership to labour rights. They are now all finished and up on the website. Phew. Here’s the accompanying blog which summarizes the findings of the exercise (with links to all the papers). Huge thanks to everyone who commented on the draft studies when they appeared on the blog.
1. The right partners are indispensable
Whether programmes flourish or fail depends in large part on the role of partners. Usually this means local NGOs or civil society organizations, but sometimes also individuals, consultants or academics. Good partners bring an understanding of local context and culture (especially important when working with excluded minorities such as the tribal peoples of Chhattisgarh). They often have well-developed networks with those in positions of local power and will carry on working in the area long after the programme has moved on.
2. Start with the ‘power within’
Promoting active citizenship means building the power of citizens, starting with their ‘power within’ – their self confidence and assertiveness – especially in work on gender rights. In the case of We Can in South Asia or Community Discussion Classes in Nepal, building this ‘power within’ was almost an end in itself. Elsewhere, citizens went on to build ‘power with’ in the form of organizations that enabled poor and excluded individuals to find a strong collective voice with which to confront and influence those in power. This approach has led to some impressive progress in what are often the most unfavourable of circumstances (women’s rights in Pakistan, civilian protection in Eastern Congo).
Mike Edwards has just written a 3rd edition of his book ‘Civil Society’. It’s a 130 page primer, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy reading. I found some of the conceptual stuff on different understandings of civil society pretty hard going, but was repaid with some really interesting and innovative systems thinking, leading to what I think are some novel suggestions for how NGOs and donors should/shouldn’t try to support civil society in developing countries.
Edwards sets out some fairly arcane (to me anyway) debates, identifying three schools of thought that see CS as
- ‘Associational life’ that builds trust and social capital (de Toqueville, Robert Puttnam, etc)
- The Good Society: a good thing in itself
- A protagonist in the public sphere, incubating debates that will eventually turn into laws and policies (think tobacco campaigners, or women’s rights)
"'What to do' depends on what one understands civil society to be. Devotees of associational life will focus on filling in the gaps and disconnections in the civil society ecosystem, promoting volunteering and voluntary action, securing an “enabling environment” that privileges NGOs and other civic organizations through tax breaks, and protecting them from undue interference through laws and regulations that guarantee freedom of association" (pg. 108)
"Believers in the good society will focus on building positive interactions between institutions in government, the market and the voluntary sector around common goals such as poverty reduction, human rights and deep democracy" (pg. 108)
"Supporters of civil society as the public sphere will focus on promoting access to, and independence for, the structures of communication, extending the paths and meeting grounds that facilitate public deliberation and building the capacities that citizens require to engage with each other across their private boundaries" (pg. 108)
Unsurprisingly, Edwards advocates a synthesis of all three, but then he gets interesting.
I went to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) last week to help Oxfam Italia develop advocacy and campaign skills among local civil society organizations. They have their work cut out.
Firstly, there is a crisis of trust between the public and CSOs, which are poorly regulated, often seen as little more than ‘briefcase NGOs’, only interested in winning funding, and under constant attack from politicians. Many CSOs seem pretty disillusioned, faced with a shrinking donor pot and public hostility.
I think there’s a strong case for the CSOs to take the lead in putting their house in order, practicing what they preach on transparency and accountability, and working with government to sort out the legitimate organizations from ones that have registered (there are some 10,000 in the country) but do nothing, (or worse).
Meanwhile, Oxfam is working with some of the more dynamic ones to develop the advocacy and campaign skills of what is still a maturing civil society network (after decades of state socialism, followed by a devastating war, and then an influx of donor cash that had mixed results). Two days of conversation and debate with some great organizations working on everything from disability rights to enterprise development to youth leadership identified some big issues and dilemmas:
The Bank has learned a good deal about how to consult civil society over the years. The absence of consultation policies led to some of the most visible CSO advocacy campaigns opposing Bank-financed projects, such as the Narmada Dam in India and the Polonoreste Project in the Brazilian Amazon in the 1980s. Thus, while this third step on the civil society engagement continuum has been one of the most difficult to ascend, it has also shown the clearest progress in terms of more effective consultation practices. As the latest edition of the World Bank–Civil Society Engagement Review of Fiscal Years 2010–12 demonstrates, today the Bank consults CSOs widely on its strategies, policies, programs, and projects worldwide.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Google Blimps for Disaster Response
"A blimp is a floating airship that does not have any internal supporting framework or keel. The airship is typically filled with helium and is navigated using steerable fans. Google is apparently planning to launch a fleet of Blimps to extend Internet/wifi access across Africa and Asia. Some believe that "these high-flying networks would spend their days floating over areas outside of major cities where Internet access is either scarce or simply nonexistent." Small-scale prototypes are reportedly being piloted in South Africa "where a base station is broadcasting signals to wireless access boxes in high schools over several kilometres." The US military has been using similar technology for years." READ MORE
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.