When Governance is NOT Government:How Collaborative Governance Promotes Democracy and Transparency

Written by Rick O’Sullivan on August 21st, 2019.

Rick O’Sullivan provided a presentation at USAID around some findings on how best to support civil society, and key considerations that are often missed by donors. He challenged many assumptions that we typically hold around how civil society organizations can garner resources and for what, what is effective in their efforts to change social and economic behaviors, and why we let them down by directing them to be “advocates and watchdogs” rather than solution brokers.

A few highlights that really resonated with the audience:

  • Worldwide, CSOs raise a substantial portion of their funds from organizing trainings or events, or charging fees for certifications. It is irresponsible to suggest that they can raise all the funds they need from simply membership fees or donations.
  • Most of the world’s water is governed by civil society, as are most of the regulations in effect in the US. Civil society needs to be understood as having a role in governing society, not just as an instrument to change government law or policy.
  • Many CSOs directly develop solutions – examples included the Afghan Midwife Association and Goodweave International in India. In both cases, civil society developed a necessary service (standards in Afghanistan for midwife skills, validation in India that carpets were not made with child labor) and approached those with power afterwards (the Ministry of Health in Afghanistan, and large Western buyers from local suppliers of carpets in India) to say “I can do something for you, I just need your endorsement/buy-in.” The midwives association in Afghanistan became the certifier of midwives – removing a potential area for corruption, since they were more invested in the outcome – with the government’s OK. Goodweave International approached local suppliers with the ability to earn more if their carpets were certified child labor free, including spot inspections – and got access because the buyers were already on board.
  • The ability of civil society to influence behavior is their most valuable source of revenue. The Afghan Midwives did not simply hand over standards to the government, but asked to have a role in certifying; this created a revenue stream of offering training to meet the standards. Similarly, Goodweave International receives fees out of the value-add that its certification provides.
  • With solutions available and credibility established, these types of partners prove far more influential over the long run than pure advocacy or watchdog groups. And by taking some services out of the government domain and directly into civil society co-governance, they limit corruption not by complaining about it but by eliminating the opportunities for it.

Overall, this was a very thought provoking presentation full of rich details. It definitely changed my perception of how civil society can best be part of a country’s journey to self-reliance – not as an instrument to hold government accountable, but as a source of good governance themselves. I encourage reviewing the handouts and slides attached, and reaching out to Rick at Change Management Solutions for more information at rosullivan@harnesschange.net

The original article was posted on USAID Learning Lab.