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Questions for consideration

• Is funding provided to the coalition for core costs and/or for activities?

• What funding contingency plan is there if international funders withdraw their financial support?

• Do members contribute funds or in-kind to the coalition? If not, why not?

• Has international funding affected the purpose of the coalition by turning it into a fund manager?

Many coalitions’ agendas are funder-driven. The rise of direct budget support as a funding strategy for low-income governments is associated with bilateral donor desires for CSOs both to monitor governments’ spending and engage in policy planning. Neither donor nor recipient governments want or have time to listen to a throng of different CSO voices, so they have encouraged (sometimes reluctantly in the case of recipient governments) the formation and use of national education coalitions to ‘speak with one voice’ and represent civil society in PRSP (Poverty Reduction Strategic Papers) processes. INGOs involved in education advocacy have similarly encouraged the development of national coalitions, drawing on positive experiences with the GCE at Dakar and beyond. These international voices, and the international goals for EFA and the MDGs, as well as the Northern agenda of advocacy as a whole, thus drive the agendas of civil society education coalitions at a national level. ‘If a donor gives money then it is likely that they will have a bigger say in what the coalition does’.

Funders are able to drive coalitions’ agendas because coalitions (and often their members) are dependent on funders for their resources. Dependence on donor funding can even prevent coalitions from working collaboratively as civil society organizations: that is, potential or actual coalition members compete with each other for available funds.

If members contribute financially to a coalition, they are buying into a certain kind of relationship; they are committing themselves to contributing to and being owners of the coalition, and they are also indicating that they have a stake in what the coalition does.

Membership fees do not need to be large in order to achieve this sense of ownership. And many examples indicate that, even in the best member-paying context, coalitions need external funding to survive. But there are different ways for funders to support coalitions, which minimise the damage done. Sustained core support without interference allows a coalition to grow and change according to changing contexts.

One approach that may help would be for funders (whether these be bilateral or multilaterals, foundations, CEF or INGOs) to encourage members to access funds for coalition activities. Often the funding source may be the same; only the responsibility for accessing funding and implementing activities would shift.

If those providing funds ‘micromanage how they are spent’ they risk making a coalition accountable to its funders rather than its members. There is a danger that coalitions therefore spend time running activities rather than focusing on building strategic relationships, and worrying about accountability to funders rather than representing the interests of members.

It is clear that there is little support from anyone (other than coalition members) for coalitions to take on the task of managing a Civil Society Education Fund (CSEF) to support advocacy work. For the most part it is recognised that fund management is not within a coalition’s remit, and to take on that role would distort its core purpose and lead to division between members. Yet, although many funders recognized these issues, as well as the change in power dynamics resulting from giving financial power to a coalition (secretariat) rather than its members, for funders the key issue preventing coalitions from managing funds is that ‘the ability to manage funds is dependent on the capacity of those within the coalition’.

Donors recognise a role for civil society, but struggle to engage with them as their staff decrease while available funds increase. While this channelling of funds is more difficult in the case of coalitions, if they have a secretariat ‘you can channel funding through it to the members of the network’.

Thus coalitions are used to serve donor purposes, with seemingly little attention given to the fact that this does not serve a coalition’s purpose, as a coalition. Moreover, competition between donors wanting to support coalition activities means that many coalitions are not at a loss for potential donors, seemingly because donors are at a loss for other ways to channel money to CSOs working on advocacy in education.

Donors using coalitions as conduits for funds to member CSOs not only affects the agenda of coalitions, but it distorts the very nature of coalitions themselves. It affects coalition power dynamics, resulting in members looking to secretariats for funds, rather than secretariats looking to members for direction (and, possibly, funds). The availability of donor funds can cause members to compete among themselves for these funds, disrupting the supposed synergy of the coalition. This is potentially even more damaging than the distortion of agendas, or the dependency of coalitions on donor aid, both of which are fairly widely recognised, as this distortion of purpose is not made explicit.

If coalitions are freed from this role of grant conduit, they may be better able to focus on their core purpose. One solution is for donors or others to divorce the funding mechanism from coalitions but retain it as a national body by establishing a Civil Society Education Fund (CSEF): a transparent, nationally-managed pooled fund supporting civil society advocacy in education through grants and capacity building.

By taking this route, donors would separate a fund management body from the organisation taking forward social change, and thus allow coalitions to return to (or to assume) their intended purpose: as a coordinated group of organisations working for a common goal. CSEFs would give donors a body through which they could channel significant sums of money to small organisations without needing the staff or resources to manage the grant-making process themselves.

Funder resources for a small coordinating or facilitating secretariat may be inevitable. But if this extends to also funding all of the activities of the coalition, members seem less likely to carry out or feel (financially) responsible for the coalition’s activities.

Analysing the impact of money on a coalition is key to understanding its dynamics. It seems that international funding can distort a coalition’s agenda, lead to dependency, and distort its core purpose from that of working together for social change to that of grant management. While it is highly unlikely that coalitions can be supported by member subscription alone, those involved in coalitions might examine whether instigating, increasing or even effectively collecting fees from members would increase member ownership of the coalition. It might be questioned whether costs for activities can be sourced by members rather than the secretariat. In the long term, it would be beneficial for all involved in support for education advocacy to examine whether there is the national potential for establishing a CSEF to nationalise fund management and remove the responsibility for grant management from national coalitions.

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