Who Else Is Working Towards EFA?
Questions for consideration
• Are other networks working in the same sector as the coalition?
• How could the coalition link with other networks or coalitions for mutual benefit and to avoid duplication?
• Are teachers’ unions involved in the coalition? If not, why not, and could they be encouraged to join?
• How are INGOs contributing to the coalition?
• What is the relationship of the coalition to the government?
National education coalitions do not operate in a vacuum. Most countries have a range of networks, alliances and coalitions working alongside the education coalition, several of which on related themes.
With so many coalitions vying for their attention, it is not always clear that CSOs join up in order to contribute to the common goal, rather than to access money or information; one CSO reported that ‘it is difficult to survive outside coalitions these days’. Equally, in an over-networked context, CSOs may see ‘nothing new to benefit’ from joining another coalition.
As an academic explained, teachers’ unions ‘are strong political actors and should be strong in coalitions… [but] because they are the most important actors there is least incentive for them to join the coalition.’
Where they do work together, teachers’ unions and NGOs bring different things to the table; the former have a mandate as democratically run representatives of their members, as well as international links and participation, while advocacy NGOs bring lobbying skills that teachers’ unions sometimes lack. In many cases teachers’ unions have an established and recognised relationship with government on the back of this democratic representativeness. Education International, the international union of teachers’ movements with a membership of over 30 million teachers, recognises benefits to extending cooperation with NGOs, and is working on developing partnerships, particularly collaborating with ActionAid International to strengthen links between NGOs and teachers’ unions, thus building on their existing involvement in the GCE.
Funders ('Funders' includes any organisation or individual that provides funds, and includes bilaterals, multilaterals, foundations, funds and INGOs. Note that those organisations that are discussed here as ‘funders’ all have additional roles in relation to national government and/or civil society. INGOs in particular are often active agents in civil society themselves, as increasingly their staff are country nationals and many enjoy increasing independence from headquarters in developing their programmes) and coalitions use each other and need to use each other. Funders use coalitions to carry out development work; coalitions use funders to resource the advocacy work they wish to achieve. However, funders are usually in the privileged position of deciding to whom to give and to whom to refuse funding, and with this privilege should come the responsibility to manage the relationship with care.
By using coalitions as conduits for funds to individual CSOs, funders might establish and support Civil Society Education Funds (CSEFs) as nationally owned fund managers. ‘The architecture of aid is changing’ and donors have a responsibility to help civil society change with the times, including by supporting coalitions through ‘applying the principles of aid effectiveness, including pooled funds’, and most importantly, from our point of view, adopting a rights-based-approach.
But beyond this role as providers of financial resources, funders are seen as important providers of capacity building, particularly in the areas of fundraising and financial management, networking and researching.
When a coalition is receiving all its funding and its strategic guidance from external bodies, its viability as a sustainable, independent body is in question. In the words of one coalition member, ‘I don’t believe donors should forever be supporting us. They should rather empower us to enable us to stand on our own when their projects phase out’.
INGOs can and have supported national education coalitions in the same ways as other funders: by providing funds, building secretariats and members’ capacity and acting as a guide or inspiration for the coalitions’ development. Even when not in a position to provide funds, they might be influential in the establishment of CSEFs to ensure that national-level grant management is kept separate from a coalition’s core purpose of members working towards a common goal.
INGOs’ presence can also be counterproductive in legitimacy terms, as governments may recognise them as representing an international - rather than national - agenda. A further argument for not including them as members of the coalition is that they are frequently (also) major funders of the coalition, and this position has the potential to give them undue power and influence with strategic and operational decision making.
However, it should not be forgotten that, while governments have signed up to agreements to consult civil society, the implementation of these agreements is not always entirely voluntary. They are sometimes ‘pressurised by external bodies’ (coalition member) to involve civil society in planning as a condition of donors’ release of direct budget support to implement that plan. This relationship was established in the Dakar Framework for Action:
‘Funding agencies are willing to allocate significant resources towards Education for All. The key to releasing these resources is evidence of, or potential for, sustained political commitment; effective and transparent mechanisms for consultation with civil society organisations in developing, implementing and monitoring EFA plans; and well-defined, consultative processes for sector planning and management’
(UNESCO, 2000, Article 48).
In practice money may not actually be withheld if there is not ‘full CSO partnership’, as all donors may not share the same view as to what the government–civil society partnership should entail.
‘It is important to distinguish between distance and autonomy – organisations may sympathise with a political actor, and thus enjoy closeness to it and consequent influence, but remain autonomous because they continue to set their own priorities’ (Robinson and Friedman, 2005, p. 24). Coalitions need to work closely but autonomously with governments. All these factors point to the need for a ‘mature’ relationship between governments and coalitions, with both sides understanding that civil society can provide information and engagement (including criticism) to assist governments to do their jobs better.
However, not all governments, or coalitions, are yet mature enough themselves to build this relationship together. Relationship to government also differs by geographical region. As CSOs are regularly critical of governments in Asia and Latin America, governments are less willing to engage with them, whereas in Africa CSOs are valued for the service delivery they can provide (particularly in marginal areas), and thus are engaged as (unequal) partners with the government. In the language of political space, in Africa CSOs are invited into a space created for them by government, while in Latin America and Asia the history of activism has enabled CSOs to create their own space. The more radical the agenda pursued by the coalition, the more tense the relationship it has with the government will be .
Where there are important actors, particularly teachers’ unions and women’s rights organisations, who might be wary of engagement with national education coalitions, members might consider how to develop this relationship to mutual benefit. Coalitions and their supporters (through financial resources, capacity building or other guidance) would do well to consider the balance in the relationship, and whether overreliance on non-member supporters affects the relationship with members. The ‘maturity’ of a coalition’s engagement with government is far from being the responsibility of the coalition alone, but an analysis of this relationship may indicate ways in which it could be improved, whether through increased formal or informal contact or deepening the evidence on which advocacy with government is based. Given the importance of relationships in advocacy work, if a coalition can improve these, its journey will be smoother.
This information has been drawn from the CEF's report Driving the bus: the journey of national education coalitions.