31 July, 2014

Civil Society’s Campaign for Effective Development: the Istanbul Principles

By Patricia Blankson Akakpo
CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness

How has civil society adjusted to the shift in global dialogue from aid to development effectiveness? Civil society has been at the forefront of campaigning for effective development, while still recognising that aid has the potential to help eliminate the root causes, as well as the symptoms of poverty, inequality and marginalisation.

Under the banner of the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE), civil society has committed to the three-year programme “Civil Society Continuing Campaign for Effective Development.”

The programme, announced at the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation’s High-Level Meeting in Mexico in April 2014, aims to make several concrete contributions to global development. At the end of the three years, CSOs in at least 50 countries should be able to claim their rights in multi-stakeholder development effectiveness policy arenas, as well as working on their own effectiveness. By then, CSO advocacy positions should also be clearly influencing global development and development co-operation policies. Finally, multi-stakeholder initiatives should be advancing an enabling environment for CSOs at relevant national, sub-regional, regional and global policy arenas.

Looking at our own effectiveness

In the two years since Busan, CSOs around the world have been actively promoting the Istanbul Principles for CSO Development Effectiveness and the International Framework for CSO Development Effectiveness. Hundreds of CSOs at the country level have developed initiatives to assess and improve their practice to make sure development has more positive effects on the lives of poor and marginalised people.

CPDEquoteDespite strong evidence of shrinking spaces for CSOs as independent development actors, stories of good development practices attest to the commitment of CSOs to work in ways that are consistent with the principles of development effectiveness.

For example, a “Training of Trainers” workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa involved 45 trainers from around the world to develop regional plans and advance development effectiveness in their region. Codes of conduct, workshops and learning tools have been adapted to country contexts to increase awareness of the Principles and their practical implications. This work includes promotion of the Principles with official aid provider agencies and partner country governments; workshops to strengthen Human Rights-Based Approaches to development co-operation; promoting gender equality as an essential condition for CSO development effectiveness; and developing tools and workshops to strengthen understanding of development relationships that reflect equitable partnerships. Finally, CSO are working to be more transparent and fully accountable for their development efforts.

Reflecting on emerging results

These efforts are starting to show results. For instance, the Istanbul Principles helped grassroots communities in Cameroon to participate in local development plans. They also helped establish five citizens’ councils across the country to give the people a voice in local governance.

In Georgia last year, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between local CSOs and the Parliament, officially endorsing the Istanbul Principles. The MOU institutionalised policy dialogue based on mutual respect, trust and fair co-operation between legislative bodies and CSOs —reflecting the beginnings of equitable partnerships and solidarity.

In Asia, CSOs in Cambodia developed their own Code of Ethical Principles and Minimum Standards for NGOs to support their work on their own organisational practices. Cambodian CSOs also played a pivotal role in developing their own self-regulation system to practice transparency and accountability.

CSOs’ commitment to maximising their development impact is starting to bear fruit, as shown by some of the many examples of CSOs working on their own effectiveness and accountability as independent development actors.

Continuing the Campaign

The fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness held in Busan in 2011 was a breakthrough in its acknowledgement of the link between effective CSO work and the conditions that enable them to maximise their contributions to development. The policies and practices of governments, donors and the private sector all affect and shape CSOs’ capacity to engage in development practices. Progress in realising effective development, therefore, depends not only on CSO initiatives but also equality among all stakeholders involved in shaping the global development architecture.

Despite strong evidence of shrinking spaces for CSOs as independent development actors, stories of good development practices attest to the commitment of CSOs to work in ways that are consistent with the principles of development effectiveness. Clearly, challenges remain and more progress is needed, which is why the CSO Partnership is more committed than ever to continue its campaign for effective development.


AkakpoBioPatricia Blankson Akakpo is one of the CPDE Co-Chairs and Senior Programme Officer/Head of Secretariat for the Network for Women’s Rights in Ghana (NETRIGHT). She has a Master’s degree in development studies from The Hague, Netherlands, and more than fifteen years of experience in the field of gender and development, human resource management, labour relations and programme management.

DISCLAIMER: This blog is a forum for sharing the diverse views of its varied contributors on important and emerging issues of Effective Development Co-operation. The posts do not necessarily reflect the view of the Global Partnership, its Co-Chairs, Steering Committee members, or of the joint UNDP/OECD support team.