This blog is part of a series of articles written by University of Dayton students, published as part of Counterpart’s Next Generation in Thought Leadership initiative. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not express the views or opinions of Counterpart International.
Zambia suffers from historically high levels of corruption that translate to inequitable governance. Civil society organizations (CSOs) play a crucial role in disrupting these systemic barriers to equity. The government is ineffective in providing quality education and adequate health services, which exponentially impacts marginalized communities. These communities include, but are not limited to, women, children, and individuals diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. In Zambia, international NGOs such as Counterpart International help to strengthen civic engagement and demand for greater transparency and accountability of government service providers.
Counterpart International’s project, Fostering Accountability and Transparency in Zambia (FACT Zambia), funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), aims to improve the capacity of local CSOs to expand their community outreach, impact, and engagement among all stakeholders, including local governments, businesses, and community members. Specifically, FACT Zambia seeks to increase engagement between CSOs and government service providers by promoting inclusive networks amongst local CSOs, historically vulnerable communities, and state officials. It provides adequate resources, in terms of funding and guidance, for CSOs to effectively collaborate with the government to improve sustainable livelihoods, support communities impacted by extractive industries, and increase climate resiliency.
We looked at FACT Zambia from the perspective of Counterpart International’s own methodology, Inclusive Social Accountability (ISA). We kept asking ourselves the same question: Is FACT Zambia creating sustainable impact that leads CSOs to establish self-sufficient, accountable, and inclusive partnerships that create systemic change?
We found that dismantling and deconstructing the current relationships between state and civil society in Zambia is a complex issue, requiring substantial social, financial, and structural support to strengthen the capacity for collective action. The project reached thousands of individuals in multiple, diverse ways. We identified one of the most successful impacts came from the creation and implementation of the Social Accountability Symposium (SAS). In addition to funding the project, USAID co-sponsored the SAS with the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID). This public dialogue aims to create a formal space for marginalized citizens to voice their ideas about how to improve public services in education, healthcare, HIV/AIDS treatments, and building sustainable livelihoods. The SAS engaged high level government actors; the Secretary of the National Development Plan (NDP), Chola Chabala, participated in the symposium, emphasizing how the NDP will strengthen social accountability to increase citizen participation.
Having a formal dialogue space increases citizens’ power and hope for collective change. The SAS demonstrated that strengthening the relationship between citizens and state authorities is possible. It also highlighted that exchange of ideas about the needs of the marginalized communities was required and desired in Zambia.
FACT Zambia created programs and partnerships that generated change. Ultimately, we found, however, that the project fell short of creating a long-term impact in which local CSOs develop self-reliance and transparent sustainable relationships with stakeholders in the public, private, and state realms. To address this, we provide topical recommendations below:
First, FACT Zambia should bolster its comprehensive management of information that fosters community sensitization and transparency to address inadequacies, and contribute to consistent interactions between service-providers and service-users. One tactic could be to share outward-facing quarterly reports with local CSOs in order to address any mistrust and misinformation about Counterpart International’s role in civic engagement.
Second, FACT Zambia should operationalize local knowledge and partner organizations with local donors who have more stake in sustaining relevant and locally supported projects in Zambia. Such an approach would deepen the ties with local stakeholders reinforcing the suitability of the work in response to the conditions in the country.
Third, we believe that when CSOs recognize their unique roles, they are better able to identify their needs and value more collaboration with diverse stakeholders. More attention could be given by the project to help each CSO to clearly define and identify its role in relation to others, thereby increasing productivity within their capacities and resources. Counterpart International could help foster relationships and partnerships between local CSOs by connecting individuals and groups that share similar missions or work within the same sector to exchange tools, knowledge, and resources through an online platform that can connect CSOs across the country.
Finally, though the ISA methodology is geared towards development that benefits marginalized persons, the project did not sufficiently reach women, children, and those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in Zambia. We suggest that the project have intentionally designed components to benefit marginalized communities by helping to address the inequities that they experience. This could involve supporting grassroots CSOs from marginalized communities as much as possible to provide more services to these groups and create spaces where these marginalized groups can be heard and influence the direction of project services. Ultimately, expanding this dimension would increase the depth of civic engagement, combat inequities, enhance the effectiveness of the project, and increase stakeholder awareness and trust.
This research gave us a chance to learn about the challenges that international NGOs face in a country where citizens are not highly engaged in civil society and struggle with working towards collective action and change. FACT Zambia challenged us to think about what barriers are in place that may keep citizens from taking an active role in their local government structures and how these barriers can be deconstructed in order to reach towards a more equitable society.