Global Donor Platform for Rural Development
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A graduate of the University of Ottawa, Stephen Wallace has focused much of his 30-year career on development and international affairs. Early work with non-governmental organisations, including long-term postings in Nigeria and Lesotho, led to his appointment with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in 1984. In recent years, his work with CIDA has included special responsibility for the conflict areas of Bosnia and Kosovo and leading development policy for Africa and the Middle East. He was appointed CIDA Vice-President of Policy in 2005, and assumed responsibility for an expanded CIDA Afghanistan Task Force in March 2007. Since late 2007, he has chaired the Advisory Group on Civil Society (established by the Working Party on Aid Effectiveness, an international partnership hosted by the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD) as part of the preparatory process for the Accra High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, set for September 2008. He discussed this latest assignment with Timothy Nater.
Wallace: CIDA has worked overseas in partnership with Canadian civil society organisations – or CSOs – since the 1960s. But there's a growing realisation internationally of just how important CSOs are to development. We're witnessing a flourishing of CSOs of extraordinary scope and breadth across many countries now. In Kenya, Mali, Mozambique and Tanzania, for example, we’ve seen growth of CSOs as never before. In India there are at least one million, in the Philippines, 200,000. CIDA's conservative estimate is that CSOs mobilise $40 billion-plus a year for development from contributors in industrial countries.
For a long time, donors held a relatively narrow perspective on the link between CSOs and development activity. In the 1980s, for instance, the emphasis tended to be on their role as service delivery agents in areas where the state was weak. What is becoming much more widely appreciated now is the role that CSOs play as agents of change, as donors in their own right, and as partners in development. There’s a growing recognition everywhere, including within the OECD Working Party on Aid Effectiveness, that CSOs are not external to the aid architecture, but can play an integral part in ensuring effective aid and making a difference in fighting poverty.
Notions of the role of the state are changing, and moves to include non-state actors in the development process are accelerating. Also, understanding the contribution that CSOs can make to development is leading to much greater awareness of their overall potential. Western countries and donors have come to recognise that aid isn't just about providing money, but about trying to enable genuine, locally-anchored processes of change, in which CSOs can play a very strong role. CSOs often help to reinforce shared values of human rights, outreach to marginalised populations, democratisation and gender equality, and when we consider aid effectiveness from this perspective, it is not a theoretical concept. It's about saving lives and building livelihoods. The growing reality of CSO activity on the ground is galvanising the attention of countries themselves, the international community, and donors.
Yes, the issue of representation is a deep challenge. But we're seeing CSO’s respond in extraordinary ways to the need for concerted dialogue and action. There is something fundamental underway in this regard. The original aim of our consultation process with CSOs was to help realise their unfulfilled potential, believing they could help strengthen the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and contribute to the overall aid effectiveness agenda worldwide. But over the course of the last year, as the Advisory Group on Civil Society and Aid Effectiveness got involved in consultations in 30-plus countries, we saw that the CSOs themselves wanted to take a lead role in organising processes of dialogue and representation.
And rather than just work at central levels in discussing the Paris Declaration and the build-up to the Accra High-Level Forum, we found CSOs in more and more countries also wanting to work at a decentralised level in their own countries, with grass-roots organisations on the domestic scene.
This trend has mushroomed. There are an increasing number of national consultations run by CSOs themselves, involving local governments and donors in a multi-stakeholder structure, including at a sub-national level. The mobilisation of civil society has started very much at local rather than international level, and is building up from there. We didn't set out to do this — it's happening on its own, largely due to the energy and enthusiasm of the civil society movement itself.
Despite the extraordinary variety, there are common elements that come out time and again. One is the ability of civil society organisations to bring in and represent groups who are often excluded from the development process — either because they live in remote regions, or are poor, handicapped, or unable to fully participate in development process for one reason or another. This is especially noticeable in agricultural and rural development, where CSOs can reach out to people who are far from capitals. Another common element is the rise of women's organisations. An estimated 70% of the rural economy rests on the shoulders of women, so it's critical to see the growing strength of the voice of gender equality through CSOs.
It’s been a process of branching out and working down through several layers of existing organisations. At the international level, we've drawn extensively on the networks and expertise of international CSOs such as Reality of Aid, AFRODAD, and Third World Network Africa, who are represented on the Advisory Group. At the national level, our major partners are often CSO umbrella organisations. Donor offices in various countries have also helped out, and in the Lusaka regional consultation last October, the Zambian government played an important role.
The level of involvement is striking. One of the best examples for this is Mali, where hundreds of participants were involved at the sub-national and national levels in the consultation process on CSOs and aid effectiveness. We haven't yet counted the number of organisations involved in all of the national and regional consultations, partly because they are still ongoing, but it is literally in the thousands.
This is the beginning of a long-term process. We started off with a relatively short-term focus, trying to get a stronger sense of how CSOs can play a more direct role in the wake of the Paris Declaration, culminating with the High-Level Forum this September. Now we find we're increasingly looking beyond Accra. There's strong interest on the part of CSOs to work with all development partners on an ongoing basis. They want to address the practical meaning of local ownership, mutual accountability, and managing for results, in ways that fully involve them.
Another lesson is that CSOs are not just aid recipients but also donors and partners in their own right. If we can help anchor that point in Accra, we believe we’ll have made a positive contribution to development effectiveness.
We must also be aware of the huge variability in local environments. One of the things we want to draw attention to is how to create an environment that can unlock the potential of CSOs and help them to flourish. There is much work to be done on capacity building and local legitimacy.
The Global Donor Platform's consultations show that mutual respect is an important starting point. Governments, donors and aid-related civil society organisations from industrialised countries need to consult local and national CSOs, especially rural CSOs, as key development players. This will help ensure that emerging development policies respond to local conditions and needs.
The development community needs to build the capacity of rural actors to cooperate and coordinate their activities more efficiently. To close those ownership gaps, governments, "Northern CSOs" and donors need to foster rural CSO networks and consultative frameworks, implement more joint activities, and work on harmonising their approach. For their part, governments should ensure an enabling environment for civil society, including proper legislation and fiscal incentives and better protection of civil and political rights. And, whenever possible, donors should deal more directly with local CSO networks and support their development work. They should consider providing flexible funding for CSO capacity building, and longer funding timeframes, and help get simple information on donor programmes out to small CSOs active in rural areas.
We’ll make progress if we can foster the simple recognition that a civil society organisation is not just a pressure group, but can play a constructive role as a development actor in its own right. We must emphasise the successes of multi-stakeholder dialogue. As this awareness spreads, it will help to overcome scepticism and resistance and create space. Adjusting donor policies can help here. For example, programme-based approaches can inadvertently exclude CSOs from the development process. They can sometimes lead to state-centric models of development, when in fact effective aid is more about broader country models of development. We need donor models of support that build, rather than undermine, CSO contributions, and enhance capacity development.
We need to help countries understand the unrealised potential of civil society. Helping CSOs to form, develop, and be accountable to their constituents will give them greater legitimacy in the eyes of their governments. One of the things the Advisory Group hopes to showcase over the coming months is that wherever you see a local context favourable to CSOs, you are also seeing real development progress.
Things are happening in Afghanistan that show remarkable advances in relations between CSOs, donors and the state. The Microfinance Investment Support Facility (MISFA) there has disbursed more than $340 million so far, and has extraordinarily strong credentials in terms of repayment rates and successful economic development. 70% of its clients are women and, over the course of the next two or three months, we’re likely to see the 500,000th client sign up as micro-finance recipient. One reason it's succeeding is that government did not implement this facility itself, but played a lead role in putting in place basic laws and regulations to permit effective micro-finance operation, and then let international CSOs like the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), the Aga Khan Foundation, and CARE work with over a dozen local organisations to actually carry out the activities.
Another example in Afghanistan is in primary healthcare, which in 2002 was reaching only about 9% of the population. The Basic Package of Healthcare Services (BPHS), the technical foundation of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health, has involved strong CSO participation in training, institution-building and healthcare delivery. By 2006, the mortality rate for children under five had dropped by 25%, to about 191 per 1,000. By 2007, BPHS coverage had been extended to 82% of the population. This sort of partnership between state and donors as enablers and CSOs as strong facilitators is allowing us to leapfrog the development process and accelerate change in a way that would not otherwise be possible. It’s proving extraordinarily successful.
We have to remain true to our multi-stakeholder character and, at the same time, further understanding and good practice. We must secure multi-stakeholder consensus in Accra and in other forums where thinking about CSOs is not so advanced, and where CSOs are often outnumbered. As I mentioned, there’s also the issue of CSO diversity and how we deal with that. And finally, there's the post-Accra agenda: we have to maintain momentum.
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