The current information strategy, which received devastating criticism when it was evaluated, means that organizations must not use the money for initiatives that can contribute to real change. When the strategy is now revised, Hillevi Engström should invite discussion on how the new one can be better, rather than defending the old one. It writes Göran Eklöf, consultant and writer.
Today, Minister for Development Aid Hillevi Engström is responding to criticism that development aid organizations are no longer allowed to pursue public opinion and influence development policy with money from Sida's information grants.
The Minister's speech is a defense, without any reservations, of government strategy for the information and communication activities financed through Sida. There is not a hint either that the government's strategy received devastating criticism in the only evaluation made by its implementation and effects, or that the government has already decided that the strategy should be rewritten - at least in part as a result of the evaluation, may it be assumed?
Hillevi Engström refers to the goal of the information strategy - that the Swedish public should have good knowledge of the situation in developing countries, Swedish development assistance and its results as well as issues concerning development drivers in developing countries - and then states the government's responsibility to ensure that development assistance goes to it which really makes a difference for poor people ”. Thus, it seems, there is not much more to say.
A crucial problem, however, is that these two things do not go together. The strategy does not breathe a word that information activities should make a difference for poor people. The purpose of the forthcoming revision is to strengthen the link with the development assistance goal: to improve the living conditions of people living in poverty and oppression.
In practice, the strategy, and Sida's rules for funding, mean that organizations must not use the money for initiatives that can contribute to real change. And the reasons for that have nothing to do with the living conditions and interests of poor people.
As Engström mentions, the strategy only aims to increase Swedes' knowledge, including about the driving forces of development in developing countries. But many of the most important driving forces - and not least the obstacles - that affect developing countries are found elsewhere: in the policies pursued by Sweden, the EU and other industrialized countries, in decisions made by 'our' companies and consumers, in international regulations and institutions.
Not even informing about these issues falls within the framework of the government's current strategy. And even less to try to do something about them. Although that is what would be required to actually affect the conditions of poor people.
new regulator which Sida introduced in 2012, after clear signals from the government, states that the organizations may not use the information grant for "opinion formation which involves taking a stand for one or the other side in a party-political controversial issue". It could be interpreted as them being allowed to use money for opinion formation on issues on which there is already a consensus in the Riksdag. What would that make sense det
These rules have obviously not been introduced out of concern for people living in poverty and oppression, but for purely domestic policy reasons.
As I recently documented in an investigation for CONCORD Sweden they also go in the exact opposite direction to the direction pursued by the EU, as well as by our Scandinavian neighbors. There, information work is seen as an important instrument for contributing to change. In 2012, 58% of the EU's own budget for civil society information on development issues went to campaign and advocacy work. The rules for corresponding grants in Norway state that state support must contribute to creating a debate on development issues, and that organizations in civil society should be able to play the role of driving force and watchdog in development policy decision-making processes.
In 2009, the government adopted its information strategy completely without any consultations with the relevant organizations. When it is now to be revised, Hillevi Engström should invite discussions about what is required for the organizations' information work to contribute even more to changes that make a difference, instead of defending an old strategy that does not allow them to do so.