Tips “4” Social Protection

Design is more important than affordability. Regarding? Well, arguably anything. But let’s consider social protection.

Let’s first about the fact that approximately 55% of the world’s population does not have full social protection (that’s about 4 billion people). Let’s also think about the reality that in developing contexts or developing countries, the percentage of national budgets allocated to local services is an average of 2% (versus an average of 50% in developing contexts or countries).

For a world where all persons have social protection, the cost exceeds affordability and design is key.

This was the theme of the recently completed 57th Commission on Social Development (CSocD): addressing inequalities and challenges to social inclusion through fiscal, wage and social protection policies. It provided important, complex dialogue between Member States, civil society and UN agencies with less than 11 years left to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

It was a Commission that automatically focused on integrated development approaches, policies and the scalable value of community led programming. From the perspective of the Movement for Community-led Development, this was a Commission that highlighted how the local level and community-led designs can fill the resourcing gap to fund much needed social protection.

During CSocD, the Movement dedicated time to this discussion in an event titled “Building Effective Social Accountability Mechanisms at the Local Level to Ensure Social Protection.” Featuring development experts from Church World Service, América Solidaria, and The Hunger Project, the session challenged attendees to explore what social protection needs to look like at the local level and how local persons can mobilize.

Mary Kate Costello of The Hunger Project stated that “social protection at the local level is a conversation of society’s responsibility, will and capacity – as much as it is that of the government and social security payment schemes within the formal work sector.” Regardless of local government services, there is a need for communities and community processes to be 1) inclusive, and; 2) transparent.

Using an example from The Hunger Project’s programming in India, Mary Kate discussed how community groups responsible for social security beneficiary lists reformed their processes to cross-check that persons deceased or no longer needing support were removed and replaced with “low caste” peoples. In Rajasthan, alongside the National Rural Employment Scheme, these beneficiary lists and criteria to qualify are literally painted on the side of the panchayat office for everyone to see.

Knowing your rights. This is a critical component to reach full coverage of social protection. How else can people hold their governments and communities accountable for their commitments and responsibilities? Beyond placing criteria for all to see and/or read [to one another], it duly prudent for civil society to conduct workshops on political rights. This is what América Solidaria carries out in Chile. They hold “know-your-rights training workshops” and also one-on-one legal consultations for employability. Through strong, dependable and fruitful employment, people can pursue their own social protection – regardless of government coverage for social protection.

Assessing what a community and its citizens already have is a crucial step in assessing gaps in social protection, a method that Church World Service (CWS) applies to its global programming. This needs-based assessments at the outset of programming has proven especially useful in cases of migrant assistance. CWS is able to not only determine what needs remain, but also what skills and drivers are present among migrant populations. This can help inform what leadership roles migrants can take in their new settlements, as well as build safe space for their voice and agency.

Andrew Fuys, Senior Director of Global Migration for CWS, discussed the important role of faith leaders in building persons’ voice to ensure their social protection. Faith leaders are often key leaders in local communities, and migrant persons in developing contexts – never mind most people in developing contexts – are persons of faith. In helping to establish “voice allies” between faith leaders and migrant persons, CWS can help to identify joint action toward inclusive social protection.

Fostering voice allies. Building rights awareness. Ensuring transparency of processes. These are key elements of mobilizing social accountability mechanisms for inclusive social protection. This design prevails affordability, especially at the local level.

Integration and Community Leadership Needs More Than Just Funding Changes

Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 5.57.12 PMThe nature of our world is multi-nodal and, with technology, today’s means of accountability, collaboration, communication and fulfillment of responsibilities are evolving to reflect integration. International development needs to catch up – quickly. Locus, Pact, Church World Service, and The Hunger Project – all members of the international Movement for Community-led Development – addressed this in a comprehensive discussion at the United Nations during the 56th Commission on Social Development.

In looking at respective research and successes from integration, panelists and attendees identified a shared belief that integrated, community-led development is the effective and most dignified approach needed to achieve sustainable development for all. What ensued in discussion around means toward implementation was not typical banter about shifting funding streams and enabling conducive policy environments. Yes, of course that came up. But, robust discourse focused mostly on how development professionals should carry out their work by helping community members live authentically as thee leaders in our collaborative work toward the SDGs.

“When people tell me they will build capacity of communities, I say, ‘Who told you the community doesn’t have capacity?'” MacBain Mkandawire, Executive Director, Youth Net and Counseling, revealed the most obvious “secret” to development professionals: communities already have the capacity [and thirst] to incur their sustainable development. Our work should aim to compliment work already happening at the local level through collaboration with community leaders, not competition or programmatic control over them.

“People say, let us give voice to the voiceless. Well, they are not voiceless. We just haven’t talked to them.” Oyebisi Ohuseyi, Executive Director of Nigeria’s Network for NGOs, revealed the second “secret”: community members already behold opinions, grievances, solutions and priorities. In order to foster true ownership and agency, community partners should be the ones prioritizing which development issues matter most to them. And inarguably, communities have the deepest knowledge of their context and can offer the best insights on [most appropriate] ways forward.

Mkandawire added “Before we go to donors, we should be asking ourselves what do we need to change [in our work as development professionals]?” He was acknowledging that there are multiple layers of power and privilege toward realizing community-led development.

Therefore, the development community and its many stakeholders are called to move from the less helpful “outside expert-driven” tendencies and donor pandering toward budgeting and programs with a bedrock of fostering community agency and expertise. Ultimately, this means we need a new kind of capacity development professional: one able to convene, befriend, facilitate, energize, accompany, co-learn, and co-create with community members “with [sincere] reverence and respect.”

The discussion also brought attention to unrealistic time constraints and reporting windows that strap capacity, ultimately hindering sustainable change. Even incremental progress is valuable and worthwhile, as was described by a woman from and working in Nepal. She detailed an extensive self-managed cooperative thriving with over 1,000 members—but mostly after 18 years of incremental progress.

In reflecting on the discussion, the panel moderator, Ellie Price, Coordinator of Locus Coalition, noted “It is easy to get bogged down in the technicalities of our work, or the limitations imposed by global power structures.” This makes it near impossible to represent and act on views or experiences other than your own.

The event’s discussion shed action-oriented light. Members of the Movement for Community-led Development are dedicated to mobilizing and collaborating with local community leaders. Bringing government ownership to community-led processes is the Movement’s current priority to achieve sustainable development.

Rattling top-down power structures among stakeholders and influencing strongly devolved political systems will not only garner community leadership, but also community ownership and due dignity as people – rightfully so – steer their own development process.

UNGA 72: 193 Member States, 9 Days of Debate, 1 Sustainable Development Agenda

The annual General Assembly is like drinking water from a fire hose. There are endless side events, report launches, closed meetings, celebratory receptions and of course the infamous General Debate. This year, more than half of the world’s Heads of State traveled to UN Headquarters in New York City to discuss the most pressing challenges their countries face, what must be tackled together, and reaffirm commitments to global development and humanitarian response.

Every moment must be high-leverage, strategic and seemingly tireless. This even extends to diplomats’ attire, as western suits pale in comparison to the inviting, professional and traditional dress donned by men and women at all levels of diplomacy from across the globe.

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The 72nd General Assembly of the United Nations convened at a time of severe natural disasters, economic sanctions against North Korea, the largest number of migrants in recorded history, and ongoing politically-driven conflict. At the core is how UN Member States will coordinate together and with other stakeholders to uphold their commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals, and at the helm is progressive feminist Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (thank goodness).

Below, are take-aways from a civil society perspective through the eyes of a UN Representative familiar to life inside the UN when less of the world is watching.

Press Press Press – It seems this year the press had unprecedented interest in covering the annual dialogues and commitments by nearly 100 Heads of State. It is reasonable to posit that this was largely due to the anticipation of President Trump’s official remarks to the General Assembly given the growing bone of contention with North Korea. As the Trump Administration threatens to cut US funding of the UN as the world’s largest contributor, the media is recognizing the world’s concerns around economic and political stability – especially amidst the pressing issues of global migration and growing food insecurity.

Shrinking Access for Civil Society – It is not new that civil society representatives require secondary badges or meeting passes to gain entry to UN Headquarters during the General Assembly; it must be a heavily secured area given the mass numbers of Heads of State and other high level world leaders. The UN may have the best intentions to ensure civil society access, but the timing and location of pass distribution has become increasingly insufficient and inconvenient.

Movement inside UN Headquarters was nearly impossible without a pass for each specific area. Passes for events were only available outside the secured areas, so thousands of civil society delegates to UNGA72 had to leave UN Headquarters – sometimes several times in one day – and re-enter, having to go through security again. Passes for meeting and event registrants were rarely available until the meetings’ start time, making obtaining passes for overlapping meetings nearly impossible. Even when passes were made available in days prior to their appointed time, this often required sacrificing other events to pick them up. Civil society, and anyone attending UNGA, should not have to be overly selective with what they attend, ultimately forcing to remove one’s voice from many discussions.

My suggestion would be secondary pick-up points for passes within UN Headquarters and after the start-time of meetings/events (again, meetings overlap), so those already inside can obtain them easily and move efficiently inside Headquarters without worsening security lines.

IMG_1588Youth Getting Closer with World Leaders – The Office of the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth organized the annual High Level Young Leaders x World Leaders Breakfast at UN Headquarters on Tuesday, 19 September. The breakfast smoothly integrated young leaders with Heads of State, Ministers, senior representatives of civil society, academia, the private sector and the UN System to engage in thoughtful dialogue as peers and co-leaders in development. Before the flags went up, The Hunger Project’s Senior Policy Analyst and UN Representative, Mary Kate Costello, was seated as a civil society youth representative with Corinne Woods, Director of Communications for World Food Programme (WFP) and Flemming Besenbacher, Chairman of Carlsberg. Significant outcomes included agreement that world leaders need to “take risk” and place youth into [paid] decision making roles within government offices, greater decision making responsibilities in companies and organizations, and non-tokenistic seats on Boards. The Millennial Generation has proved itself capable to be an exponentially impactful work force with meaningful, innovative, account-driving and sustainable efforts to achieve the SDGs.

US Administration Shifting Development Priorities – After eight years of organized, gender-focused leadership under President Barack Obama, civil society had hoped President Trump would reiterate the US’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals and express an ongoing priority for gender equality. Focus was instead placed on the US increasing reciprocal development partnerships – which is largely unrealistic and counterproductive in the short-term, and singling out certain nations for their abhorrent preservation of human rights. Standing at a podium which is an edifice of peace and diplomacy, the US president shockingly promised to “destroy” innocent people of North Korea out of a “loss” for reasonable negotiation with dictator, Kim Jong-un. <Shudder>

This shift in foreign policy and development assistance priorities further strengthens the need for community-leadership, country ownership, and transparent fiscal and political devolution to the most local levels. Decreasing dependency on top-down funding and implementation models of development are likely to be more successful at leaving no one behind within the time allotted to achieve the SDGs.  

Private Sector Continues on the Sidelines – Outside of UN Headquarters, large corporations hosted strategic meetings with a variety of stakeholders, including partners and thought leaders from civil society and academia, to discuss collective solutions on issues such as vector-borne illnesses and adolescent violence and mental health. Still, the UN writ-large – certain agencies withstanding – seems to fall short in engaging in meaningful and actionable discourse with influential and wealthy private sector actors despite the mandate of SDG 17. The pace, language and respective purposes in government relations are still largely uncomplimentary and “clunky” to link together.  

Admitting Mistakes and GapsLocus, a coalition of public and private international development organizations dedicated to advancing the profile of integrated and locally driven solutions, hosted a unique reception on Tuesday, 19 September, in which a valuable publication was launched: Lessons Learned the Hard Way. While nonprofits and international organizations continue to seek funding for their work, it inarguably behooves their future implementation to share challenges, failures and shortcomings to date. This can mitigate inefficiency, nepotism, and cultural clashes. Ultimately, success is still being found amidst lessons learned as we continue with courage in our convictions.

Women and Girls Remain a Priority – Side events hosted by UN Missions, agencies andcivil society were overwhelmingly (thank goodness) focused on the inarguable need to prioritize the empowerment of women and girls. Save the Children and International Center for Research on Women hosted an expert roundtable to discuss the ongoing issue of sustainably financing efforts toward gender equality. The meeting was convened to revisit the UN’s progress in establishing a UN task force, proposed by civil society.

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Every Woman Every Child (EWEC) erected an entire hub for discussions around gender equality on the UN’s North Lawn. A welcoming and attractive center sat along the East River, complete with outdoor seating for impromptu meetings and much needed UNGA decompression. EWEC launched a comprehensive progress report on partnerships to advance women and children’s health which outlines record progress with $45billion disbursed since 2010. The keys seem to be 1) evidence-based interventions, and; 2) human rights-based strategies. Living out the fact that women’s rights are human rights is not only proving successful, but also economically and politically fruitful.     

Data and Tech Continue as Hot Topics – Chances are you are reading this from a [smart] phone, if not a computer or tablet. Technology and technological communication is no longer only for the well-off or well-located persons: 75% of the world’s population use mobile phones and nearly 50% of the global population uses the internet. Digital literacy is crucial. Making use of people’s growing widespread access to and use of technological communication is a linchpin in making rapid and sustainable strides in development.

High-level discussions around why and how to leverage data and technology focused on birth registration, voter registration, farmers’ access to weather predictions, daily updates of competitive rates for certain goods and services, and gathering and assessing data to track progress or stagnation of efforts. One panelist stated “To count, you must be counted.” Of course all people behold inherent dignity by being humans, but they risk ineligibility for social services or program participation if they are not registered at birth and added to the demographic data of their country or tracked in a program.

SDGs Turned 2! – In marking any anniversary of the SDGs, there is precedent to expect improvement. However, 2017 has seen increasing conflict and worsening effects of climate change. The consequences are sobering: the number of food insecure people has gone up 35% since 2016. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN notes that while progress is being made in the areas of malnutrition attributed stunting and wasting, malnutrition attributed to obesity and overweight continues to climb in almost every country.

As the world continues to face natural disasters with biblical devastation, government accountability and transparency is growing as an urgent area to be addressed. Corruption is obvious in the rubble of poorly constructed or unlawfully licensed commercial and residential buildings. In emergency response, the importance of resilient communities and organized local government is proving to be the most life-saving and economically rejuvenating where such has been established.

Onward we go in achieving the SDGs, and upward we must go in holding our governments to account to their commitment to the 2030 Agenda.

Bracing for Impact: Proposed Budget Cuts to USAID and the State Department

By: @alovelyimperfection

President Donald Trump released his first formal proposed budget to Congress on 16 March 2017. As promised, the “America First” budget is proposing $54 billion in cuts throughout different federal government agencies and programs to offset an increase to the defense budget. Here is a snapshot of some departments that will be experiencing budget cuts: President Donald Trump’s Proposed Budget Cuts.

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Department Cuts. n.d. CNN Politics. CNN. Web. 17 Mar. 2017. http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/16/politics/trump-budget-cuts/

President Trump wants to reduce foreign aid, and has reflected this by proposing a 31.4% cut to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a 28.7% cut to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). If Congress approves this budget, it would cut funding for international development programs and the World Bank. It would also remove funding from programs aimed at combating climate change, therefore, lowering U.S. support to the United Nations’ climate change programs.

Direct impact on Movement for Community-led Development (CLD):

Independent agencies, such as the U.S. African Development Foundation, U.S. Trade and Development Agency, Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the United States Institute of Peace have been suggested for elimination. These agencies provide economic support, childhood development, education and food security, amongst other development services to communities throughout Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Many CLD members’ programs rely on the financial support of USAID, the State Department and numerous independent agencies to support their missions.

It is imperative that Congress does not allow this blueprint to pass because of the negative repercussions it will have on U.S. foreign policy priorities and international development goals.

Additionally, CLD begins and ends with the empowerment of women for gender parity. These budget cuts – receiving strong criticism from both Republicans and Democrats – would jeopardize years of progression that development programs have achieved, particularly in the areas of reproductive and sexual health and gender equality.

The ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) rely heavily on investments and resources from the United States. The influence of U.S. foreign policy garners crucial support from communities and other donor countries around the world.

The Trump Administration’s budget proposal focuses on allocating the majority of federal funds towards defense spending. The international development community must stress to Congress that USAID and the State Department are critical implementers in protecting the United States from foreign attacks or additional immigration pressure.