Global Development Needs Grassroots Activation

08.05.2016 | Anna Kompanek
President Obama addresses the White House Summit on Global Development (Photo: VOA)
President Obama addresses the White House Summit on Global Development (Photo: VOA)

Looking back at the global development efforts over the last few years, one theme tends to reoccur: too many reforms are owned by the elites and civil society leaders in the capital with too little engagement at the grassroots. This common disconnect was raised at the White House Summit on Global Development, and it looms large over future initiatives of the international community.

At a session devoted to transparency, accountability, and open government Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, talked about how crucial these factors are to unlocking economic development and fulfilling Goal 16 – the enabler – of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She also highlighted the importance of multi-stakeholder partnerships such as Open Government Partnership (OGP) for advancing this approach and providing a hook that civil societies in countries around the world have been able to latch on to for reforms.

A global growth of demand for accountability and transparency, fueled by the rise of communication technology, is definitely a reason for optimism. At the same time, serious problems persist. Rakesh Rajani, Director of Democratic Participation and Governance at Ford Foundation, emphasized that despite progress and path ahead charted by initiatives such as SDGs and OGP serious challenges remain when it comes to authoritarian backlash and reversals of democratic culture. Even in established democracies such as India non-profit organizations increasingly come under undue pressure. As governments in many countries are clamping down on civic space, international efforts to counteract such trends do not resonate sufficiently with citizens on the ground.

How to move the ownership of social change movements closer to the grassroots? That is the question CIPE asks every day in our work. One key but often overlooked element is engaging the private sector. Local businesses, especially smaller ones, are often absent at the table where reform commitments are discussed with governments, donors, and civil society representatives. Yet, these businesses comprise a crucial constituency for ensuring that reforms furthering accountability and transparency are implemented. Such reforms can ensure a level playing field for business and become the engine not just of better governance but economic growth. Therefore, efforts at both international and country levels need to consistently broaden the reform stakeholder base to engage the private sector.

CIPE has been promoting this message at a variety of international fora, including the Private Sector Council on Open Governance, established in 2013 to engage diverse businesses and entrepreneurs in promoting open governance, economic growth, and local innovations. CIPE also works with business organizations around the world on prioritizing local reform needs and using effective public-private dialogue (PPD) to get results. PPD can be an invaluable platform for making the voice of business heard and building trust in the democratic policymaking process, as illustrated by concrete examples from CIPE’s experience in Moldova, Nigeria, and elsewhere.

While there is no one-size-fit-all solution for activating reformers at the local level, strategic investment by the international community in working with grassroots change makers is an indispensable element of success.

Anna Kompanek is Director for Multiregional Programs at CIPE.