Over the past decade, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has become more transparent and accountable to its member countries and the broader public, developing and promoting new mechanisms and policies to better identify and integrate the African citizen aspirations. The Civil Society Organization (CSO) Engagement Framework, which participates in this vision, as presented in the Medium-term Strategy (MTS) 2008-2012, is designed to strengthen and sustain the Bank’s engagement with CSOs. This engagement will enhance the Bank's programs and policy documents as well as mainstream and broaden the participation of CSOs in management for development results in Regional Members Countries (RMCs).
The CSO comprises the full range of formal and informal organizations within society. According to the bank’s official definition,
"Civil society encompasses a constellation of human and associational activities operating in the public sphere outside the market and the state. It is a voluntary expression of the interests and aspirations of citizens organized and united by common interests, goals, values or traditions, and mobilized into collective action either as beneficiaries or stakeholders of the development process. Though civil society stands apart from state and market forces, it is not necessarily in basic contradiction to them, and it ultimately influences and is influenced by both.
'Civil Society' is the collective noun, while 'civic groups' are the individual organizations that constitute the sector. The myriad of civic organizations in civil society include, but are not limited to, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), people's and professional organizations, trade unions, cooperatives, consumer and human rights groups, women's associations, youth clubs, independent radio, television, print and electronic media, neighbourhood or community based coalitions, religious groups, academic and research institutions, grassroots movements and organizations of indigenous peoples."
AfDB’s engagement with civil society began when the Bank developed a policy paper and a set of procedures, mechanisms and guidelines to orient its cooperation with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) following the first AfDB/NGO consultative meeting, held in Abidjan in 1990. The policy for cooperation with CSOs was revised and updated in 2000. The revised policy reflects the Bank’s enhanced commitment and focuses on the broader concept of civil society. To guide and facilitate collaboration between the Bank and CSOs, a joint committee was established in 2000. In March 2010, a CSO Forum was held in Tunis and resulted in an agreement to enhance cooperation and collaboration between the Bank and African civil society community with a view to updating the existing Engagement Framework.
The present CSO Framework proposes two elements to consolidate the 2000 Policy on Civil Society Cooperation: (i) strengthening the three-tier engagement mechanism/modality at the corporate, country and project levels, and (ii) reinforcing the Bank's support to CSOs.
The CSO Engagement Framework aims to maximize opportunities for developing partnerships with CSOs at the corporate, country and project levels. The overarching objective of the framework is to help the Bank achieve greater results and impacts through improving its collaboration with CSOs and strengthening the existing mechanisms for participation and coordination.
The specific objectives of the framework are to (i) strengthen the Bank’s capacity to build cooperative working modalities with CSOs, (ii) promote staff interactions with CSOs in a way that enhances the Bank’s work and contributes to the effectiveness of its support for its regional member countries and (iii) provide operational guidance for the Bank’s headquarters, regional resource centers, country offices and project staff. This will be achieved by enhancing the partnerships and building strong alliances, ensuring a clear communication approach while ensuring consistency with Bank’s disclosure policy and building on lessons from previous experiences of Bank’s interaction with CSOs.
To operationalize this framework in a context of decentralization and limited resources, two areas have been selected: effective use of field office staff and staff training on appropriate approaches to effective CSO engagement. The development of the CSO framework will adequately define the Bank’s areas cooperation with the various categories of civil society. It will also set up guidelines for the collaboration with these key actors and update the Bank’s policies related to cooperation and engagement with CSOs.
In fact, the new framework clearly identifies specific ways in which CSOs can consolidate ongoing AfDB activities:
- Environmental social safeguards — CSOs could play an expanded and enhanced role in safeguarding Bank-funded projects. The Bank will consult with CSOs in the context of the newly developed Integrated Environmental and Social Safeguards System with the aim of operationalizing it according to global changes in environmental and social safeguards. It will also draw attention to activities that could have negative social or environmental impacts, such as involuntary resettlement.
- Independent Review Mechanism (IRM) — CSOs can be an effective vehicle for transferring information to local communities living in the areas covered by Bank-financed projects and programs. They can help the IRM understand the nature and scope of complaints and the local social and economic circumstances that led to the complaints about the projects.
- Fragile states — CSOs play a critical role in service delivery in fragile states where the public sector is weak. Through its Fragile State Unit, the AfDB fosters cooperation with local and international CSOs in promoting human rights, stabilizing conflict situations and providing services, in addition to its work in conflict prevention, reconstruction and reconciliation. Promoting and supporting CSO work in fragile states will support the Bank’s objectives to assist eligible states in consolidating peace, stabilizing their economies and laying the foundations for sustainable poverty reduction and long-term economic growth.
- Outreach and communication — CSO engagement with the Bank would require direct communication between the two parties. CSOs need to be kept abreast of Bank-funded activities while the Bank needs to have basic and credible information about the CSO landscape on the continent.
The CSO framework will be implemented in a progressive manner:
- A full assessment of Bank’s activities related to CSOs (direct involvement of CSOs in the Bank’s country programs and participation in project implementation, participation in poverty-reduction strategy papers, country strategy papers, governance and country gender profiles, and the AfDB’s post-evaluation exercise, etc.) will be conducted in April-May 2012 to identify the specific strengths and weaknesses of the current approach undertaken by the Bank with CSOs, and help better prioritize actions to be taken.
- An action plan will be elaborated to identify optimal calendar and key areas in order to operationalize this framework. The action plan will thus specify the activities, indicators and responsibilities at each level: corporate, country and project.
- A benchmarking on the CSO will be conducted to identify good practices and highlight the lessons of various experiences. The benchmark will also develop criteria of the CSO involvement in the activities of the Bank.