5 ways civil society organisations can help advance the SDGs

Civil society organisations can spur local action by translating the abstract language of the SDGs, writes ADB’s Suzanne Nazal.

Civil society organisations act on the ground to influence national strategies and ultimately the push towards achieving the 2030 Agenda. Image: Pexels

“Leave no one behind” has been the rallying cry of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which feature a cross-cutting focus on inclusiveness and addressing inequalities. This collective 2030 Agenda underscores the importance of working in partnership with civil society in its implementation.

Asian Development Blog and the Asian Development Blog Institute launched a call for papers in December 2017 on the role and contributions of civil society organisations (CSOs) in advancing the global goals. Civil society leaders and academics shared their views on the importance of engaging CSOs to achieve the SDGs.

Below are five takeaways from the papers we received.

1. Innovative, sustainable solutions to address poverty

SDG no. 1 aims to “end poverty in all its forms, everywhere.” Poverty should not be viewed merely as the lack of income and resources, but rather a shortage of interconnected factors resulting in physical and psychological scarceness, lack of voice in decision-making, vulnerability to environmental shocks, and low confidence and self-esteem. 

In such a situation, CSOs can complement government poverty alleviation programmes with community-based, tailored assistance using evidence-based, innovative, and sustained solutions to lift people out of poverty.

International NGO World Vision has been reaching out to thousands of the poorest and most vulnerable households in Armenia. The programme utilises the Graduation Approach, a step-by-step, multi-sector intervention that supports the poorest households to achieve sustained income and move out of extreme poverty within a specified period.

World Vision provided integrated support through life skills coaching, asset transfer, technical skills training, and access to financial services, among others, to the poorest families. Graduation is a two to three year progression to the point of “self-sustainable growth” by addressing the multidimensional underlying causes of trans-generational poverty.

2. Localising the global goals, monitoring progress

The main challenge in advancing the SDGs is to make sure that the goals are effectively translated into national and local policies. In many countries, however, institutional arrangements are not in place to coordinate its implementation at the country level.

Data is key to measuring progress, but collection and reporting systems are lacking. In view of its extensive presence on the ground, CSOs can contribute to localising the SDGs, and monitoring progress.

In Georgia, the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information is laying the foundation for institutionalising a system of scorecards and indicators to monitor the nationalisation and progress of the global goals in the country. A web-based electronic monitoring system for SDGs will enable government institutions to report on the implementation of the global goals. While it is important to ensure the accuracy of these data, the real test is to be able to collect data to measure nationalised SDG indicators.

3. Promoting citizen-centric, collaborative governance

Most CSOs in developing countries in Asia operate at grassroots levels, and thus in general have active engagement with local actors and citizens. They can capitalise on their social mobilisation competencies and strong presence in the local social network to draw feedback from citizens on the delivery of public services.

The concept of “co-production” is a strategic approach, where citizens produce or improve existing services that they use themselves without relying so much on public agencies. Co-production engages citizens not as mere passive recipients of, but as active participants in public services. It is the driving force of an open, and collaborative governance which ensures more inclusive public service delivery.

Orangi Pilot Project, a local NGO, mobilised community members to address the appalling sanitation problems and high child mortality rates in Orangi, a large informal settlement in Karachi, Pakistan. Residents of a lane or street paid for the lane investment in sanitation, while the local government took on responsibility for the sewer network into which this fed, as well as for the waste treatment plants. Neighbourhood sanitation systems, a model of co-produced services, have been successfully installed and used by citizens.

4. Advocating for the poor

In 1995, Disha, an Indian NGO, submitted an analysis of the Gujarat state budget from the perspective of tribal welfare. The study had a significant impact on the state government’s policies and budgets in favour of the poor and marginalised communities, and helped strengthen government accountability and transparency.

Apart from budget planning, CSOs can act as pressure groups to lobby governments to identify development priorities so policies and programmes are based on local needs, as well as available opportunities and capacities. They can influence governments to adopt new and better approaches to addressing poverty and other societal ills.

In Nepal, active civil society participation has helped bring about the abolition of kamaiya in 2000, the bonded labour practice in the country. CSOs are able to put forward citizens’ voices and evidence on the ground to influence national strategies.

5. Empowering women for climate action

Community-based women’s organisations are present in most parts of developing Asia. Social networks thrive where women cooperate and help each other as neighbours and community members. Working toward the wellbeing of its members is a form of social cohesion, which is intrinsic among women. Women’s natural capacity to promote trust creates a sense of belonging, which can be an important asset toward promoting climate resilience. 

This was especially significant after the 2004 tsunami recovery work in the Maldives, which required cooperation among agencies at multiple levels. Women’s Development Committees (WDCs) carried out a participatory verification process of beneficiaries to support the government in reaching out to the most vulnerable. In addition, WDCs in Alifushi island helped obtain farming materials and promote sustainable farming methods in an effort to promote climate change adaptation.  

The process resulted in an increase in awareness of the importance of climate change and disaster-related activities in the years that followed. With adequate technical support, women-led civil society groups such as the WDCs have the potential to play a proactive role in the promotion of the SDGs.

To contribute meaningfully to the SDGs, it is essential to promote an enabling environment for CSOs to operate and engage in “responsive, inclusive, participatory, and representative decision-making,” as stated in SDG no. 16. A positive environment also means better access to resources and improved mechanisms for genuine civil society participation.

Suzanne Nazal is Senior Social Development Officer (Civil Society and Participation), Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department at ADB. This post is republished from the ADB blog

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