VI. Conclusions and Recommendations
From TrustAfrica wiki - African Regional Organizations
Summary of Findings
The survey confirms that regional approaches are gaining in currency in Africa as an important dimension of the quest for sustainable development. This is evident in efforts among AROs to reconfigure the continental institutional landscape and forge new collaboration arrangements. The exponential growth among non-state actors and the emergence of trans-national African civil society, with multiple spaces opening up for CSO participation, also bears out this trend.
These developments have attracted growing interest among donors of different types in supporting regional approaches as a strategy to leverage country programs—which attract by far the greatest proportion of funding from bilateral and multilaterals donors. In particular, private foundations have maintained a long-standing commitment to NGOs and CSOs, notably in the population and human rights fields, but also to a lesser extent in environment and peace and security, with a new and emerging interest in governance. The survey has identified a number of gaps that provide the opportunity for donors, especially private foundations, to help make a difference in the regional domain in Africa. These include the widespread lack of institutional capacity; questions over the relevance of regional programming amid a proliferation of actors; the endemic problem of non-compliance with continental norms and standards; the absence of systems to assess medium- and long-run outcome-related impact; concerns over levels and type of funding; and a deficit in knowledge sharing and collaboration among continentally-focused organizations.
The survey documented and analyzed progress in each of the themes, along with the different challenges faced. The growing number of organizations working across the themes as well as in other areas not specifically covered by the survey—such as trade and regional integration, gender and social development, and economic and social policy—speaks to the fundamentally cross-cutting nature of Africa’s development challenges. As such, each theme should be viewed less as a disciplinary barrier and more as part of an overarching sustainable development nexus.
With the above summary of findings in mind, the challenge for private foundations is to build on the strong foundations already established by previous support to ensure a stronger, more coherent, interlinked, and sustainable landscape in Africa. While the emphasis should be on civil society, this should not preclude selective, issue-specific donor engagement with AROs, particularly on issues affecting the ability of citizens to fully participate in development decisions.
The recommendations that follow are primarily targeted at private foundations, the primary audience of the survey. Nevertheless, and in the process, they also include recommendations for CSOs, think tanks and research institutes. In light of the cross-cutting nature of the gaps and challenges identified, and given the differences in remit from one foundation to another, the recommendations are deliberately strategic, offering concrete proposals without being too prescriptive.
1. Build Sustainable Capacity: The question of capacity is fundamental to the future effectiveness of regional institutions and initiatives. In light of the proliferation of actors, the scale and scope of need is sizeable. Capacity encompasses institutional as well as human capacity and skills development, and relates to recruitment and staff retention, career and succession planning, internal training, administrative, financial and reporting systems, monitoring and evaluation, and technology, among other aspects.
In response to this challenge, and to ensure the sustainability of the field, private foundations should place special emphasis on supporting institutional capacity as a core component of funding decisions, particularly as related to NGOs and CSOs. Where the need exists, such support should be predicated on addressing systemic organizational and human capacity constraints, with a view to setting the organizations in question on a sustainable path.
Foundations should develop clear benchmarks for institutional sustainability and use their networks of contacts to leverage the best available technical expertise to support their investments. Such support should be medium to long-term in duration. It may be necessary for foundations to ring-fence specific funding dedicated to strengthening institutional capacity. Such a dedicated fund could, for example, focus on a long-term effort to build the capacity of civil society to influence regional norms, standards, and initiatives, or help build civil society capacity to monitor and evaluate impact on outcome.
AROs and CSOs should recognize the centrality of institutional sustainability to the success of their missions, and should each develop a phased multi-year institutional strengthening strategy that is in sync with their respective work programs, highlighting the contingencies between program delivery milestones and incremental increases in institutional capacity. Proposals submitted to donors for core support should routinely include such multi-year strategies.
2. Ensure Stable and Predictable Funding: Both at the level of NEPAD and the AU, and among small to medium-sized CSOs, there are gaps between program goals and objectives and the availability of resources to deliver. While this can be due to overly ambitious organizations setting unattainable goals, it is often due to a lack of funding and relates to the question of sustainability.
Private foundations should ensure that available resources are sufficiently stable and predictable to enable CSOs in particular to deliver their mission—bearing in mind the need for sufficient administrative support to ensure program delivery. Resource scarcity impedes long-term strategic decisions and is contrary to the spirit and commitment to long-term targets such as the MDGs. To deal with this funding gap, organizations need to identify long-term financial resources to ensure the sustainability of their program activities as well as to rethink and challenge their nonprofit status. Private foundations could contribute in exploring this terrain. Core resources should be provided to enable stable and sustained programming according to agreed objectives. Funding for projects should add value to core support, or risk distorting incentives by providing piecemeal support that does not advance the CSOs’ core missions. Delays in disbursing funds, a problem highlighted by a number of organizations, seriously hamper program implementation and should be minimized. In addressing the widespread requirement for increased volume, foundations should also ensure the recipients have the capacity to absorb new money.
Recipients of funding need to develop innovative mechanisms and approaches not only to mobilize funds but also to maximize impact from available resources. In order to make a compelling case for increased funding—whether in asking for a larger proportion of core versus project funding or in seeking core funding where none existed previously—CSOs need to develop more empirically sound and demand-driven approaches to setting program goals. These approaches need to bear in mind the existing landscape, avoid duplication, and embrace partnership with others on the basis of a clear and symbiotic division of labor.
AROs should rationalize their programs, simplify complex procedures and arrangements, limit their core focus to what they are best placed to deliver, and establish effective partnerships with other AROs based on a clear division of labor. On that basis, they should find ways to secure sustained, predictable, timely, and long-term support from member states. Such support would indicate a serious commitment to the mission and ensure the AROs are better insulated against external agendas. AROs should take steps to ensure that support offered by or canvassed from external donors is streamlined with, and helps deliver the objectives of, the core program of work.
Where these do not currently exist, AROs should proactively develop mechanisms for agreeing on priorities, pooling funds and streamlining reporting. Project support should only be solicited where it adds value to the organizations’ core mission.
3. Strengthen Ownership, Coherence, and Coordination: As highlighted in the survey, programming is often supply-led and donor-driven. Furthermore, recipient relationships with a multiplicity of funders each providing support on the basis of its own priority issues and agendas introduce a high transaction cost that erodes the organizations’ ability to establish context-responsive goals and deliver on them. This lack of donor coherence emerged as a key finding of the survey. While bilateral and multilateral donors are particularly culpable in this regard in their support to AROs, private foundations—with a range of charitable missions—often work in isolation. As a guiding tenet when engaging with continentally-focused organizations, the Foundations should harness the Paris Principles, in particular those pertaining to recipient ownership, mutual accountability and policy coherence.
Private foundations should invest in strengthening recipient ownership to encourage programming that is relevant to the challenges on the ground. To foster ownership, allow the space for these organizations to set their priorities and improve cost efficiency, foundations should develop more coordinated funding approaches. This might be achieved by ‘subcontracting’ funding to entities, such as TrustAfrica, that work exclusively on regional approaches in and on Africa. Foundations of this nature with detailed knowledge and a wide appreciation of the terrain are best placed to coordinate the management of pooled funds dedicated to strengthening the field.
To foster greater coherence, and taking into account the differences in charitable purpose from one private foundation to another, it should be possible to arrive at a consensus on the key challenges facing AROs and CSOs, and on that basis pool funds to address these challenges. Where a challenge does not fall within the remit of a particular foundation, that foundation should not be compelled to invest in the area at hand. However, the objective of coherence should not be undermined by earmarking. Private foundations would do well to consider the principles contained in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness , endorsed by more than 100 countries.
Foundations should develop systematic ways to share information on continentally-focused organizations requesting funds, either through regional entities endowed for the purpose or via other arrangements. On this basis, coordinated approaches could be developed to ensure sustained support for leading actors as well as potential winners. Flexibility is key, enabling foundations to respond to the dynamic and rapidly changing regional landscape. Where possible, coordination among private foundations should also seek to establish common reporting formats to reduce transaction costs on recipients.
Donor coherence also demands that AROs and CSOs be more consistent in designing programs and projects that reflect their mission, vision, and objectives amid fast-changing priorities in the region and the urgency for donors to address emerging issues.
To strengthen ownership and effectiveness, continentally-focused organizations should build synergies with each other. While CSOs may address different themes using a variety of strategies, they are united by common purpose and share the overarching objective of contributing to Africa’s development. There is a critical need for CSOs to partner with each other more systematically, as well as with AROs and community-based organizations (CBOs), which ensure that the perspectives of marginalized groups are taken into account in regional initiatives. Such partnerships should be developed on the basis of distinct comparative advantage, a clear division of labor, and transparent and effective governance.
4. Back Systemic Advocacy for Social Change: As highlighted in the report, advocacy conducted by CSOs has tended to be ad hoc and lack long-term perspective. Furthermore, the sheer size of the continent and scope of the challenges at hand require that advocacy be well-designed, undertaken in coalitions and designed to bring about tangible policy changes not simply at the continental level but also at sub-regional, national, and sub-national levels. International NGOs working at regional level in Africa have internalized these lessons and ensure substantial and sustained support for their campaigns, to great effect.
In providing funds to CSOs undertaking advocacy to influence continental norms and standards, private foundations should bear in mind the process orientation and long-run nature of advocacy. In doing so, foundations should be prepared to commit to supporting campaigns in the medium- to long-term, so as to have the best possible chance of brokering social change.
On their side, CSOs should ensure that advocacy campaigns go beyond securing signatories or ratifications to continental treaties, charters, or related standards. It is imperative that advocacy strategies be developed that run the gamut, from influencing policy to ensuring the domestication, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of policy within countries. On issues such as population, linkages should also be made with global partners and campaigns.
5. Enable Better Dissemination and Networking: The majority of continentally-focused organizations, including cross-cutting research and higher education institutions, are in the knowledge business, generating a high volume of published materials. However, and almost without exception, their dissemination is weak, depending largely on outdated and expensive methods. They rely on one-way transmittal of information to undefined audiences, and fail to ensure ongoing and high-quality feedback. They also fail to effectively harness ICTs, which enable more targeted dissemination as well as feedback and continuous engagement with stakeholders. All this leads to less than optimal program formulation and implementation, and an ivory-tower mentality.
In light of the fact that advocacy is fast becoming a tool of choice in regional processes, CSOs, research institutes and think tanks should urgently review their information and dissemination strategies with a view to developing more sophisticated, better-targeted approaches. A fundamental shift is needed from one-dimensional, wide-spectrum information dissemination to a more interactive model drawing on emerging approaches to sharing knowledge and communicating policy. Such strategies should be rooted in an understanding of communication as a means of strengthening program delivery, as opposed to a downstream public relations function. Advocacy will also benefit from this approach.
As part of its upcoming think-tank initiative, the Hewlett Foundation is considering investing resources in communicating the results of policy. Other private foundations could learn from this initiative, and contribute to a major rethinking of the information-communication-knowledge continuum and the role of knowledge networks in enhancing the impact of continentally-focused organizations. Prospective approaches such as e-learning, along the lines of the African Virtual University, could also be retailed by donors currently successfully supporting networking in other regions.
6. Invest in Research: The lack of policy-oriented research is a missing link in the field. While a number of policy research institutes (PRIs) and institutions of higher learning consider research a core competence, this research is not necessarily linked to continental and sub-regional policy agendas. Conversely, the high cost of producing research has affected the ability of organizations working on regional issues to generate the evidence base. The link between research-focused and advocacy-focused regional organizations is also weak. The result is that CSOs working to influence policy are either forced to dig deep to commission research, or end up embarking on advocacy without the necessary evidence to convince policymakers.
Although research is expensive, private foundations can help make a significant difference to the rigor and effectiveness of future advocacy efforts by investing strategically in policy-relevant research led by independent think tanks and CSOs. This might range from studies like the African Governance Report (AGR), produced by the Economic Commission for Africa in collaboration with national policy research institutes, to research on Union Government being conducted by a coalition of CSOs. Strengthening the role of universities in policy-relevant research, and ensuring they are networked (along with PRIs) to advocacy coalitions, should also be supported.
An initiative supported by private foundations to strengthen the research base for CSO advocacy could begin with an audit of existing research focusing on issues such as access, policy relevance, and product impact. Such an audit would help to identify gaps and help inform future research agendas.
- I. Executive Summary
- II. Introduction
- III. Thematic Overview
- IV. Donor Support to AROs and CSOs
- V. Gaps and Opportunities
- VI. Conclusions and Recommendations