Civil society organisations (CSOs) represent citizens at a local, national and international level. Through the Voice for Change Partnership (V4CP), SNV strengthens the capacities of CSOs to effectively voice their views in a dynamic and increasingly global context through evidence-based advocacy.
Together, we contribute to structural change and effective solutions to ensure that the interests of low-income and marginalised communities are included in government and business policies and practices. The V4CP programme is an initiative implimented by a strategic partnership which includes SNV, the International Food Policy and Research Institute (IFPRI), the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (including the Embassies of the Kingdom of the Netherlands), and 52 locally based civil society organisations (CSOs). The programme addresses four themes: Food and Nutrition Security, Renewable Energy, Resilience, and Sanitation, in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya and Rwanda.
Now that we are half-way through the project, we can conclude that V4CP is on the right track. The capacity development of the CSOs and the evidence generated by IFPRI and other research institutes has led to an overall improvement in the CSO’s engagement with decision makers and they have made significant steps in influencing the policy agenda using this evidence, and by bringing in field level experiences. To learn more, please read below to see some examples of the programme's activities.
Increased influence of CSOs on agenda setting and policies
The CSOs involved in the energy sector in Honduras have more frequent meetings and communication with the government, which increasingly opens the space for discussion on the need for a national improved cookstoves strategy. In collaboration with the Inter-institutional Platform for improved cooking, new evidence has been generated, and discussed with key actors. Following joint meetings with the National Directorate of Climate Change (DNCC), the Honduran government registered the NAMA "National Strategy for the Adoption of Efficient Stoves", an important step towards the National Strategy. The CSOs involved in Food and Nutrition Security in Honduras also increased the frequency of meetings with government institutions.
In Rwanda, IFPRI supported the development and introduction of a Budget Allocation and Expenditure Analysis tool for the Food and Nutrition Security Sector which has the buy in of all main stakeholders including various government ministries. This tool provides the basis for a Budget Gap Analysis and contributes to the government’s accountability and decision making in terms of food and nutrition security.
During 2017, the CSOs working on Renewable Energy (RE) in Burkina Faso formed a coalition with other CSOs aimed at promoting renewable energy. The CSO coalition was invited by the Ministry of Energy to participate in several working committees, for example on the quality regulation of RE products. One of the CSOs was invited to present their input on the new energy framework to the assembly’s Commission for Environment and Climate Change Development. Also, a broad group of important public and private stakeholders from the educational sector discussed the need for strengthened curricula for renewable energy skills in a workshop organised by the CSOs, showing that V4CP has successfully put this issue on the political agenda.
Another example is illustrated by the CSO working on sanitation in Kenya. At the end of 2016, the CSO had no regular interaction with the local governments regarding their advocacy topic, one year later this situation has changed drastically: The CSO, and the local country CSO which it collaborates with, influenced the sanitation planning agenda at a county level by participating and providing verbal and written input in the formulation of the new county integrated development plans and related budgets. In addition an analysis of the previous period plans was undertaken to see whether project implementation actually took place over the reported period of time. It is expected that the new five-year plan will have an increased sanitation focus, while the budgets will have clearer allocations for sanitation specific activities, with the local CSOs keeping the county government accountable for their actions.
In Ghana, V4CP has been involved in the drafting and/or review of several new energy policy frameworks related to mini-grids and clean cooking. During a review of the renewable energy master plan, the CSOs pushed for increased support for clean cooking as well as a strong policy framework for mini-grids, which should include mini-grid targets and clarity on private sector participation and finances. Also, V4CP has been given the privilege to comment on the draft mini-grid regulatory framework before it was made public for stakeholder consultation.
In Indonesia, the V4CP-supported CSOs have been working closely with District government agencies both on sanitation and food and nutrition security. The CSOs have been engaged in developing action plans with government representatives towards achieving open defecation free (ODF) districts in 2019. Districts that have reached the ODF status are being supported in having post-ODF mechanisms in place and move from basic sanitation to safely managed sanitation (as per the SDG targets). CSOs have also been working closely with the District governments to establish food and nutrition security forums to support the development of strategies and action plans under the Government Flagship Programme to combat stunting, guided by evidence generated by IFPRI and surveys conducted by V4CP.
Overall lessons learned
Experiences so far clearly illustrate that working in a coalition increases the effectiveness of advocacy efforts. Coalition building with external stakeholders has proven to be successful and has led to new opportunities to create impact. While the V4CP collaboration is a small coalition in itself, it facilitates strong cross-organisational learning and inspiration. The CSOs are highly motivated when working together, especially when undertaking joint advocacy activities.
The use of evidence plays a central role in the advocacy strategies. The CSOs have testified that their increased knowledge and utilising evidence products have made them more confident, and more able to convince decision makers. High quality evidence increases the CSOs’ credibility, and has the potential to increase civic space. Decision makers are more susceptible to information and solutions that are based on verifiable facts. This is especially important in an unstable political climate, such as Honduras where CSOs are manoeuvring in a highly polarised political environment.
In most countries, CSOs engage with authorities at sub-national level (local, district), often in parallel with national engagements. In some cases, this approach has proven to be more effective as sub-national decision makers tend to be more susceptible to including the inputs of CSOs. In countries where national policy processes have stagnated due to political developments, often change can be achieved by working at sub-national level. CSOs have increasingly engaged with media, which has been successful in conveying advocacy messages and in gaining public support. As many organisations do not have experience with media engagement, this will be an important focus in the coming year.
The V4CP approach is starting to bear fruit. The engagement of CSOs with policy makers has shown that most decision makers are receptive to the contributions and views of the CSOs, especially when based on evidence. We will continue with this successful approach!