Nikhil Dutta, Legal Advisor, Global Programs, ICNL
May 20, 2022
Civil society is uniquely well-equipped to play a leading role in development and humanitarian assistance efforts, and in promoting the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In all too many countries, though, civil society is subject to heavy constraints, and is hampered from leading and contributing to development and humanitarian assistance initiatives.
A groundbreaking recent policy instrument can help change this situation. In July 2021, the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) – a group of the world’s major donor countries – adopted the OECD DAC Recommendation on Enabling Civil Society in Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Assistance. The Recommendation sets out 28 key principles that donor governments and other stakeholders should follow to respect, protect, and promote civic space; support and engage with civil society; and incentivize CSO effectiveness, transparency, and accountability. As Brian Tomlinson notes in his accompanying article in this newsletter, the Recommendation is the DAC’s first-ever standard on enabling civil society.
The Recommendation provides a valuable source of best practices and principles to expand civic space and empower civil society, from supporting greater and more inclusive civil society participation in public policy (Pillar One, Paragraph 9), to investing in the leadership of local civil society actors (Pillar Two, Paragraph 4), to encouraging voluntary initiatives by CSOs to collaborate and coordinate amongst themselves and with partner country governments (Pillar Three, Paragraph 7). Other topics addressed by the Recommendation include countering mis- and dis-information, preventing misapplication of anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing (AML/CTF) standards, addressing digital divides, and increasing the availability of core and program-based support to civil society partners.
The Recommendation sets out a practical blueprint, endorsed by the world’s major donor countries, for how to enable civil society in development cooperation and humanitarian assistance – providing principles and guidance that donor governments, partner governments, civil society, and other stakeholders can use to remove constraints on civil society and enable the exercise of civic freedoms. The Recommendation thus provides a powerful tool that civil society actors in partner countries can deploy, in tandem with their own advocacy and initiatives, to expand civic space and empower civil society.
ICNL has been exploring potential engagements led by civil society partners in DAC recipient countries that would deploy the Recommendation to expand civic space and empower civil society in local contexts. Partners have proposed an array of possible initiatives making use of the Recommendation to accomplish this goal, including:
- Using the Recommendation as an assessment tool to identify deficits in the local enabling environment for civil society and gaps in relevant programming by international donors, and convening representatives of donors, national governments, and civil society to agree on priority actions and programs to address these deficits and gaps.
- Conducting advocacy with local government representatives to urge the incorporation of principles from the Recommendation into national development strategies and policies.
- Convening civil society representatives to review the elements of Pillar III of the Recommendation, on incentivizing CSO effectiveness, transparency, and accountability, and agree on collective strategies for promoting these qualities in the civic sector.
- Establishing mechanisms for continued dialogue and coordination between civil society, national government, and donors on key issues addressed by the Recommendation.
- Developing and disseminating strategy papers and model policies for applying the Recommendation amongst relevant donor, government, and civil society stakeholders.
The Recommendation represents a valuable consensus statement on how to enable civil society in development cooperation and humanitarian assistance – a statement that can be used to promote effective dialogue and joint strategies between civil society, international donors, and national governments on policies and programs to expand civic space. Where discussions between these important partners on the enabling environment for civil society have gotten stuck, the Recommendation can help get collaborative efforts back on track, and ground these efforts in the specific conditions needed to empower civil society described in the Recommendation.
ICNL looks forward to working with local partners to deploy the Recommendation to expand civic space and empower civil society in partner countries and territories, and to share learning from these efforts with CSO partners and other stakeholders. The Recommendation is a tool that can help enable civil society in development cooperation and humanitarian assistance. Realizing its promise depends not only on implementation by DAC members, but on proactive use and adaptation of the Recommendation by local civil society.