InterAction's new strategic plan puts civil society space front and center

InterAction President and CEO Samuel Worthington. Photo by: Simone D. McCourtie /  World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

InterAction — a coalition of over 180 U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations working around the globe — has revised its mission to focus on civic inclusion and the protection of local civil society in developing countries.

The new strategy is more in line with “the principles of our members,” InterAction President and CEO Samuel Worthington told Devex.

The alliance launches a new strategy every four years, and this edition includes three key goals. The first emphasizes the protection of civic space in the countries where InterAction members work. The second goal — more traditional according to Worthington — focuses on “the broader collective impact” of members. And the third goal — also traditional — focuses on influencing U.S. and multilateral development policy.

“Ultimately this is about focusing on vulnerable people, human rights … issues of peace, a sustainable planet and advancing human dignity,” Worthington said, adding that InterAction’s board wanted to revamp its mission to better reflect those values.

“We thought that our strategy had to be rooted … not in the economic interests of our members — their role here in the United States — but rather the fact that they reach millions of people, largely through local civil society,” the coalition’s chief executive said.

The process of coming up with a new strategy began when members of the coalition working groups and its board of 24 member CEOs began asking very basic questions: Why do we exist? Where can we make the biggest difference?

Then a CEO retreat allowed for a refining of the strategy.

Regardless of the sector in which they work, Worthington said that “all of [the CEOs] felt the squeeze of civil society space,” and recognized “that their work could not continue as effectively as it does,” without a greater effort to level the playing field between governments and civil society groups.

Worthington went on to explain that roughly 80 percent of the world is either developed, middle-income or emerging countries. He said that in middle-income and emerging countries, resources are often there, but the political will and interest to direct services toward vulnerable and marginalized populations often lags.

“You can’t get to those populations … unless you are helping the emergence of local civil society,” Worthington said, adding that in the 20 percent of the world that is in fragile or failed states, international NGOs can fill a service delivery role to ensure that vulnerable populations are provided with their basic needs.

InterAction’s previous strategy focused on partnerships — ensuring that members engage with governments and the private sector. This focus hasn’t gone away, according to Worthington, but the new strategy will ensure that member NGOs bring a common set of values to these partnerships — one geared toward recognizing the importance of civic actors.

And InterAction’s new mission isn’t solely for the benefit of the alliance’s members, Worthington said, but also for the private sector, governments and multilateral institutions that work with NGOs. Expansion of civil society should be a priority for global development actors everywhere and cannot be “add-on language,” the InterAction chief told Devex.

What do you think of InterAction’s new strategy? How does it play into your work? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

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    Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a former global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid, and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the U.S., and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.