Role of CSOs in Effective Development Co-operation

Published By UNNGOF |  January 31, 2014

The world has changed rapidly over the last few years.  We have seen citizens in America take to the streets and non-violently occupy Wall Street, Tahrir Square in Egypt is now a household, in India, one man’s hunger strike brought millions onto the streets and the government to its knees and won decisive action to end corruption and the citizens of Greece put up a formidable protest against unfair cuts to public spending at the height of an economic crisis.  In Thailand citizens continue to ask hard questions and engage with the state publicly about the state of governance.  Citizens across the world are expressing themselves in various forms – engaging states in various ways – including protests, policy advocacy and practice change.  These vibrant citizen-state interactions are no longer an exception but the rule in the new global political architecture.  What seems to be an ongoing reality is the desire for every citizen around the world to achieve the best for their societies and the world.

In the area of aid and development effectiveness, civil society organizations have traversed a vast territory.  From Paris – where no one knew what to do with civil society, to Accra where CSOs met on the sidelines of the High Level Forum and were consequently recognized as ‘development actors in their own right’ to the Busan High Level Forum in Korea that saw the end of the Paris Declaration but also marked a new era of civil society in global policy making – citizen groups are now very much part and parcel of development cooperation work.

Perhaps one of the most active and organized stakeholders in the lead-up to the Busan High level Forum was civil society.  Globally, civil society played a prominent role in the work of defining its key messages and areas of engagement into a coherent statement well before many governments could agree on their positions.  Since the Accra HLF, civil society worked with all other actors across the globe in the Working Party of Aid Effectiveness at the OECD in Paris (WP-EFF) and all the attendant work streams.  In all these spaces CSOs provided alternative policy positions and new thinking.  Rights based approaches, gender, labour and decent work; environmental concerns were in themselves the CSO mantras that become important aspects of the Busan outcome document.

As we move into the third year of implementing Busan, it will be useful to reflect on what seems to be the areas to reflect on.  The global partnership has come to be known by a number of new flagship policy narratives which include; GPEDC being the ‘how’ of the post 2015 agenda, privileging the role of the private sector, domestic resource mobilization and the role of emerging economies.  While these are all interesting areas of moving the global agenda forward, as civil society, we would like to see a more nuanced approach to tackling these areas. Below are some thoughts to ponder:

On the post-2015, it is clear that there are still bottlenecks that require a more concerted global effort.  Those efforts should not be the ones that prescribe to governments what they should do constitutionally, but we need efforts where governments are encouraged to realize that building global partnership that will deliver is fundamental to achieving any new global development aspirations. These should be partnership based on mutuality and accountability and not asymmetrical power structures that perpetuate suspicion fuelled by opaque rules of engagement.  These partnerships should also be broad-based and driven by global solidarity among stakeholders that should include; civil society, governments, regional and national parliaments, foundation bodies, local authorities, minorities and citizens of all shades.

Today it is becoming clearer to all of us that the problems in one part of the world are problems for all of us.  If there is nothing we have learnt from the climate change movement – at least one lesson that we can relate to is that the world is interconnected and interlinked.  In order for us to then be able to have a conversation around the global ecosystem we need to have a relationship of global solidarity and partnership that sees each one of us as citizens of a world that we have to build together.  This does not imply abandoning our different identities and our political positions but it sends the message that to shape a better world is not about cutting out a pie from a cake that is not baked but it is about baking a cake together and having a pie.

On the role of the private sector, it is clear that calls for inclusion of the private sector are coming at a time when the scars of the global financial crisis are not yet fully healed.  The impact of the global food, fuel and finance crises on citizens across economies in the developed and developing world are still alive.  In January 2014, as the 500 most powerful corporate and political leaders met in Davos for the annual World Economic Forum – there are still several unanswered questions like; how the World Economic Forum operates and who makes up the class that meets at Davos.  A number of civil society groups have even taken their concerns to Davos asking that Davos should remind the corporate world that the social and environmental consequences of their business activities affect people and the environment. The GPEDC is a space that will have to think critically about such issues if only to ensure that we do not make the same mistakes of the past.

On Domestic resource mobilization – this is certainly a welcome addition to the global debate on financing for development.  The critical issue being the need to ensure that there is tax justice across the world and that tax havens do not stand in the way to delivering effective development.  Civil society across the world has spoken loudly on this issue and we look to the proponents of this idea to ensure that voices that speak to this reality are heard.

With regard to emerging economies, while they are playing an important role in showing the world that it is possible to overcome the perils of underdevelopment, it is important to note that this should not be at the expense of casting a shadow on the focus on poor economies that are still going through tough times.  Coupled with that apparent shadow is the reality of inequality.  This also needs to come to the table especially in middle income countries.  This is because in many ways increasing inequality is proving to be as hostile as chronic poverty and buried under the very impressive economic figures that are fuelled by our faith in GPDism.

In light of the above provisions, as civil society, we still think that going forward; the notion of inclusive development should be appreciated by the international development community. Inclusive development needs to be framed in a human rights based approach that ensures equal access, voice and participation; consultative decision making, and empowerment. It is worth noting that the principle of inclusive development was both the key commitment and promise of the Busan Partnership Agreement. This has marked it distinctively from previous HLFs.  This principle is also fundamentally linked to other commitments enshrined in Busan such as democratic ownership, transparency, and accountability. It is therefore critical that inclusive development be given prominence in all processes that we work on as we implement Busan.

But the world has taught us that what we make of the global future is up to us as global citizens. Yes, many countries operate in the difficult terrain, with many temptations and obstacles on the road to transformation. Many of us working on development could choose to complain about the bad governance, fragile states, aid fatigue, citizen uprising and their attendant fiascos and many other things gone wrong. But we could also focus on the positive forces around us so that they can expand – there is citizen energy around the world and we have both success factors to learn from in places like South Korea, China and resilient countries like Ireland that fought through the global economic crisis.  What is clear is that we can’t afford doomsday scenarios or self-fulfilling prophecies. The future needs a dose of optimism and creativity coupled with a can-do attitude to make things happen – remembering that the citizen is central in development cooperation.

By Richard Ssewakiryanga
Executive Director and Global Co Chair – CSO Partnership for Effective Development
Uganda National NGO Forum
Plot 25, Muyenga Tank Hill Rd, Kabalagala
P. O. Box 4636, Kampala, Uganda
Office: +256 312 260 373/ 414 510 272
Fax: +256 312 260 372



Skype ID: richard.ssewakiryanga