I’ve always been intrigued by the challenge of coming up with new solutions for everyday problems – kind of like 3D-puzzles for adults. Problems that seem simple from the outside but that are really difficult to crack once one focuses on them, like the development challenges countries face. Whether it’s access to basic services such as education or health, or building the infrastructure needed to connect producers to markets, or providing drinkable water to all, a broad range of sound and proven technical solutions already exists. But millions of kids continue to suffer from poor quality education, mothers continue to die while giving birth, and poor families spend a good chunk of their day walking just to get drinkable water.
Why is it so difficult to get solutions to reach those who need them the most? Many times, the almost automatic answer is that while the knowledge is there, countries lack the necessary resources to address these problems. But too quickly, more money is thrown at these problems without changing the fundamental issues, resulting in limited success at best. In other cases, we spend millions of dollars to build capacity and share knowledge, but it is hard to see results because the institutional support for a solution is lacking.
I found this to be one of the world's biggest paradoxes. It became clear to me that money and knowledge need political will and local information to really crack these problems. Social accountability mechanisms offer a way to do this, by putting information about the citizen’s perspective on public services directly in the hands of the officials in charge. This is the frontier work in international development and what citizens are demanding more and more of every day.
This is why one and a half years ago, I joined the Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA) to lead its program, currently housed at the World Bank Institute. The GPSA supports governments and civil society organizations (CSOs) to work together in addressing governance problems. After many years of working in developing countries, I knew that these "collaborative governance" approaches have proven to be effective in very different contexts and sectors. I wanted to be part of pushing the Bank and others to focus on the “last mile” in governance – supporting and encouraging this vital relationship between government and CSOs.
The GPSA helps citizens have a voice, helps governments have an ear, and through a close collaboration supports public institutions to respond to citizen demands. The GPSA gives grants directly to CSOs so they can build and sustain their work across many issues: from fighting corruption in the Dominican Republic to reducing teacher absenteeism in Malawi. The CSOs will apply a variety of social accountability tools (SMS feedback, community scorecards, citizen observatories) to “close the loop” on so many tough problems.
The initiative shows the growing momentum behind the social accountability approach. More than 90 Global Partners have joined the GPSA so far, including UNICEF, the European Union, CIVICUS, the Bank Information Center, Twaweza, and Accountability Lab. In the last two weeks, the Aga Khan Foundation USA announced a $500,000 contribution to the GPSA Trust Fund (see their blog), joining the World Bank and the Ford Foundation as donors. Also the Open Society Foundations (OSF) just announced a $750,000 grant for the CheckMySchool project of the Affiliated Network on Social Accountability (ANSA-EAP) in the Philippines, provided as part of the parallel funding OSF has set aside for GPSA.
Thirty-four governments from developing countries have opted in to this new facility, allowing the GPSA to fund CSOs operating in their countries without pre-conditions. Early in 2013 the GPSA issued the first Call for Proposals for new ideas to solve problems and committed more than $9 million to support them. An innovative knowledge component is under way to generate and share information as well as conduct South-South exchanges on what works in social accountability. We just launched the Second Country-Tailored Call for Proposals in 33 countries. For the first time in the history of the World Bank, civil society actors along with governments and donors get together in a vibrant Steering Committee that makes decisions on GPSA's activities and funding.
The GPSA has been conceived as the third arm of the World Bank Group, tapping into the potential to engage hundreds of civil society actors to solve development problems. So far, this has been an exciting ride. This is just the beginning and I can’t wait to see what happens next.