The Pilot Workshop for the “Advancing Human Rights and Development Effectiveness: CSO Aid Observatorio Training Handbook 2020” was held virtually last 16-25 November. Reality of Aid – Asia Pacific (RoA-AP) and CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness – Asia (CPDE Asia) hosted the workshop. Members CSOs across 21 countries from all over the region attended the training.
The workshop, which aims to deepen CSOs’ understanding of development cooperation, was divided into five days. Each day featured one module based on the Handbook, along with breakout sessions. The participants not only learned something new from the Training Handbook, but also from each other’s practices and perspectives as development workers with decades of experience.
Day 1: Aid and Development Cooperation Concepts and Principles
Thilak Kariyawasam, CPDE Asia Coordinating Committee Focal Person, opened the pilot workshop emphasizing how participants share similar experiences when engaging with aid providers, no matter which country they come from. This is one of the reasons why the Handbook will be useful in their work, especially in monitoring aid providers and capacitating communities to campaign against the negative impacts of development projects.
Jiten Yumnam of the Center for Research and Advocacy – Manipur (CRAM) and Emeline Siale of Pacific Islands Association of NGOs (PIANGO) facilitated the first plenary, Module 1: Aid and Development Cooperation Concepts and Principles. They tackled the History of Aid and Development Effectiveness, Understanding the Aid and Development Cooperation Architecture, Development Effectiveness Principles, and Human Rights-Based Democratic Framework for Development Cooperation.
Siale reiterated how helpful the Handbook is in understanding the complexity of the current aid architecture. “A lot of national-level CSOs have limited understanding of how complicated (multilateral) institutions work. This is probably where the Handbook can be very friendly because it will start informing us to better understand the dynamics of different players. As much as we want to keep our focus in our country, a lot of times, the funding that we are using to advance our work is being decided by the people outside”, she said.
Yumnam, during his session, highlighted the important role of CSOs in aid and development cooperation. According to him, “The civil society advocacy greatly contributed in changing the (development cooperation) narrative. CSOs worked really hard to ensure Development Effectiveness commitments, and this effort continues because despite the commitment in Busan on Development Effectiveness, many of the donor countries are still failing to fulfil their obligations.”
Day 2: People’s Research in Development Cooperation
The second plenary was facilitated by Jennifer Guste of the Council for People’s Development and Governance (CPDG) and Kurniawan Sabar of the Institute for National and Democracy Studies (INDIES). They covered the following topics under Module 2: Conducting People’s Research, People’s Research in Aid Observatorio, and the Processes of People’s Research in Development Cooperation.
Sabar emphasized that conducting People’s Research is a political work as it provides political knowledge and political purpose for development actors, such as CSOs. He added that the people should always be at the center of any research. Guste, meanwhile, pointed out how CSOs should be wary of who sets the standards in research and for whom it is done. She shared an experience in the Philippines where “…methods of measuring poverty and unemployment have been changed several times. The purpose of these changes is to preserve the status quo; to justify low wages and current poverty levels.”
Shanta Shrestha, one of the participants from Beyond Beijing Commission in Nepal, reminded everyone about the importance of using the gender lens in people’s research. “We need not only decolonize research methodology, but we also need to make research from a feminist perspective. Our people’s research must be focused mainly on the most marginalized and disadvantaged communities and in doing so, the feminist perspective is very essential. The feminist methodology can reveal the problems and inequalities of this world”, she asserted.
Day 3: Data Sourcing and Management
After having a good grasp of aid architecture and people’s research, Tom Weerachat of the International Accountability Project (IAP) and Firas Jaber from Social and Economic Policies Monitor (Al Marsad) discussed methods of data management and sourcing. Weerachat introduced IAP’s database, the Early Warning System, as an aggregate source of development projects funded by international financial institutions (IFIs). According to him, “The point of the Early Warning System is to warn people about the possible implications of development projects in terms of policy conditionalities in exchange of loans provided by financial institutions. We hope that people get sufficient information to determine what goals they want to achieve when advocating against these implications.”
Jaber, on the other hand, emphasized the importance of creating and maintaining networks. “Keep good connections with donors and embassies because they are also part of the negotiations with your local governments in discussing plans and projects. Also, maintain close professional relations with both partner INGOs and non-partner NGOs as they have first-hand data and information”, he said.
Day 4 and 5: Dissemination and Popularization
The fourth day of the workshop was dedicated to Advocacy Work and Methods in Doing Advocacy. Natalie Lowrey of Aid/ Watch Australia and Zahra Bazzi of the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) shared their experiences and best practices in launching successful campaigns. Bazzi stressed that talking about advocacy means talking about change. “We cannot talk about advocacy without changing a law or policy”, she added. Lowrey, meanwhile, used a case study in Papua New Guinea to show how to effectively conduct an advocacy campaign, but she also recognized that countries have different contexts to consider.
The last day was focused on practicing what they have learned from the workshop by breaking out into groups and crafting advocacy and campaign plans for their chosen aid and development issue. The submitted worksheets will be useful for RoA-AP and CPDE Asia’s campaign plans in 2021.
The event was officially closed by Jahangir Hasan Masum, RoA-AP Steering Committee Chairperson. He recognized how the workshop helped strengthen CSO capacities in monitoring aid and advocating toward human rights-based, people-centered development. He also uplifted the tireless work done by member CSOs in this regard, despite all the hardship they had to face. “I believe that as civil society organizations, we are quite distinct from other groups. We do not expect any commercial profit or power. We are doing our work for the benefit of the people”, Masum concluded.
Download the CSO Aid Observatorio Training Handbook 2020 for free. For collaborations in conducting a workshop, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may also check out the training handbook introduction video here. Videos of every module will soon be available to the public.
The Handbook is part of the soon to be launched CSO Aid Observatorio Platform, a CSO-initiated and maintained database of development projects funded by ODA or through IFIs. Learn how to contribute to the database here.