The Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Malala and to Kailash is welcomed by education campaigners as a recognition of our campaigning work. I am reposting my reflections in 2007 after listening to Kailash in Phnom Penh.
Campaigning Inside and Outside
At the Asia-Pacific conference of GCE members in Phnom Penh, the speeches of Kailash Satyarthi the president of GCE offered useful perspectives on advocacy work by civil society organizations or CSOs.
In 1990 at Jomtien, Thailand, where the first Declaration on Education for All, or EFA, was signed by governments, he said that there was no civil society participation; though Aloysius, the Education International representative said EI was there. But in the run up to the 2000 conference in Dakar, Senegal, the two international organizations, Global March against Child labor and Education International, decided to actively get engaged, together with other INGOs who are both funding and campaigning agencies.
The first GCE included national campaign coalitions notably CAMPE, the Campaign for Popular Education in Bangladesh which had been set up in response to Jomtien. According to Kailash, it was through CSO advocacy that “education as a fundamental human right” was included in the preamble in the Dakar declaration, unlike in Jomtien. They also insisted on establishing an international monitoring group that would insure that governments fulfilled the commitments they signed; this is now called the High Level Group which is meeting tomorrow in Dakar.Later, GCE also played a crucial role in establishing the Fast Track Initiative (FTI), a funding facility specific for EFA.
From service delivery to policy advocacy
Kailash emphasized that GCE represents a successful example of the changing role of NGOs and civil society from service delivery to policy advocacy. For CSOs this means going beyond previous roles of delivering services to the people, either autonomously (usually funded from abroad) or subcontracted by governments, though this continues to be needed and valid. To create impact on a wider scale, CSOs need to engage in advocacy campaigns to hold governments accountable and fulfill their responsibilities to their citizens.
Development jargon has picked this up as a “rights-based approach” to development. The “3 Rs” campaign of Enet Philippines is in the same spirit – Rights, Responsibilities, Resources.
Since I am posting this on December 10, Human Rights Day, I recall the additional perspective that Kailash presented. He said that the right to education was included in the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, but until Jomtien or 40 years later, the United national did not hold any high level conference, much less a summit, on education.
Without an organized campaign and constituency, declarations will not be followed up by action and funding. The lesson is that rights, like freedom, will not be given motu proprio, even by those who have pledged to deliver them.
But we cannot simply take care of ourselves in the name of self-reliance, and let governments go scot free of their responsibility. CSOs have arrived at the same conclusion in their respective national contexts. What is more difficult and which makes GCE’s achievement remarkable, is doing this globally.
The level of frustration that we experience in dealing with individual governments is multiplied when dealing with intergovernmental institutions. And the level of resources needed – not just funds, but time and skills – is much greater. No wonder international NGOs who are both funders and campaigners play a more dominant role, even if most members of the global network are based in individual countries.
Acknowledging the limits of campaigning
Despite the specific successes that Kailash asked us to celebrate, he also acknowledged the sobering limits of CSO campaigning.
At the High Level Group meetings, few “high level’ heads of agencies and states attend. The funds committed to the FTI are less than what is needed. The role of UNESCO as convenor leaves much to be desired. But compared to where we started, and would surely have much less achievement, there is more hope than frustration.
There is of course the problem of attribution. How much of the results can we claim is due to CSO campaigning? Would governments have done them anyway even if we didn’t pressure them? Proving causality is a tricky challenge. Perhaps we can borrow from an unlikely source – Mao Zedong’s aphorism that the reason for change is internal, but for it to operate it may need external conditions, like the egg that won’t hatch unless there is enough heat from outside. Sol Alinsky has a different and slightly more cynical comment: “People in high places can be made to do the right thing, usually for the wrong reason.”
The mid-term external evaluation of GCE adds another caution. Its effective engagement with the global institutions may eventually brand it as just another “insider,” the latest in international power players who meet and debate and issue declarations. This is an important agenda in the run up to the GCE World Assembly in Sao Paolo. How does GCE insure that its “outside” campaigning is given its due emphasis?
Claiming space inside, maintaining pressure outside
Enet Philippines is facing similar challenges. We have been designated as the CSO co-chair of the National EFA Committee. From a comparative international perspective, this is quite an achievement, and the Philippine government has used this and other forms of CSO engagement to claim “pogi points.”
When this happened, I wondered aloud if we should claim it as a success or worry that it is a way of being coopted. Does being co-chair mean that we are co-responsible for the poor performance of the education system? After all the mid-decade Philippine EFA report (2000-2005) admits that we have fallen short of almost all targets.
What about our role as citizens demanding government to fufill its responsibilities? There is need to put pressure from the outside. After all the “partnership” of CSOs with government does not make us co-equal or co-responsible. It is still government that has the main responsibility to deliver on its EFA commitments. It is our responsibility as citizens to claim our rights and call on government to fulfill its obligations.
Those who have managed to claim space for inside campaigning need the voices and numbers of outside campaigners. This is not easy. The annual GCE global action week has mobilized over 5 million in hundreds of countries this April 2007. But what about the rest of the year? The same challenge faces Enet within the Philippines. In addition to taking part in the annual April global action week, we have a second campaign in September on adult learning and lifelong learning. They take a lot of time and energy, and we have limited funds.
And there is always the nagging question – to what extent have our activities not only created public awareness, but have brought about policy or program changes?