5 Ways CSOs Can Help Advance the SDGs

Community-based women’s organizations are present in most parts of developing Asia. Photo: ADB
Community-based women’s organizations are present in most parts of developing Asia. Photo: ADB

By Suzanne Nazal

Working in partnership with civil society is critical to effectively implement the 2030 Agenda.

“Leave no one behind” has been the rallying cry of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which feature a cross-cutting focus on inclusiveness and addressing inequalities. This collective 2030 Agenda underscores the importance of working in partnership with civil society in its implementation.

ADB and the ADB Institute launched a call for papers in December 2017 on the role and contributions of civil society organizations (CSOs) in advancing the global goals. Civil society leaders and academics shared their views about the importance of engaging CSOs to achieve the SDGs.

Below are 5 takeaways from the papers we received.

1. Innovative, sustainable solutions to address poverty.

SDG no. 1 aims to “end poverty in all its forms, everywhere.” Poverty should not be viewed merely as the lack of income and resources, but rather a shortage of interconnected factors resulting in physical and psychological scarceness, lack of voice in decision-making, vulnerability to environmental shocks, and low confidence and self-esteem. 

In such a situation, CSOs can complement government poverty alleviation programs with community-based, tailored assistance using evidence-based, innovative, and sustained solutions to lift people out of poverty.

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International NGO World Vision has been reaching out to thousands of the poorest and most vulnerable households in Armenia. The program utilizes the Graduation Approach, a step-by-step, multi-sector intervention that supports the poorest households to achieve sustained income and move out of extreme poverty within a specified period.

World Vision provided integrated support through life skills coaching, asset transfer, technical skills training, and access to financial services, among others, to the poorest families. Graduation is 2-3-year progression to the point of “self-sustainable growth” by addressing the multidimensional underlying causes of trans-generational poverty.

2. Localizing the global goals, monitoring progress.

The main challenge in advancing the SDGs is to make sure that the goals are effectively translated into national and local policies. In many countries, however, institutional arrangements are not in place to coordinate its implementation at the country level.

Data is key to measuring progress, but collection and reporting systems are lacking. In view of its extensive presence on the ground, CSOs can contribute to localizing the SDGs, and monitoring progress.

In Georgia, the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information is laying the foundation for institutionalizing a system of scorecards and indicators to monitor the nationalization and progress of the global goals in the country. A web-based electronic monitoring system for SDGs will enable government institutions to report on the implementation of the global goals. While it is important to ensure the accuracy of these data, the real test is to be able to collect data to measure nationalized SDG indicators.

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3. Promoting citizen-centric, collaborative governance.

Most CSOs in developing countries in Asia operate at grassroots levels, and thus in general have active engagement with local actors and citizens. They can capitalize on their social mobilization competencies and strong presence in the local social network to draw feedback from citizens on the delivery of public services.

The concept of “co-production” is a strategic approach, where citizens produce or improve existing services that they use themselves without relying so much from public agencies. Co-production engages citizens not as mere passive recipients of, but as active participants in public services. It is the driving force of an open, and collaborative governance which ensures more inclusive public service delivery.

Orangi Pilot Project, a local NGO mobilized community members to address the appalling sanitation problems and high child mortality rates in Orangi, a large informal settlement in Karachi, Pakistan. Residents of a lane or street paid for the lane investment in sanitation, while the local government took on responsibility for the sewer network into which this fed, as well as for the waste treatment plants. Neighborhood sanitation systems, a model of co-produced services, have been successfully installed and used by citizens.

4. Advocating for the poor.

In 1995, Disha, an Indian NGO, submitted an analysis of the Gujarat state budget from the perspective of tribal welfare. The study had a significant impact on the state government’s policies and budgets in favor of the poor and marginalized communities, and helped strengthen government accountability and transparency.

Apart from budget planning, CSOs can act as pressure groups to lobby governments to identify development priorities so policies and programs are based on local needs, as well as available opportunities and capacities. They can influence governments to adopt new and better approaches to addressing poverty and other societal ills.

[tweet="By putting forward citizens’ voices, #CSOs influence national strategies @ADBandNGOs @sue02nazal" text="By putting forward citizens’ voices, CSOs influence national strategies"]

In Nepal, active civil society participation has helped brought about the abolition of kamaiya in 2000, the bonded labor practice in the country. CSOs are able to put forward citizens’ voices and evidence on the ground to influence national strategies.

5. Empowering women for climate action.

Community-based women’s organizations are present in most parts of developing Asia. Social networks thrive where women cooperate and help each other as neighbors and community members. Working toward the wellbeing of its members is a form of social cohesion, which is intrinsic among women. Women’s natural capacity to promote trust creates a sense of belonging, which can be an important asset toward promoting climate resilience. 

This was especially significant after the 2004 tsunami recovery work in the Maldives, which required cooperation among agencies at multiple levels. Women’s Development Committees (WDCs) carried out a participatory verification process of beneficiaries to support the government in reaching out to the most vulnerable. In addition, WDCs in Alifushi island helped obtain farming materials and promote sustainable farming methods in an effort to promote climate change adaptation.  

The process resulted in an increase in awareness of the importance of climate change and disaster-related activities in the years that followed. With adequate technical support, women-led civil society groups such as the WDCs have the potential to play a proactive role in the promotion of the SDGs.

To contribute meaningfully to the SDGs, it is essential to promote an enabling environment for CSOs to operate and engage in “responsive, inclusive, participatory, and representative decision-making,” as stated in SDG no. 16. A positive environment also means better access to resources and improved mechanisms for genuine civil society participation.