DFID parliamentary commitment to engaging civic society

23 September 2016

The UK Government responds to the UK Parliament International Development Committee's inquiry into UK implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals

The UK Government has this week issued its formal response to the UK Parliament International Development Committee’s inquiry into UK implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The SMP fed into this inquiry, is quoted in the final report, and helped launch the report in Westminster. We warmly welcomed the findings of this inquiry in May.

Both the SMP’s submission to DFID’s Civic Society Partnership Review and our submission to this Parliamentary inquiry, focused on the importance of meaningfully engaging civic society both in the UK and the developing world, for the effective delivery of the SDGs.

We therefore strongly welcomed the Committee’s assertion that:

Civil society organisations—from the global north and global south—have a vital part to play in the achievement of the SDGs, through communicating and implementing the Goals, and holding governments to account on progress. We hope the crucial role of civil society in achieving the Goals will be recognised by the Government in the upcoming Civil Society Partnership Review, and that they will work closely with civil society organisations on the implementation of the Goals, both at home and overseas”

And we welcomed the Committee’s recommendations that:

“DFID look closely at its civil society funding mechanisms to ensure: (para 57)

(a) “small NGOs, particularly in the Global South, are not being discriminated against because of difficulties in disbursing and managing small amounts of money…”

(b) “innovation and collaboration to achieve the SDGs are encouraged through flexible funding and reporting;

(c) “CSOs are able to undertake the important task of communicating the SDGs to citizens across the world so that governments are held to account on progress.”

We are delighted to see that the DFID response to this inquiry formally agrees with these recommendations, stating:

“a) The Government will work to ensure that small Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) continue to have access to DFID funding opportunities. These organisations are filling an important niche and the Government recognises that it is often smaller, grassroots organisations that are best able to make the connections on the ground and achieve lasting impact. Many DFID country offices directly fund small local NGOs.

“b) CSO engagement in the Civil Society Partnership Review (CSPR) emphasised their added value in supporting collaboration, learning and flexible responses to emerging opportunities.

“c) In addition to working with CSOs to deliver direct improvements to the lives of people in poor communities across the world, DFID recognises the value in working with CSOs on development policy and international issues. They have a role in supporting people to influence decisions that affect them, and strengthening civic participation.”

We applaud this strong commitment from DFID to engaging wider civic society both in the global north and the global south. We are confident that such commitments will only increase the impact and reach of DFID’s work in countries like Malawi.

The links between Scotland and Malawi are just one example of the significant impact that civic, people-to-people, links can and do have. We believe that more can be done to better connect up this civic activity with the excellent work done by DFID and others in Malawi and, as network, we are keen to offer all possible support to this end.

This isn’t necessarily just about funding. More importantly, it’s about changing the prevailing mindset within formal development efforts to one that values the role wider civic society has - including work done by myriad churches, schools, NGOs, universities, diaspora groups, businesses, hospitals and community groups. Such civic links have often worked with the same communities, with little or no external funding, for decades and have significant insight, knowledge and trust within these communities.

If we can better connect the formal, more top-down, efforts with community-led bottom-up endeavours, we can significantly increase our shared impact, offering a whole-nation approach which encompasses both the governmental and the non-governmental.

We warmly welcome these commitments from DFID and hope that these sentiments are formalised within the forthcoming, and now almost a year delayed, Civic Society Partnership Review.

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