In order to achieve the Government's goal of performance-oriented development assistance, Sida is considering opening up support through Swedish civil society organizations (CSOs) so that international actors can also benefit from the grant. The consequences of such a decision should be highlighted and discussed carefully, says Sandra Tidefors.
A while ago, Sida released its report "Mid-term review of the strategy for support through Swedish organizations in civil society 2010-2014”. Sida writes in the report that they are considering opening up the special financial allocation that is reserved for Swedish civil society organizations so that even international actors can take part of that money. This as a step towards more easily achieving the government's goal of results-driven assistance and the creation of "A viable and pluralistic civil society in developing countries that contributes effectively, with a rights-based work, to reducing poverty in all its dimensions".
In the autumn of 2014, I wrote my master's thesis in Global Development Studies through the University of Gothenburg, where I examined some Swedish framework organizations' views on their independent role. Organizations whose roots are in the Swedish popular movement. I investigated whether increased demands from the government, through Sida, make the organizations feel that they have to adapt and if it has affected their independence. The conclusions are that the organizations believe that even though increased demands have affected them in the form of keeping up to date with system instruments, it has not affected their voice, their independent role. They still consider themselves firmly rooted in their values and in what constitutes "them". However, they all express concern about what the government and Sida are thinking about: opening up to foreign actors and perhaps even private actors. That money that has been reserved for the Swedish organizations may go to others who may not have the same long experience of development activities as them. The organizations emphasize in particular that there is a risk of losing the long-term perspective they work for, the results of which are difficult to measure. That Swedish development assistance risks being directed towards only short-term, rapid and measurable goals and results. It is considered worrying.
The organizations' concerns make me think. What happens to Swedish development cooperation if it is opened up to international organizations and also other actors? If Swedish development assistance money goes to those who offer the fastest results, regardless of actor? Do you then also open up to insecurity, monopoly and corruption? Everything that Swedish development aid tries to work towards in other countries. Civil society researchers point out that a strong civil society is also the basis for a strong democracy and where the independent role of organizations is as social actors. The organizations become strong voices and an antithesis to the state and the business community. Taken together into a non-profit sector, the organizations represent an important resource and become the coveted gap between state and market.. The researchers emphasize that if there is a shift of emphasis towards short, fast measurable goals, the organizations can go from being "voice" to becoming "service". Instead of being their own, with their own goals, their own agenda and their own visions, they risk becoming performers of things that the state needs but that the market does not want or can do. It can be to meet short-term, quick goals where the organizations are "employed" by the state to deliver results. The organizations become so-called "service providers" instead of an opposite pole.
If the Swedish organizations lose their financial support to other actors, there is a risk that they may have to cease various parts of their development activities, or even have to close down. If foreign actors receive Swedish financial support instead, the voice of Swedish civil society will be weaker. There is a risk of losing what has made the Swedish organizations attractive players from the very beginning. That they were their own with goals and visions, founded in deep values and with good contacts to the local civil society in the recipient countries. If Sida makes more and more demands to spend the money, or just the threat that it may happen in the near future, it puts the organizations in a position where they must choose: Either follow through and get financial support or stay but risk to become without and perhaps have to close down development activities around the world. This will make it more difficult to achieve the government's goal of reducing overall poverty and strengthening local civil society.
I share the concerns expressed by the framework organizations in my essay. Swedish civil society manages the legacy of the popular movements with deep democratic values and collective memories of people who come together to improve their own and others' life situation. This is as important to communicate to the outside world as our financial resources. The only way to manage and strengthen this heritage, for the benefit of Sida's ultimate goal of a vibrant and pluralistic civil society in developing countries, is to work to maintain a continued strong civil society in Sweden as well. The question of opening up to foreign actors, what the consequences are and the importance of Swedish organizations in civil society is something that should be raised and discussed carefully before a decision is made.
File. Bachelor of Global Development Studies