DFID Civil Society Partnership Review

4 Nov 2016

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We are delighted to welcome the publication of DFID’s Civil Society Partnership Review (CLICK HERE to read in full).  The Scotland Malawi Partnership is in broad support of report’s findings, its tone and content.

We value the consultative approach taken by DFID in the delivery of this review; we recognise that many of the points made by the SMP and our members have been included within the report’s findings; and we warmly welcome the policy commitments in the final report.

The Scotland Malawi Partnership actively engaged the 2015 consultation process for this review and also supported our members to meet with DFID to feed in their views directly.  We recognise many of our members felt considerable frustration at the long delay –almost 12 months- in the publication of the final report.  These are concerns we have represented with DFID and the International Development Committee over the last year.

However, we very much welcome today’s report which includes many of the proposals made by the SMP and our members. 

Rt Hon Priti Patel MP, Secretary of State for International Development, begins the report by recognising the “extraordinary good” Britain’s civil society organisations (CSOs) do around the world, giving these organisations the UK Government’s “strongest support”.   She highlights that British CSOs are “crucial partners and allies” for the UK Government, stating that “the strategic outcome of this review is to enhance the relationship DFID has with existing high performance organisations and to develop new partnerships with a broader range of CSOs”.  All of this we warmly welcome.

 Representing the expressed views of our members, the SMP’s various submissions to this inquiry last year included five key recommendations:

1)       To increase mutual respect and understanding between DFID and civil society.  There are currently very few meaningful connections between DFID’s work and that of CSOs; with a stark divide between the international development work undertaken by government (through DFID) and that undertaken by the people of the UK (through myriad CSOs, including not just NGOs but churches, schools and community groups). This seems to be the result of poor mutual understanding and a seeming lack of willingness within DFID to engage wider civic society, with deep-rooted and culturally-embedded cynicism as to the value of CSO activity.

2)       To take a more far-reaching definition of civil society.  We encourage an understanding of civil society that is not limited to NGOs but includes –inter alia- faith groups, schools, community groups, social enterprises and the diaspora.  While DFID has in the past spoken about engaging these wider elements of civil society, too often it has not looked beyond the NGO community in who it chooses to engage and correspond with.

3)       To make DFID more accessible, transparent and engaging.  We encouraged DFID to be led by civil society in host countries in determining development priorities and then to communicate these priorities and resultant plans far and wide across civic society, including in the UK, inviting collaboration from a broad range of partners.  In this way DFID could lever significant extra resource from CSOs and develop a model of development where government and civic society worked together in active synergy.

4)      To use civil society networks, in the global south and north, as strategic partners.  Civil society networks that are genuinely member-led and representative can be strong partners for DFID to meaningfully engage a broad range of civil society in a transparent manner, and a useful channel to communicate messages and seek consultation.

5)      To do more to engage smaller organisations.  We noted that the majority of UK international development organisations, most especially in Scotland, are deemed too small in practical terms for DFID to engage. These smallest organisations are often deeply embedded within local communities and can offer astonishing impact with incredibly little resource but are currently precluded from engaging DFID because the application processes and due diligence expectations are disproportionate to the scale of these organisations.

As highlighted on pages 8-9 of DFID’s report, a number of the SMP’s above recommendations were also made by a number of other respondents across the UK.

We are delighted to see that elements of each of the above five recommendations are included within DFID’s final report.

Specifically we strongly welcome:

  • DFID’s recognition of the value of engaging civil society both in the UK and the global south.
  • DFID’s strategic objectives to:
    • “Build a diverse, resilient and effective civil society sector and a supportive operating environment”
    • “Build and maintain public support”
    • “Leave no one behind”
    • Help “people in developing countries influence decisions”
  • DFID’s commitment to:
      • “Listen to a range of stakeholders including CSOs”
      • Have a more “strategic and effective” engagement with a “broader range of organisations”:
        • “Introduce a relationship management programme”
        • “Increase regular structured policy dialogue with CSOs”
        • “Host an annual DFID Civic Society open day” for CSOs to engage DFID teams
        • “Hold UK regional roadshows”
        • “Increase opportunities for in-country CSO engagement with DFID country offices”
  • Open up funding “opportunities for organisations working together across civil society, and welcome bids across civil society”:
    • Doubling UK Aid Match, funding “a more diverse range of organisations”, with £30m available in the call closing 31 Jan 2017.
    • Doubling UK Aid Direct, ensuring “even the smallest organisations” are able to apply, with £40m available in the call closing 31 Jan 2017
    • Introducing UK Aid Connect to specifically support coalitions of CSOs, think tanks, private, public and third sector organisations to work better together, and with DFID, with a first funding call in 2017.
    • Introducing UK Aid Volunteers to support volunteering, tripling the number of young people engaging International Citizen Service.

We look forward to working closely with DFID in the coming months and years and hope we, and our members, can be of assistance to:

  • Help raise awareness of, and build support for, the policy commitments made by DFID in this report;
  • Provide channels to promote DFID opportunities and engagements amongst our 1,000+ members across Scotland;
  • Engage in meaningful regular discussions to support the delivery of DFID’s stated strategic aspirations, including by identifying current impediments to engagement amongst some of Scotland’s smaller NGOs and community-led organisations.

We have not yet had any contact from DFID regarding the Civil Society Partnership Review final report but will look to secure a meeting as soon as possible and will encourage active engagement with members of the SMP.