Civil Society

  • Why do we need civil society?

    What is civil society? My children always ask me that. Think of what makes a good school. A good school has good teachers, a good curriculum, a good principal, and good buildings and classrooms. It also has extracurricular activities, including student government and clubs where kids can pursue their interests, voice their views and connect with other kids whom they might not meet otherwise.

    Civil society is similar to those extracurricular activities. Usually, a country’s government takes care of the basics, such as defense, education and health care. But it doesn’t provide citizens with a way to organize themselves to do what is important to them or express their views. That’s where civil society comes into play. It is the groups that people form to advocate for the things they believe in and to solve problems in their communities. Societies that do not allow people to connect with one another to solve problems or monitor their governments are less effective, less democratic and less resilient than those that do.

    In very poor schools, kids often stop believing they can succeed. They no longer try to start clubs. Similarly, in societies that have been torn apart by war or authoritarian rule, people often lose faith in their ability to improve their situation. The goal of our work is reigniting that confidence and reactivating people’s capacity to solve their own problems. One key is finding change agents — organizations or individuals who can help rebuild people’s confidence. We try to identify change agents, train them and help them organize to improve schools, the government, the environment or whatever their communities need.

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  • New USAID Policy and FHI 360’s Community YouthMapping Approach Let Young People Drive Development

    The recently released Youth in Development policy from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) puts youth squarely on the map in international development. As a supporter of positive youth development, I was particularly happy to see support for the engagement of youth, “elevating their voices and ensuring meaningful opportunities to contribute to resolving issues and promoting positive change in their communities and nations.”

    Putting young people in the driver’s seat of the development of their communities and countries actually works. Several years ago, on the hot, dusty streets of N’Djamena in Chad, I walked alongside pairs of energetic young people sporting white shirts, blue backpacks and baseball caps. The young women and men were interviewing community members in an outdoor market using a process we taught them called Community YouthMapping (CYM). Their goal was to collect data about gaps in services and opportunities for young people in the neighborhood. The same exercise was taking place throughout N’Djamena in diverse neighborhoods, northern and southern, Christian and Muslim, rich and poor. An analysis of the complete data set would be reported back to the communities and used by the youth and youth-led organizations to develop and implement social, cultural and economic activities for urban youth.

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  • Increasing transparency and participation in the 2012 Senegalese Presidential Election

    International media coverage paints a bleak picture of how fair, open and representative many recent presidential elections have been. Thanks to Programme Gouvernance et Paix (PGP), an FHI 360-led program funded by USAID, the 2012 presidential election in Senegal saw increased transparency and also increased participation from women and youth.

    Senegal is an island of stability in a tumultuous region. Peace and democracy in Senegal have helped it become a hub for regional and international organizations that work in West Africa. And though the country has a long democratic history, there had been a regression in democratic indicators over the last ten years. FHI 360 teamed with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) to support the electoral process in Senegal.

    Before the election occurred, PGP launched a civic awareness campaign that increased voter registration by 120% in Grand Yoff, a working-class suburb of 200,000 in Dakar. This initiative worked with women’s groups and youth organizations to boost voter registration in two underrepresented demographics. The project’s daily dialogue radio campaign was so successful that AFIA FM, one of the 17 implementing stations, incorporated it as a permanent fixture.

    Beyond simply helping the public monitor the election, PGP took proactive steps to increase transparency in the pre-election period. PGP experts worked with leaders of both opposition and ruling parties to amend the election code. Negotiations reached consensus on more than 85% of issues. As a result of these negotiations, a single ballot was approved and a gender parity article was inserted. The next legislative election will, for the first time, provide gender and religious parity in the country’s General Assembly.

    Working closely with print media, PGP trained journalists to monitor elections and provide objective coverage. As a result, those reporters published more than 30 election-related articles in prominent newspapers. Youth and female journalists trained through PGP interviewed presidential candidates about issues important to their respective demographics. Subsequent monitoring by journalists and interested constituencies has confirmed that Macky Sall, the current president, is adhering to the promises he made during these interviews.

    PGP also coordinated a “situation room,” which connected election observers to a centralized technical center. This initiative, funded by USAID and implemented by local CSOs, deployed more than 1,500 election observers for each round of elections. Utilizing the mapping technology of partner OneWorldUK, the program facilitated the first real-time monitoring of a Senegalese election.

    This program exemplifies the FHI 360 tagline, The Science of Improving Lives. We know the context in which we operate — the key actors, stakeholders and issues. We used an evidence-based approach to deliver an integrated solution with measurable impacts.

  • Yesterday morning the White House hosted an open forum on innovation in global development. The discussion panel included Raj Shah (Administrator of USAID), Gayle Smith (Special Assistant to the President & Senior Director of the National Security Council), and Tom Kalil (Deputy Director for Policy, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy & Senior Advisor for Science, Technology, and Innovation, National Economic Council). Questions were taken from the public via Twitter with the hashtag #WHChat and through Facebook.

    FHI 360 submitted four questions through Twitter, and three of them were answered by the panel (though we were not directly mentioned):

    In which areas of development is innovation most urgently needed?

    The panel answered that innovation is urgently need in all sectors, but stressed food security, global health, and climate change as key focus areas.

    How can we best involve youth in the innovation conversation?

    The panel answered that it is important to engage college students in the US through university partnerships. They discussed USAID’s University Engagement program specifically, and talked about harnessing the power of the Internet to engage students in the developing world.

    How can development partners support home-grown innovation in developing countries?

    Similar to the above question, the panel talked about supporting students in developing countries and giving them platforms to voice their opinions. They also said that giving direct support to innovative projects and building networks of partnerships were important to foster home-grown innovation.

    What do you think? Let us know in the comments, or connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.

    For more information about the White House’s innovation initiatives, check out their fact sheet, “Harnessing Innovation for Global Development.”