Civil Society Empowerment in Advocacy and Policy Development in Vietnam
The project’s overall objective was to increase the participation of Vietnamese civil society organizations (CSOs) in democratic policy-making. The grantee sought to achieve this through: building the capacity of CSOs to advocate for democratic participation in the policy development process; enhancing networking, cooperation and communication among CSOs and related government bodies; implementation of existing legal frameworks and policies; and actual, successful participation of CSOs in the policy-making process.
The objectives of the project were directly relevant to exploring new possibilities in civil society engagement with government agencies in Viet Nam on public policy, at both local and national levels. The project helped facilitate CSOs voice in discussions and problem-solving on issues of concern to particular disadvantaged and vulnerable communities.
Lessons from Project
Through the project, the grantee succeeded in establishing the Action for CSO Development Alliance (CSA) in Vietnam. The Alliance clearly had potential, and government officials have expressed support for its possible role in representing CSO interests in policy discussions. However, without securing additional resources to build the network, little more can be done.
A number of the training graduates pointed out that the financial vulnerability of CSOs in Vietnam made it difficult for them to allow staff members to devote time during working hours to preparation for training course delivery.
None of the participants from the Training of Trainers felt fully equipped to train independently on advocacy and policy development, particularly since they themselves lacked hands-on experience of organizing and conducting initiatives in this sphere. All reported that there was a need for additional training and preparation.
The integration of different project components was undermined by the grantee’s effort to refocus a number of project activities in order to take advantage of an unexpected breakthrough with the Vietnamese government in building a CSO network. While the changes in design were understandable given the need to act quickly, the addition of new priorities to the project did leave some activities incomplete.
The training-of-trainers component of the project was well planned and implemented. It was delivered through a 3-day course given to ten CSO staff members, selected from those who participated in the initial advocacy training, and two others. On completion of the course, the grantee provided further guidance to the twelve trainees working in small teams of 2 or 3, to prepare and conduct their own training courses. Custom-designed training manuals were provided to assist them in their task.
It is noteworthy that the 15 small grant advocacy projects all resulted in improvements or adjustments to implementation of regulations, changes in current government practice, or agreements for the CSO to take part in dialogue on the development of new policies and laws in Vietnam.
The project funded 15 CSO small advocacy initiatives, implemented by 14 CSO partners. In most cases, the CSOs supplemented the $1,000 awarded by securing additional resources from government and donor funds. Designed and implemented with guidance and advice from the grantee, the projects were generally successful in delivering advocacy initiatives which engaged government officials and made progress towards the solution of specific issues.
The project design demonstrated an appreciation of the gaps in CSO’s understanding of what could be accomplished through public advocacy, and of how to organize advocacy work in Vietnam. The blend of training and support for focused advocacy projects, funded by small grants, with hands-on support from the grantee’s team, amounted to an imaginative strategy for capacity development.
The constructive approach to working with government adopted by the grantee and its partners, was in keeping with Vietnamese political culture, and helped to strengthen the respect of government officials for the professional competence and reliability of CSOs. Through the project, there were also indications of interest on the part of government in working with the newly-established CSO network body.