What will future cooperation between the U.K. Department for International Development and civil society organizations look like?
DfID is launching a five-month review of its partnerships with CSOs to determine exactly that. And to bridge the gap until a new scheme is in place, the U.K. aid agency will extend the funding under its current Program Partnership Arrangement through the end of 2016.
U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening made these announcements Thursday night, during a speech given to a room full of CSO leaders in London.
“We want to create a relationship with civil society that is much more strategic than it is at the moment, has more depth to it and is more efficient so we can deliver even more for the world’s poorest,” she said. “Last year, around one-fifth of DfID’s bilateral budget was spent through civil society organizations.”
Greening compared the Civil Society Partnership Review to one DfID published in 2013 to evaluate its private contractors. She stressed that the review would be a “collaborative process” that would extend to current, past and prospective new partners in the United Kingdom and around the world.
Leading CSOs seem to be on board with the idea.
“I think they are making the right noises about doing it in a collaborative and participatory way,” said Sarah Mistry, director of effectiveness and learning at Bond, a network of U.K. development organizations.
During her speech, Greening cited “Fast Forward: The Changing Role of U.K.-Based INGOs,” a report published earlier this year by Bond. She hopes that official review can “build on some of the findings.”
Even before getting the results of the review, Greening outlined a number of characteristics she expects to see in DfID CSO partners in coming years.
“In the future we want to work alongside civil society groups that share our concerns with value-for-money and transparency, and share our strategic objectives,” she said. Based on the speech, those strategic objectives would include youth, job creation, girls and women, and improving the long-term effectiveness of humanitarian relief.
“Our best partnerships right now are with organizations that are really responding to the future, that are innovating and embracing new technology,” she added. “They’re putting girls and women at the heart of what they do. They are driving value for money throughout their organizations. And they’re recognizing the importance of locally led development, and supporting local civil society actors.”
The decision to look at both U.K. and global players “suggests that they will be looking at the work that goes on through their country offices,” Mistry said. She listed effectiveness at reaching “the end beneficiary” and transparency as probable key factors.
Greening described the PPA extension as a way to address the “uncertainty” created during “this transitional period” for organizations that currently get PPA funding.
“I think that will give us all the time that we need to work out where we’re going,” she said.
Bond and its network, according to Mistry, had been “arguing that it wasn’t in the interests either of DfID or [nongovernmental organizations] to have a gap between the current PPAs ending and whatever follows.”
“I am pleased that they have acknowledged this. It is pretty wasteful to have people swing into contingency mode, close down work, and lay off staff — only to have to resurrect everything,” the Bond official said.
Greening took over as secretary of state in 2012 during the coalition government that included the Liberal Democrats as junior partners with her own Conservative Party. Last night’s speech was billed by the organizers of the event, Bond and the Overseas Development Institute, as her “maiden speech” as a member of the new Conservative majority government in place after the May elections. Living up to that billing, Greening outlined her top priorities for the coming years. Stay tuned next week as we examine them with reactions from leading figures from U.K. CSOs.