Counterpart’s Arlene Lear Attends International Civil Society Conference in Azerbaijan

Arlene Lear, middle, before she delivers her opening remarks.

By Maggie Farrand

Arlene Lear, Senior Vice President at Counterpart International, joined other co-sponsors in making opening remarks at the International Conference “Civil Society Development and Public Financing of NGOs:  Best Practices and New Opportunitieswhich took place on November 25-26, 2010 in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Organized by the Council of State Support to Non-Governmental Organizations under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan (The NGO Council), this conference brought together more than 100 participants from Azerbaijan and European countries to share their successful experiences and lessons learned in promoting NGO-government collaboration and partnership in the development of civil society.

Welcoming remarks were made by Azay Gulyiev, Chairman of the NGO Council, followed by opening remarks by Deputy Prime Minister Ali Hasanov and by representatives of other co-sponsors; Keith Simmons, USAID Country Coordinator; Bilge Cankorel, Head of the OSCE Office in Azerbaijan; and Farda Asadov, Head of the Open Society Institute (OSI) office in Azerbaijan.

An opportunity for conversation

The conference encouraged a free exchange of ideas and opinions among international and national NGO leaders and government officials on a range of topics including successful models for government funding of NGOs, collaboration in the provision of social services to vulnerable populations, and effective ways for facilitating international partnerships.

All participants agreed that the conference created an excellent opportunity for participants to learn from one another through substantive exchange of ideas and exposure to challenges and opportunities for civil society development in different country contexts. Following the conference, the NGO Council issued the Baku Declaration, representing the collective spirit of the conference participants in support of some universally accepted guiding principles for civil society development.

NGO-government partnership

Arlene Lear began her remarks by expressing gratitude to the Government of Azerbaijan for the opportunity to participate in the conference.  And she made reference to Counterpart’s fruitful partnership with the Cabinet of Ministers in the provision of humanitarian aid to vulnerable populations, and to the partnership with the Presidential Administration in support of civil society.

Ms. Lear also expressed appreciation to the U.S. Government, especially USAID, for enabling Counterpart to engage with both government and NGOs in Azerbaijan in support of their institutional strengthening, partnership and constructive dialogue.

 

Excerpts from her speech are as follows:

“The NGO Council was an outgrowth of political will on the part of the Government of Azerbaijan to create a permanent mechanism and funding stream for civil society development as well as assistance to vulnerable populations.

I applaud the creation of the NGO Council -- a true reflection of the government’s commitment to making tangible investments in the civil society sector as a means of supporting socio-economic development.  That investment to date has totaled 5,400,000 Manat = USD 6,750,000.

Without this buy-in and investment in civil society on the part of the government at the national level, civil society here, as elsewhere, has limited opportunity for building a domestic donor base, to reduce reliance on foreign funds and ensure longer term sustainability.

I also applaud the government of Azerbaijan’s enthusiastic efforts to gain access to social contracting best practices and mechanisms at work internationally, that can be adapted to the Azerbaijan context  – this has included document research and study tours, with assistance from our partner ICNL, to Croatia, Hungary and the United States and now this conference.

The will of the national government to invest in NGOs, as well as the enhanced capacity of these organizations to serve vulnerable populations and constructively raise constituent interests with government, is laying the foundation for a vibrant civil society sector in Azerbaijan.

A lesson that I’ve learned over the years is that sound leadership has been a key factor in the success of all organizations. In the case of the NGO Council, Azay Guliyev has shown himself to be a strong leader with the ability to assess and address issues in a way that seek benefit for his government as well as his NGO constituents.

Counterpart is truly heartened by the civil society strengthening developments in Azerbaijan; we recognize that there are challenges ahead in fostering greater transparency and accountability on the part of both partners to each other.

There will also be issues about what is eligible for funding, among many other challenges to be faced…But this is normal in most societies where social contracting is taking place.

The real challenge is to end up in place where mutual self interest is being served.”

December 1st, 2010 | Tags: Arlene Lear, Azerbaijan, Baku, civil society, conference | Category: | Leave a comment

Counterpart Staff Walk for the Homeless

By Christopher Pearson

This past Saturday, Counterpart Staff braved the chilly fall weather to participate in the Fannie Mae Help the Homeless Walk. As part of “Volunteer Counterpart,” an organizational initiative that encourages one volunteer activity at least 4 times a year, staff joined the Counterpart team for the Help the Homeless walk, pledging $25 dollars to help homeless organizations throughout the DC area. The event route took us around the tidal basin, past the Washington Monument, and back towards the Capitol. With 14,000 other participants, this event served as a unique opportunity for Counterpart staff to give something back to their community.

Over the course of 5 kilometers, staff developed a strong sense of camaraderie fueled by the active participation of none other than our new President and CEO, Joan Parker. Conversations were struck, calories were burned, awareness was made and finish lines were crossed.

Several family members and friends of Counterpart employees also chose to join their loved ones in helping to combat homelessness in the District. In all, 17 Counterpart staff, family and friends attended the event.

Counterpart staff donated a total of $1,180 to local organizations serving people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless in the DC area. Click here to learn more about the Help the Homeless program.

 

Christopher Pearson is a Program Coordinator in Civil Society. He has been at Counterpart since 2009.

November 23rd, 2010 | Tags: | Category: Happenings | Leave a comment

White House Advisor Commends Counterpart’s Garima Project in India

Valerie Jarrett, middle, with Counterpart Country Director, Tara Sharma, and Garima Staff

Valerie Jarrett, middle, and to her left, Counterpart Country Director, Tara Sharma, are joined by other women activists.

By Maggie Farrand

Valerie Jarrett, the Senior Advisor to the United States President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, accompanied President Obama on his trip to Asia this past week, making stops in India, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan.

While Obama’s focus was developing trade relations and attending the G20 summit in South Korea, Jarrett used this opportunity to meet with several women’s organizations in Mumbai and New Delhi.  At each location, Jarrett led a roundtable discussion with local women’s empowerment experts – social activists, development leaders – on the importance of empowering women as a way to improve their economic prospects and overall well-being.

Tara Sharma, Counterpart International’s Chief of Party for the Garima Project, attended the roundtable in New Delhi and presented the accomplishments of Garima in empowering women to take charge of their safety and health.

“It was wonderful to meet a leader with such great positive thoughts and veracity for the empowerment of women around the world,” Ms. Sharma notes.

Praise for Garima

Jarrett, in her most recent White House blog entry, praised the Garima project for its strides in empowering both women and men, girls and boys, on the issues of gender-based violence and laws in place to protect women’s rights.

Jarrett writes, “[Garima] focuses on Muslim women and gender-based violence from the human rights perspective. The Garima Project also focuses on men and boys as well….A significant part of [Garima’s work] work to eliminate gender-based violence includes raising awareness among doctors providing health services to victims of GBV, as well as targeting the judicial sector with legal awareness programs.”

Counterpart's Garima project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID),works to provide institutional support to Indian government agencies and community-based organizations to further strengthen Indian women's ability to proactively fight against gender-based violence; support women's ability to address reproductive health issues more effectively; and to increase women's access to and information about the justice system.

Garima (“dignity” in Hindi) operates in Delhi, Karnataka and Rajasthan. Counterpart implements Garima in partnership with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES). The project is Counterpart's first project under the Global Civil Society Strengthening Leader with Associates(LWA).

The full account of Valerie Jarrett’s trip can be found on the White House blog.

November 23rd, 2010 | Tags: | Category: | Leave a comment

Coral Gardens: A Sustainable Step to Healthy Coral Reefs and Empowered Communities

By Maggie Farrand

Coral reefs are among the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on Earth, providing habitat and nurseries for marine life, protecting coasts and shorelines from storms and contributing to local economies through tourism and fishing. Furthermore, reef systems provide protein to tens of millions of people, create jobs and contribute billions of dollars to the economy worldwide.

Coral at risk

However coral reefs globally are at risk. In the Caribbean, Staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) and Elkhorn (A. palmata) corals are in decline. Only thirty years ago these corals comprised 70 percent of reefs in the region. Since 1980, Caribbean reef populations have collapsed mainly due to overfishing, agricultural run-off and bleaching from increasing ocean temperatures.

In May 2006, Staghorn andElkhorn corals were added to the U.S. endangered species list— the first such listing for reef building corals. Both species have declined 80 to 99 percent from historical populations, negatively impacting the structure and function of reefs – making it so they are unable to recover without intervention.

Counterpart's role

Counterpart International is a leader in the emerging field of coral restoration – our Coral Gardens program is developing low-tech, cost-effective systems for growing and transplanting corals to restore degraded reef ecosystems and community-based fisheries. Counterpart is working to save these critical species from extinction by developing healthy, localized reef patches with capacity for successful regeneration.

We have implemented Coral Garden Reef Restoration activities over the past ten years, resulting in 36 projects in eight countries spanning the Pacific and the Caribbean. This work has generated impressive results—at minimum, Counterpart has produced 5–12 times the original amount of coral at each site and has demonstrated  a five-fold increase in fish and shellfish abundance in targeted sites, with corresponding nutritional and economic benefits for local communities.

Counterpart’s Coral Gardens approach combines strategies for sustainable management of marine ecosystems with restoration of coral reefs and associated habitats where appropriate: 

  • Nurseries are established by trimming coral fragments from existing wild populations then securing them on underwater structures.
  • The original coral is grown over a number of years and trimmed or propagated every 9 – 12 months, increasing the original fragments by ten times.
  • Second generation corals are planted back onto the reef and monitored for overall health and reproduction potential.

Meanwhile, the nursery itself can reach maturity and spawn, releasing millions of coral larvae into the ocean, further contributing to the natural restoration process.

A comprehensive approach

Aside from these specific techniques, the Coral Gardens program is strengthened as a whole when restoration is accompanied by community engagement. Engaged communities take on a sense of ownership, which leads to an empowered constituency that can advocate for strengthened oversight, resource management and sustainable livelihoods that greatly contribute to national economies through fisheries and tourism.

Climate change has been negatively affecting global ecosystems, like coral reefs, for decades. However, projects that implement sustainable regeneration of natural habitats with committed community collaboration are a step in the right direction. Through initiatives like Coral Gardens, Counterpart is doing its part in adapting to climate change.

Want to know how you can do your part?

  1. Learn more about our Coral Gardens initiatives around the world.
  2. Donate to Counterpart International’s coral reef restoration efforts.
  3. Listen to our Coral Gardens podcast.
  4. Contact Counterpart International with questions.

November 8th, 2010 | Tags: acropora, coral, coral gardens, coral reef, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Honduras, Jamaica | Category: | Leave a comment

Trip Report: Brushing Away the Dust

This first-person account is part of a regular series of how Counterpart works in the field. This story is by Brian LeCuyer, Program Assistant.

Kabul in August is a city caked in a film of dry dust that seems thicker than air. That was the first thing I noticed when I got off the plane in Afghanistan. The dirt swirled and blew, blending in with the nearby barren brown hills.

Cleaning away the layer of never-ending dust is an impossible task, but the people of Afghanistan constantly work at it. In the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood, local Afghans spray water on the walkways and patios outside their homes to rinse it away. Outdoor tables in the household garden are tended to every five minutes to ensure they stay clean for an evening meal. Cars are wiped down every morning to remove the grime.

I arrived in Kabul in August, about a month before the Parliamentary elections, to support Counterpart’s Support to the Electoral Process in Afghanistan Program (STEP) which fights the general lack of knowledge about governance, the electoral process and democracy that agitates and inhibits Afghanistan’s progress.

Since the beginning of 2009, STEP’s civic education campaign has met with almost 2 million Afghan voters to explain the basic concepts that underlie a free and open society. These meetings often happen in small villages in rural districts – places tucked between two mountain ridges that are easier to reach by donkey than by car. Meetings are led by local Afghans, who have been trained by Counterpart, and all attendees are provided with education materials tailored specifically for them- the average Afghani voter.

The lasting impression from my time in Kabul was the dedication and passion of our local staff. They want to see the STEP program succeed – they want to help build a country where their fellow citizens are educated and have a voice in their government. They were constantly discussing how STEP could educate more people and motivate more Afghanis to participate in the civic process. Every discussion and every decision was centered on how STEP could do the greatest good.

They work tirelessly, despite the obstacles before them. The recent Parliamentary elections took place in a physically insecure environment, and Afghanistan’s future seems to get hazier with each day, something that has nothing to do with dirt in the air. It has everything to do with a lack of security, a lack of justice and an infestation of corruption.

Counterpart’s STEP team does everything it can to promote the ideas of good governance, citizen participation and democracy in this insecure environment. And, just like cleaning away the layer of dust, there is always more work to do: another village to educate, another training to lead, another civic education brochure to distribute. Just like with the dust, STEP’s task may seem to never end, but because of the hard work and dedication of the STEP staff, Afghanistan’s future is not so hopeless.

Learn more about our STEP program in Afghanistan.

October 27th, 2010 | Tags: Afghanistan, Brian LeCuyer, civic education, dust, elections, Kabul, STEP, trip report | Category: From the Field | Leave a comment

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