The coalition life mostly depends on the specific country context in which it operates and on the personal high commitment of the national members to make the coalition a lively actor at the local level; however, it is worth trying to identify key factors that made the experiences analysed in this paper successful cases. This could represent a useful exercise for stimulating other SW national coalitions to emulate the best practices, even if adapting them to their own national contexts, as well as reflecting on their own experience by facilitating an organizational learning process crucial for any network aiming at improving its performance.
As already mentioned, the following findings do not represent any scientific evaluation of the performance of the four SW national coalitions analysed, but rather point out basic suggestions for facilitating “know–how transfer” and “capacity building” among the national groups of the SW network.
As far as the “relevance” dimension analysis is concerned, in all the four case studies the importance of the constituency process can be stressed. The historical moment when the national platform was created is a critical one in all the four case studies: time of political changes, need of influencing the global Agenda towards greater development targets and the very quick growth of the role of CSOs. The creation of each national platform can be considered as a bottom up process since CSOs felt the need of joining the SW worldwide network and working at the national level by locally contributing at achieving global development goals. Probably Germany can be considered an exception since it comes from a former German NGO Forum which was constituted in preparation of the World Summit for Social Development and from the very beginning of SW creation in 1995 decided to carry on with its tasks by joining this international network. Without decrying the conscious choice made by the German coalition before joining Social Watch, probably in terms of membership commitment the latter is much higher when the decision to join the network is linked to the need of giving birth to a specific national group in the country. Indeed it requires so many more efforts and energy and probably it implies a stronger motivation which ensures better support during future work.
Diversity of membership can be both a strong point and a weakness. Looking at the Brazilian case the much varied membership composition has allowed to make the coalition a real “space for plural debates, for building new perspectives, knowledge and discourses on social and development issues”. The plurality of actors participating is seen as a richness, rather than a potential condition of conflict, also in the Philippine experience. On the contrary, for the German coalition, the diversity of composition, although considered an important aspect to be preserved, currently hampers a good functioning of the coalition beyond the yearly publication of the Social Watch report, because of the difficulty to find common strategic themes between development NGOs and welfare organizations. Probably this difference in managing the diversity of membership composition needs to be understood considering the country context; it is likely that in Brazil and the Philippines there are many more common working areas among NGOs, trade unions and welfare organizations than currently in Germany.
Anyway, from all the four case studies the following positive aspects seem to emerge:
- The attitude of the national platform to be inclusive and open to a plurality of organizations that bring into the network their different competence and expertise in the field of development. This makes Social Watch a special opportunity for discussion where the analysis of an issue is hardly confined to a single perspective: the plurality of interests included in the network always allows taking a multi-sector perspective of any theme.
- The capacity to bridge the local with the global issues ensures a double advantage: at local level by basing the advocacy and awareness building activities on worldwide reliable data and analysis; at the international level by making the perspective of the local communities known thus giving them the exceptional chance of getting their voice heard by the international community. Both these aspects, often proved by a constant membership increase, have widely contributed in giving great relevance to SW national coalitions in their own countries.
- In addition, it clearly emerges, from the Beninese, Brazilian and Philippine case studies, that over the years all these coalitions have reached high levels of legitimacy and credibility, this demonstrated by the attention given to their actions by media and governments. Above all the Philippine coalition is externally perceived as an important “source of information on human development matters”. The accuracy of its analysis and the reliability of its data earned strong worldwide appreciations.
Regarding the second dimension – “efficiency and sustainability” – it is quite interesting to compare how each national coalition settled its own functioning through different levels of formalization of its structure.
Actually, because of the complete autonomy given by the Social Watch network to the national groups so as to determine their own organizational structure and to raise funds for their activities, each coalition is concretely responsible for its good functioning in the country and the solutions found by each of them can be very different.
The analysis of these four cases is a proof of it. There are different levels of formalization: Benin is the example of a very structured coalition with a registered legal statute and several fundamental texts which lay down internal rules. Brazil opted out of getting a registered legal statute because they preferred informal arrangements which currently guarantee flexibility, horizontality and equality in the functioning of the network at the national level. The Philippine coalition is currently taking into consideration the possibility of institutionalizing the national coalition by getting a registered legal statute; this is going to be evaluated not because of a need to formalize the internal functioning of the coalition but rather because it could facilitate the process of applying for funding support. Thus, the motivation behind this choice, which is still under discussion, is more linked to making a use out of it rather than to define new internal rules improving the functioning of the national platform.
The German coalition chose a minimalist structure: a very low level of formalization is ensured, based on a general memorandum describing the origin of the SW German Coalition and its many activities.
In all the case studies, no matter if there is a formalized structure or not, there is always one or few organizations in charge of ensuring the coordination of the network both at a strategic level (i.e. Coordinating Committee) as well as at an operational level (i.e. Secretariat). This is for sure a key success factor in managing a national platform: indeed being a network involving several organization members, it is essential, although in informal and loose structures, to identify few organizations responsible for the stimulation and coordination of the network activities.
In terms of activity planning, drafting an annual work plan might be deemed an excellent practice; the Beninese, Brazilian and Philippine coalitions work on a wide range of activities at the national level and usually draft one. Also, an annual action plan seems to be a tool in helping the coalition ensure a good performance in implementing different activities. They all refer to the International Social Watch Strategic Framework (adopted at the General Assembly every three years) and consistent to the principle of autonomy which strongly characterises the network, the plan focuses on the specific activities that the national platform intends to promote locally. The effort of both the Beninese and Philippine coalitions to draft a multi-year plan is noteworthy since it shows their stronger commitment and intention to set up a medium term strategy.
As to sustainability, all the four coalitions experience difficulty in fundraising; this is a worrying aspect which affects the capacity of the network’s long term planning. Regarding this aspect it is interesting to compare the different modalities of the members’ direct involvement. In Benin members of the coalition are required to contribute to the network with a specific yearly membership fee, while in the other three coalitions there is no such formalization, however members are expected to support the network’s activities as best they can. Hardly any optimum practices can be identified on this subject since much depends on the country context; however, there are a few points in the Benin case that deserve highlighting. Indeed, notwithstanding the difficulty in collecting membership fees, the idea of foreseeing them gives a greater sense of responsibility and ownership among the coalition members. In addition, the SW coalition in Benin, probably facilitated by the relevance and uniqueness of its work promoted by local CSOs at the country level, has been able to get financial support from several international organizations, stirring up interest and consolidating the partnership with some of them over the years (i.e. UNDP, Embassy of the Netherlands).
Regarding the “effectiveness” dimension, all four national platforms contribute with a yearly country report to the annual Social Watch International Report, but almost all of them carry out many other additional activities.
Benin is a very good example of national coalition having adapted the mission of Social Watch to the country context: its choice to focus mainly on poverty reduction strategy and on the progress towards MDGs, made the “citizens’ scrutiny of public action” (the so-called main activity of the national coalition) extremely relevant and very much appreciated in the country. Indeed the coalition was able, thanks to a wide involvement of local communities, to give its own contribution to the drafting of the PRSP II by gathering data and suggestions from citizens at the municipal levels. As to the monitoring of the MDGs, the coalition is annually committed to produce an Alternative Report on the progress of the Millennium Targets. This monitoring is carried out by compiling the analysis made by six thematic groups, each of which competent in specific development issues. This work methodology proves a very good practice, since it guarantees an overall and comprehensive analysis based on more specific and ad hoc policy scrutiny made by the competent thematic group.
Similarly, the Philippines selected priority issues in research activities. This allows the coalition to deepen its competence on themes relative to financing for development, poverty, MDGs, disparity and equity issues and to produce specific publications in addition to the national Social Watch Report published on a biannual basis since 2001. Another feature that deserves mentioning is the methodology adopted in researching by teh Philippine coalition: the current Basic Capabilities Index, widely used from Social Watch network at global level, come from the Philippine experience. In addition, in carrying out research, the coalition combines official data with empirical ones often supported by case studies which give a human slant to the debate. Such a methodology, together with the use of a language which is also accessible to and comprehensible by ordinary citizens, makes SW Philippine publications very suitable for advocacy.
Both coalitions in the Philippines and Benin are profoundly noteworthy for their effort in training civil society organizations. This can be surely deemed as a very successful experience: upgrading competence of NGOs, journalists, local communities and local public officers is a key factor for getting increasing awareness on social development issues. Training people means enabling citizens to really demand for accountable Governments and to boost an active citizenship.
The Brazilian and German coalitions are among the first coalitions that, besides contributing to the Social Watch International Report with the country report, have been producing a yearly national report of their own since 1997. Both experiences show the importance of summarizing main findings from the International Report and focusing the national one mainly on country issues, thus stimulating public national debate through it.
As mentioned in the analysis of the German coalition, creating a more adequate index for all those countries that are reaching top positions in the BCI will be a challenge for the Social Watch network in the coming years, especially for the most developed countries. Brazil - a middle income country characterized by high levels of inequality - also faces a problem with the BCI and calls for the need to make the SW indicator more sensitive to inequality, in order to build a more accurate figure of the national realities.
The Brazilian experience in drafting the national Social Watch Report is extremely interesting: indeed it is a “real process of social learning (…) not a technical activity but rather an inherent political process as it engages SW members in hot political debates”. It is to be hoped that this same practice of mutual learning can be experienced by all the other SW coalitions being this activity in itself a very significant outcome, probably even more noteworthy than the Report in itself.
The fourth dimension – “strategy and impact” – focuses more on the external exposure of the national platform by showing good examples of positive interaction between Social Watch and local/national Governments.
Over the years the Brazilian coalition understood the importance of Social Watch in helping Brazilian civil society organizations, which consider it as a “control and monitoring system to create impact on the public policies”. This is a successful approach identified by the Brazilian coalition: it means that SW doesn’t directly work on advocacy and lobbying but enhances the capability of its members to do so. In this way the coalition doesn’t duplicate the work done by Brazilian social actors but offers them space of dialogue and exchange. This is very helpful to understand any issue from different perspectives (the positive experience of dialogues about racism is one evident proof). Moreover, the Brazilian platform often succeeded in inviting government officials to attend national seminars and workshops: this is a good practice for always keeping a dialogue open with decision-makers and getting closer relationships in a more “informal” way as effective as “formal” advocacy or lobbying actions.
The SW coalition in Benin, consistent with its priority issues, continues working on two very relevant initiatives, both of which received great acknowledgments from the Government: the first concerning state budget analysis and its compliance to the MDGs, the second relating to the second generation draft of the PRSP II. There are two elements that deserve particular attention and which could be considered key factors in allowing the success of both these initiatives. First, the Beninese coalition organization: its task-sharing among the member organizations, its attention to deepen each issue according to the competence of each organization (by dividing the work in six thematic groups) and the creation of a Budget Analysis Unit ensuring a thorough analysis that is very much appreciated externally. Indeed the coalition had the chance to be invited by the Government for consultations prior to the adoption of the annual budget. Secondly, the coalition understood the importance of working at the local level to raise awareness among locally active CSOs and local public officers. Working at these micro-levels gave the coalition the possibility to widely involve citizens in the process of defining their needs and priorities for drafting the second PRSP. This is, of course, a very remarkable action which supported the Beninese Government with a proper citizens’ perspective on their own poverty. Without the extensive work at the local level and involvement of nationwide local communities the “Civil Society’s Contributions to the elaboration of the PRSP II in Benin” would not have probably been so influential as it actually was.
Looking at the Philippine coalition there are many aspects that make their experience a successful case. The Alternative Budget Initiative is probably one of the best worldwide practices in budget advocacy. The tangible results achieved in terms of additional funds earmarked for basic services prove the effectiveness of this action. Behind the achievement of those important results there is a successful work modality that other national coalitions should take into account when implementing similar actions. It is noteworthy the way the budget analysis is carried out, involving different interests and balancing them when defining the alternative budget proposal. The advocacy work then has two phases: firstly advocating on single issues according to the competence of each organization and secondly coordinating the advocacy action in a unique alternative budget proposal. This implies discussions and exchanges among the CSOs involved in the action and as well as among them and the different governmental sectors involved in some component of the State Budget. Involving key players at the political level is surely a critical step for succeeding in this kind of actions. In addition the involvement of media in this initiative deserves to be highlighted. By understanding the importance of having media as allies in the NGOs advocacy work, the Philippine coalition tried to stir up interest among the media also through the organization of thematic seminars properly addressed to them. This action is particularly stimulating for them since it “arms the media with credible data that shows the relevance of the national budget process to the people’s daily lives”.
Besides the Alternative Budget Initiative, the Philippine coalition promotes MDGs localization and monitoring. The importance of facilitating collaboration at the local level between local government and NGOs to enhance development planning and finance strategies can be pointed out as a similarity to the action undertaken by the Benin coalition. In the Philippine experience the crucial role of academics representing “natural advocates and potential engineers of ground level experiments on MDG localization through their technical capabilities” deserves to be highlighted as well.
One last thing about the Philippine coalition is the capability of contributing to the debate on Financing for Development at the national, regional and international level, thanks to the specific competence of some of its members. This work has provided the Philippine Government with Philippine CSOs perspective and analysis on the issues discussed during official international Summits and their preparatory meetings.
A quite interesting initiative is the impact assessment survey carried out by the German Coalition to better investigate the main target groups of the national report. Despite the survey did not fully achieve the objective to clarify which is the current rang
e of groups reached by the German SW report, the intention of the national platform to better identify its main readers in order to improve its advocacy work accordingly is noteworthy.
In the last dimension – “coherence and complementarities” – it is demonstrated how belonging to the international network has supported the national coalition at the country level in terms of reputation and reliability of the analysis carried out.
The international dimension of the network is for sure one of its strengths, even though probably each platform could make better use of and enhance the relationship with the other national coalitions.
As far as the regional dimension is concerned, it is quite well developed in the Asian region where the Philippine coalition has been the focal point for some years. During its mandate SWP organised Asia-wide consultations that have represented important venues for updating the status of social development both at country and regional level, and for sharing and learning from other national coalitions’ experience. It is interesting to observe how the current experience of the Beninese coalition which, having met difficulty (mainly for language constraints) in interacting with the other SW coalitions, is transforming this difficulty into a challenge by promoting a regional debate among CSOs in the Francophone area of West Africa.
All the coalitions have developed good relationships with other civil society networks at the country level. What is highlighted in the Philippine experience is interesting: the uniqueness of Social Watch is to cover a broad range of social development issues, thus other networks with advocacy on specific issues appreciate participating in national consultations promoted by Social Watch considering it a critical moment for interaction with other groups so as to compare their experience in a wider context. The Brazilian SW coalition also attracts other specialized networks to participate in its debates and activities and has contributed even to the creation of new ones, for instance, the Dialogues against Racism network.
In conclusion, this work deserves attention for its intention of reflecting on tangible experiences of SW national platforms and of suggesting to other coalitions a few elements of analysis to initiate their own assessment process. It is a starting point for stimulating an in-depth internal debate that could motivate members to identify their strengths and weaknesses.
If a “network energy index” was built in order to measure its power, probably it should be composed of three elements: capability to observe and reflect on other experiences as well as its own, capability to be creative and capability to attract people (not only in terms of new members but mainly in terms of promoting dialogue with other social actors). As far as all these three components are alive in a network, it will always be able to propose innovative solutions and to adapt to new challenges.
This work’s objective is to support the aptitude of observing and reflecting: now it is up to Social Watch coalitions around the world to make a good use of it and to provid evidence, through their own experiences, of the worldwide power of such a network.