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Origins and Stimuli for Coalition Building

Questions for consideration

• Has the establishment of the coalition been internationally motivated by funders or INGOs, or stimulated within the country by national civil society?

• Was the formation of the coalition driven by available funding?

• How has the cultural context influenced the establishment of the coalition?

While working partnerships between INGOs and national NGOs, as well as between NGOs and governments, had been pursued since the early 1990s, the lead up to the 2000 World Education Forum in Dakar was instrumental in generating massive interest in national coalitions.

Many of the coalitions established around the time of Dakar were the direct result of funder and/or INGO beliefs in the desirability for such organisations to exist.

National motivation for setting up coalitions occurs when national or local actors come together around a common aim, without the involvement of funders or INGOs in the process. (It is recognised that, increasingly, international NGOs are staffed by country nationals, and that national CSOs are so dependent on international funding that their agendas are internationally defined. Thus the distinction between international NGOs and national CSOs is not always clear-cut. Yet the key international NGOs involved in supporting coalitions are generally recognised by others as being international - in origin, funding, agenda or staffing - and thus the distinction serves some purpose for this discussion.)

In considering national and international stimuli for establishing coalitions, there are regional differences in the nature of coalitions, particularly notable in comparing Africa with Latin America and Asia. According to an international coalition representative, Latin America and Asia have a longer and stronger history of social activism, and hence a well developed NGO society with professional staff. As a result, CSOs there have ‘the ability to organise, plan, monitor and evaluate, knowledge of related and relevant topics, and even access to knowledge’; in short, a capacity that many African NGOs still lack. Moreover, it means that coalitions have links with broader and grassroots organisations in Asia and Latin America, whereas, according to an INGO representative, NGOs, and often INGOs, dominate in Africa.

The extent to which the establishment of coalitions was internationally or nationally driven has often had an impact on the development of the coalition.

Coalitions that evolve from national civil society hinge on the willingness of members to be active and to identify a common cause. But what is interesting in the context of national education coalitions established around the time of Dakar is that, although almost all are - to a greater or lesser extent - driven by international factors, they have survived until now. In part this is because, while the stimulus for establishment may have come from international (and to some extent external) actors, coalitions change as they develop, and for some the national agenda has become more significant in their operation.

Engagement of a broader range of CSOs, including teachers’ unions and parent–teacher associations, is one way in which the national influence on coalitions’ activities is strengthened. Meanwhile, international funding and support remain important, if not pivotal, for many of the national education coalitions under consideration.

In summary, Dakar was instrumental in the formation of many national education coalitions. The enthusiasm and degree of support offered by funders runs the risk of coalitions being established because of international actors’ belief in their value, rather than emerging from the enthusiasm and conviction of national civil society. In and of itself, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but those involved in coalitions would do well to comprehend the motivating forces behind the existence of a coalition (for those already involved in one) or for setting up a coalition (if this is the intention). Such analysis is the starting point for understanding the power dynamics that influence the establishment and performance of coalitions.

This information has been drawn from the CEF's report Driving the bus: the journey of national education coalitions.