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Coalitions’ Aims and Activities

Questions for consideration

• Are the coalition’s aims clearly defined and detailed in achievable objectives?

• Are these aims drawn primarily from international agendas? If so, how do they relate to national priorities?

• What activities are planned to meet these aims?

• Do members have the necessary skills to carry out these activities? If not, what measures can be followed to ensure that these skills are acquired?

When a coalition starts operating, it needs to decide what it is trying to achieve: - its aims/ vision/ mission. Existing coalitions tend to have either broad or narrow aims, which is a determining factor in how successful the coalition is in articulating these in terms of activities and identifying the strategies to actualise them, and therefore in having an impact. Two particular factors affect the formulation of the coalition’s aims and its ability to act on these: external influence and skills. External actors have had significant influence in determining the aims of many coalitions, and many coalitions do not possess the skills base to carry out their aims.

Often NGO coalitions come together without a clear objective’. Members of coalitions need, therefore, to think through very clearly what the domestic, contextual issues they wish to address are. Thus the EFA goals and the education-focused MDGs can provide a unifying framework to bring together diverse actors, including CSOs, governments, INGOs and bilateral donors. However, as they stand, the EFA goals and related national targets are usually too broad to provide an adequate focus for coalition consolidation and action.

Equally, while numerous coalitions engage in budget tracking, often the focus is on tracking the actual budget without accounting for the social impact, which ‘makes the assumption that if adequate funds reach the district level then children will be educated’ (INGO). However, what is needed is to know the significance of the budget, what difference ‘the years spent in school has made in their lives, what relevance schooling has had for negotiating HIV, sexual debut and income generation; if you don’t look at these issues what is the point of budget tracking?’ Similarly, for some coalitions the GCE’s Global Week of Action provides a focus for advocacy activities, but the advocacy is not always sustained beyond this short time period. These points imply that coalitions may embrace aims and activities that they are unable to carry out effectively or sustain. Great care needs to be taken so that activities are matched with skills and, where these do not exist, measures are put in place to develop them.

Thus it seems that effective coalitions usually have a small number of clear aims and well defined, specific activities. Often such coalitions have been established by national civil society with minimal support or input from international organisations. In such instances, activities have been matched with skills, either existing abilities or those acquired through the process of carrying out activities. Conversely, coalitions that adopt broad, loose aims lacking focus tend to be those that are heavily influenced by funders or INGOs, which tend to be poorly matched with members’ skills or the means to gain the necessary skills.

A coalition can only be successful if civil society is organised around a specific issue, rather than first forming a coalition and then finding a cause to promote. So is important to consider carefully the aims and activities of the coalition. This analysis should include an understanding of the influence that international actors have in shaping these aims and how international treaties (such as the EFA Framework for Action) are situated within the domestic political context.

Additionally, close attention needs to be paid to whether members possess, or can acquire, the skills needed to carry out activities. The importance of these analyses lies in the fact that those coalitions that do not have clear aims and activities, or that do not associate international directives with national priorities, and do not match activities with skills, are those that appear directionless and are therefore ineffective.

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