Valerio Cutolo and Tommaso Rondinella

Social Watch Germany was initially founded under the name “German NGO Forum for the World Summit for Social Development” in January 1994. After the Copenhagen Summit in 1995, the Forum decided to continue its activities and to monitor the implementation of the Copenhagen commitments by the German Government. The Forum changed its name to “Social Watch Germany” in 2002 in order to demonstrate its close relationship with the international Social Watch network.

The network has showed the ability to keep a wide group of organizations ranging from trade unions, to welfare organizations, to development NGOs together for over 10 years. Such a wide and heterogeneous coalition has been able to contribute anually to the international Social Watch report and to publish a national report in German continuously since 2001. The actual objective the network intended to achieve has always been the publication of the report, and that minimum has been reached. The constant presence and activity of the German coalition itself gave strength to the Social Watch network at the international level.

The main weaknesses are identified in its inability in doing anything more besides the publication of the national report as well as not reaching the “policy power” (parliamentarians, ministries, etc.) in a systematic manner so as to implement an effective lobbying and advocacy activity. Also, the coalition has never adopted particular modalities or strategies to involve new members.

Probably because of its large size, the coalition develops very few parallel activities to the report and its launching. When workshops have been carried out to discuss the themes of the report more thoroughly, they are promoted by some coalition members, in particular Global Policy Forum and Terre des hommes.

The German Coalition has a minimally formalized structure;. It doesn’t have any legal statute, in order to keep it as open as possible to other groups and organizations interested in joining in. It doesn’t even have any formal internal document, but only a very general memorandum describing the origins of the German SW coalition and the main activities. To become a member it is sufficient to send a letter or an e-mail declaring the organization’s interest in Social Watch activities (which are totally focused on the SW Report) and promotion.
The members gather for the national coalition meeting that takes place twice a year and is open to all participating groups. During the meeting the participants elect the Coordinating Committee members (the committee that discusses everyday work of the German Social Watch) as well as the network’s spokesperson.

Methodological decisions have to be taken by all members in the national coordination meeting. Other decisions, particularly related to the Social Watch Report are taken by consensus of the Coordinating Committee.

Once the coordinating committee receives the Secretariat’s guidelines for the report, it starts a process of discussion, mainly of the substantive themes of the national report and of the German contribution to the international report.

The annual budget is largely related to the editing, printing and launching of the report, and it is around €25,000, funded through voluntary contributions by the individual members. Thus, publishers of the report are not all the members of SW Germany but only those who contribute (financially or in kind), usually around 10 organizations. 

Apart from the contribution to the SW International Report, SW Germany produces a national report containing an international section, a section on development policies and another section on the social situation in Germany.

The definition of the overall issue of SW Germany is also strongly limited by the attempt to avoid overlapping with the themes already covered by member organizations. The presence of unions and social welfare organizations limits the advocacy focus of SW Germany, excluding themes such as poverty, labour, pension reform or health system, while development NGOs would keep the issue of development assistance and the German aid budget for themselves.

This doesn’t mean that the German Social Watch Coalition is not allowed to speak about those issues and to cover them in the annual reports; it means that they cannot be the Coalition’s reference theme.
Finally, in order to enhance internal capacities, a workshop on poverty indicators has been organized by member NGOs. The workshop’s theme was the measure of poverty and alternative poverty indicators. The workshop hosted various international speakers, including Roberto Bissio and Karina Batthyány from the SW Secretariat in Montevideo and professor Pogge from Columbia University. The workshop was organized by Global Policy Forum and Terre des hommes, both active members of SW Germany, and was attended by 30 people.

Regarding the BCI(Basic Capabilities Index) and GEI(Gender Equity Index) calculation at the country level, the coalition just maintains the international indicators without calculating them for lower territorial levels, for example the German Laender. The coalition doesn’t use BCI actively in its work while GEI is distributed at meetings and conferences.

The problem with GEI is a lack of statistics in Germany since the country lacks disaggregated figures for male and female pupils in elementary school, so that dimension of the GEI simply could not be calculated (this has been a problem for the UNESCO too, but now UNESCO has solved it).  With regard to the BCI, the coalition discussed the building of an alternative and more useful index; moreover there was a proposal to elaborate a kind of solidarity index, like the Commitment for Development Index, by Social Watch, but it is something that has to be done at the international level and not only in Germany. A more adequate index for all those countries that are reaching top positions in the BCI might be useful for many coalitions, not only the German one.

The outreach and the public impact of the coalition remain weak as SW appears in the media just once a year in correspondence to the launching.

In order to represent a tool that is widely used, the report should find its own thematic niche, and Social Watch Germany had to define its own specific identity more clearly. This appears very difficult for two main reasons: the first is the annual changing theme of the international report, the second is the twofold focus on domestic welfare issues as well as on development cooperation policies. The lack of a clear focus and a precisely defined target group represents a major weakness in front of possible interlocutors, starting from members of Parliament and Government. Yet they are just one of the target groups, but not the only one; the SW report is mainly distributed to NGOs, journalists, students and academics.

As the German network was established in 1994, this is, before Social Watch was founded, the original intention to become member of the German network was not linked to the international network. Later some members joined the German coalition because of its international dimension; for them it was more attractive to be part of an international network and to influence decisions at international level.

With regard to the relationship with other national Social Watch coalitions, in 2004 SW Germany hosted the first European Social Watch meeting in Berlin. However, due to a lack of capability and funding there has not been a follow up meeting in the years after.

There is a lot of thematic and institutional overlapping of the SW coalition and its members with other networks and platforms in Germany. But there is no formal relationship between Social Watch and these other networks. Up to now the relationship to other networks – like VENRO, the German network of development NGOs – is exclusively through individual Social Watch members.

Good practices learnt from the German Social Watch Coalition:
  • Ability to maintain a large network always open to new members, even if limiting the space for the themes treated.
  • Ensuring the continuous production of a national report.
  • Light but effective structure. The presence of a Coordinating committee guarantees a constant discussion and agreement on everyday work without questioning all member organizations.
  • Development of tools to be used together with the report (even if occasionally) in order to reach the media more effectively.
  • Carrying out of an impact assessment survey to better understand the target group the report is actually reaching.