Strengthening Advocacy Capacity of Civil Society in The Gambia
The project targeted the Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (TANGO) in the Gambia, and more specifically its 121 member NGOs (including the staff of some 60 NGOs) including over 2,000 members (community based organizations, religious and cultural bodies, youth organizations, trade unions and farmer associations). While the country has a plan for decentralization, the implementation of the plan has been incomplete. Civil society in the country has lacked advocacy capacity and communication channels to cooperate with regional and local level administrations so that decision making takes into account the most pressing needs of citizens. The project attempted to increase the level of understanding between government and civil society about the positive effect that joint dialogue could have while aiming to increase the association of NGO members’ capacity to effectively engage with the government on issues of concern to civil society.
The project in most cases achieved or exceeded the targeted outputs. Beneficiaries praised the usefulness of the advocacy strategy framework tool the project introduced. In addition, advocacy skills trainees confirmed that the knowledge they acquired serve their professional needs. In addition, the project’s communication forum effectively informed the public discussion about discrepancies between legal provisions and current policies.
Lessons from Project
When the project ended there was no formal partnership among the stakeholders involved. Most of the microprojects had ended and the participating organizations considered themselves beneficiaries of corporate social responsibility funds rather than as pro-active partners. The project reinforced current corporate practices in which civil society empowerment is regarded simply as making donations to NGOs. Better information about the costs and benefits of corporate social responsibility implementation and an inventory of industry practices could help to identify NGO capacity constraints and priority needs, tailoring different partnership models to the situation in each district.
The project travel budget was high because of the widely dispersed geographic areas that were selected. The high travel budget took away resources from the NGO microprojects and concrete corporate social responsibility field activities and therefore reduced the project’s impact.
Most of the 12 microprojects selected involved business opportunities in agroindustry and farming. There was no specific mechanism to review the results of NGO microprojects . This was a missed opportunity. Reviewing the results in a workshop could have built broader support for the changes advocated at the local and government level. This was not an effective way to help local actors make their voices heard by authorities and private enterprises or to facilitate trust-building and dialogue on how corporate social responsibility should be managed and how to involve NGOs as CSR partners.
The project considered NGO capacity weakness as an obstacle to implementation rather than a need that should be addressed. A wide range of topics, including an understanding of CSR policies and practices, could have been addressed in training courses – such as budget analysis, monitoring of oil and mining operations, tax laws, public information on government revenues and payments by extractive companies, information on other CSR networks – for NGOs in Indonesia.
The project did not fully appreciate the complexity of the companies’ corporate social responsibility activities―which are patchy, sector-based, and influenced by the political climate in each extractive area. Nor did the project take into account how complex NGO and community based organization participation would be. Changes in corporate social responsibility governance will not come about without concerted advocacy on the part of civil society groups that come together with an understanding of challenges for society as a whole. The kinds of activities that NGOs engage in could be used to improve information to raise awareness about corporate social responsibility, facilitate dialogue, and promote advocacy skills to tackle performance on poverty issues.
The diagnostic review and needs assessment did not capture the information needed for project implementation. There was no contextual information on corporate social responsibility budget allocation per district, the degree of integration in local development planning, the nature of civil society engagement with stakeholders, budget allocations to NGOs, or data to assess what specific CSR practices had achieved thus far and what was needed in terms of local NGO capacity-building to improve these organizations’ credibility with stakeholders.
The specified outcomes were ambitious, given the outputs that were designed to achieve them. The project assumed that putting stakeholders together and sharing knowledge through local and national workshops, NGO training activities, and micro project experiences would be sufficient to alter perceptions and create stakeholder partnerships for joint corporate social responsibility policy design and practices in Indonesia.
Meeting with all parties involved was an important first step in building mutual trust to facilitate a common understanding of the challenges of corporate social responsibility, including those related to civil society engagement in Indonesia. All stakeholders expressed their concerns, and it was established that companies and local governments must pool local civil society resources if they are to have a visible impact on the community with which they are working.
The project’s strategy of identifying and working directly with local NGOs community based organizations, local government, and commercial companies at the district level in Indonesia made project activities more relevant to beneficiaries.
While the grantee’s advocacy unit is still operational, the organisation still lacks input and resource capacity to provide systematic evidence of the extent to which the efforts of its members and its network in general are contributing to the development of the Gambia.
External factors relating to the implementation by the government of civil society legislation limited the impact of joint dialogue between civil society and government in Gambia. Those local government administrations, which have already responded to advocacy efforts by introducing new services, mostly do so by financing through local tax income. As these resources are scarce, they are usually insufficient to meet the local needs NGOs have identified.
The grantee’s outcome indicators support the project’s achievements. However the ultimate objective of the project – to change government policies in Gambia to support an enabling environment for civil society – was not achieved.
To raise awareness during NGO week in Gambia, NGOS organized exhibition stalls, panel discussions, and live radio broadcasts to explain how they contribute to improvements of basic service delivery. This led to many people who visited asking for more information about how to claim their rights and entitlements. One case involved a local woman, whose stall and contents were seized by the police, when she tried trading vegetables on an informal street market. Proving that she is a regular taxpayer and stating the fact that the town has no official marketplace for women to sell their items, she successfully reclaimed her produce and today still sells in the same place.
The grantee provided very useful, tangible and instrumental services which contributed to the project’s sustainability. The advocacy strategy framework developed very helpfully outlined the process of organising an advocacy campaign. It was very user friendly and explained clearly in a step by step practical way what needed to be done.