How Community Dialogue Helped Send Girls Back to School in Yemen

Each morning, fourteen-year-old Fairouz woke up early to take the long walk to get water from a spring outside Al-Manwar, a small village surrounded by hills and green terraced fields in Ibb governorate in Yemen. After she completed 8th grade, Fairouz left school to help her family with everyday errands, such as collecting water and firewood.

“In our village, girls have to fetch water, collect firewood, or tend sheep. My father insisted that I stop going to school in order to help get water for the family… I used to get up in the morning to get water and see other girls going to school. I burst into tears seeing them going to school. I used to ask myself, ‘Why do I not do that? Why does my father not let me go to school?’”

The Roots of Community Level Conflict

Al-Manwar is located about 200 kilometers from Sana’a, on a remote clifftop at the end of a series of dilapidated roads connecting the village to the city of Jeblah. Life in Al-Manwar can be difficult for residents of the village – particularly young girls. For years, they trekked across unpaved roads to reach their school, located 1200 meters from the village. Despite this distance, many girls were able to attend school until the country-wide conflict began in 2015. The war waging across Yemen took a toll on the area’s economy and the ability of its people to access basic services. After the conflict began, the electricity that powered local water pumps stopped flowing to Al-Manwar and families started connecting a haphazard network of private pipes to the local spring.

This created tension in the community, with some unable to afford the equipment to build the pipes. In 2016, a group of young men who saw this system as unfair destroyed many of the pipes, disrupting the flow of freshwater to village residents. Since then, young girls have borne the brunt of collecting water for drinking and washing, dropping out of school in order to carry out this task. Throughout each day, girls from Al-Manwar walk more than a kilometer along the long path to the spring and carry water back to their families’ homes. Carrying the containers on their heads, these girls walk down narrow and difficult paths fraught with danger, scared of what they might encounter. Many face sexual harassment from young men when they walk alone.

After several years of conflict within the community, local residents and community leaders of Al-Manwar were desperate to find a solution to repair the social fabric, bring water back into the homes of villagers, and help the girls go back to school.

Then in 2021, local organization Al-Shaimaa Foundation, together with PartnersYemen, designed an initiative centered on community dialogue and building support for a new water system. At the heart of the initiative was the creation of a seven-member Conflict Resolution Committee that included local sheiks, authority officials, and other influential community members and whose mandate was to peacefully resolve community issues in Al-Manwar.

Employing Dialogue to Find Sustainable Solutions

An initial dialogue was facilitated by Al-Shaimaa Foundation and PartnersYemen to assist the committee in finding a solution to the water crisis. The committee proposed the establishment of a consolidated water supply network to deliver water equally to all local households. Using their enhanced dialogue and facilitation skills, the Committee was able to secure an agreement with all the relevant parties, including a man who lived near the spring and had benefitted the most from the status quo. The negotiated compromise included extending a water supply pipe to his house.

Shortly thereafter, the villagers signed a reconciliation agreement that set the terms for access to the water supply network, formed a maintenance committee for the system, and established a mechanism for dealing with any future conflicts around water management in the village.

Two weeks later, fresh water reached Al-Manwar’s village center.

Today, Fairouz is back in school and excited about the opportunities now open to her in the future. Fairouz’s new reality only became possible after the intervention of Al-Shaimaa Foundation and PartnersYemen, who helped create and then worked together with the Conflict Resolution Committee to address a set of issues that had plagued the residents of Al-Manwar since 2015. Young girls like Fairouz, who had disproportionately suffered before the project, now benefit the most from the new water system. In all, the 23 girls who had dropped out of school were able to go back and continue with their studies.

“Had water not been delivered to the village, my father would not have been convinced to send me back to school… Thank God, I have resumed classes and I go to school regularly,” Fairouz said. “Now, water is in the vicinity of our home. We no longer need to fetch water from that faraway source.”

PartnersYemen’s Work with Communities

Since 2016, PartnersYemen has set up over 90 similar community committees in 18 governorates across Yemen. These committees have served as essential links between community members and local authorities by resolving conflicts that provide more equitable access to local services. Some committees have even established their own new civil society organizations, sustainably advocating for changes at the local level.

In recent years, PartnersYemen and its local civil society partners have found that such committees – when provided with guidance and technical support for facilitation and dialogue – can play key roles in resolving conflicts, forging multiple community reconciliation agreements over resources and service delivery issues.

Partners’ local network of CSOs, of which Al-Shaimaa Foundation in Ibb is a key member, is an important local link to communities across the country. These organizations use their knowledge of local community dynamics to select the local CRC members, develop the Committee’s scopes of work, and provide guidance to help mediate reconciliation sessions with conflicting parties.

While Fairouz and her classmates have benefited greatly from this initiative, important work remains to be done both in Al-Manwar and other underdeveloped rural areas across the country that have suffered under the pressures of the conflict. By utilizing similar conflict resolution and dialogue tools, and with support from Yemeni-led civil society organizations like PartnersYemen and Al-Shaimaa, other communities may be able to work towards sustainable solutions like Ibb’s water system to strengthen their communities and provide opportunities for the most vulnerable.

This piece was co-written by Saddam Al-Dhelaa, PartnersYemen and Matt Ciesielski, PartnersGlobal. For more information on our work in the Middle East and North Africa, please visit our website HERE.

Photo Credit: Girls in School by Julien Harneis

Serbia is home to a robust and diverse group of civil society actors. Since the early 2000s when a civil resistance movement contributed to the ousting of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic, local civil society developed a track record of advocating for democratic reforms, providing services to marginalized communities, and holding government accountable to uphold democratic values and systems.

So what is happening in Serbia now that has civil society and civic space under threat? And what does it mean for civil society going forward?

Changing Tides

Things began to change in Serbia in 2016 with shifting political dynamics and accelerated in 2019 and 2020 in the midst of a global pandemic. Politically, there has been a consolidation of power and reduction in competition with oppositional parties. Freedom House’s Freedom in the World Report 2021 found that civil liberties are eroding and pressure (at times outright intimidation) is being applied to independent media, journalists and civil society organizations to stop criticizing the government.  The CIVICUS Monitor downgraded their classification of Serbia’s civic space rating from narrow to obstructed as a result of these trends.

The democratic backsliding and closing of civic space are worrying for civil society – one of the main drivers of democratic resilience in Serbia. Not only are the rights of citizens and organizations being weakened (or violated altogether), but vulnerabilities within the sector are emerging as a result of the shrinking space. The pandemic exacerbated the financial instability of civil society organizations (CSOs), shining a light on outdated business models. Internal sector-wide discord is making it difficult for civil society to organize collectively against the trends or discuss points of sectoral weaknesses. And civil society’s legitimacy is being undermined by the spread of false information and its cybersecurity systems are being compromised.  

A New Approach

Give the rapidly evolving environment in Serbia, CSOs realized they needed a more flexible and adaptable approach to better prepare for and respond effectively to the shifting dynamics in their civic space.

PartnersGlobal began testing a new civil society Resiliency+ Framework based on more than 30 years of experience supporting CSO growth and reemergence through the USAID-supported INSPIRES project. The Resiliency+ Framework helps CSOs to identify the external threats and internal vulnerabilities impeding them from operating freely. Using this information, the Resiliency+ Framework then facilitates, identifies, and applies tailored strategies, tactics, tools, and coaching support to help CSOs increase their resiliency in one to seven key drivers needed to adapt quickly to an often volatile, uncertain, and fast-changing external environment.

From 2019-2021, twelve Serbian CSOs were selected to pilot the framework and embarked on their resiliency journey. Several were skeptical about the process – how is it different from a general strategic planning or organizational strengthening process? Will it really bring about different outcomes?

Each organization in the group was paired with an international Resiliency+ Coach and Local Serbian Facilitators from Partners Serbia (a Partners Network member) and CIVIC Initiatives, two well respected, longstanding civil society organizations. This dynamic team guided the CSOs through a process of self-assessment in all seven factors, as well as an ecosystem and scenario analysis and roadmap development.

Building Resiliency

Integral to the resiliency process are pause and reflection moments –beneficial moments throughout the journey to take stock of progress made towards benchmarks, identify challenges that emerged, reassess environmental dynamics, and make any changes to the path necessary to becoming a more resilient organization. As a team at PartnersGlobal, we decided now is one of those moments for us, as the first cohort of Serbian CSOs reaches the end of the accompanied part of their journeys. This is what we learned:

The comprehensiveness and consistency of accompaniment of the process have been overwhelmingly positive and insightful for participating organizations. One organization noted,

“Continuous mentorship and guidance provided by our coaches encouraged us to think outside the box, expand our views and perspectives. The roadmap designing and scenario planning techniques have shown us our weaknesses, but also provided us the tools to resolve the issues we mapped.”

It also contributed to a deeper awareness of the specific vulnerabilities and strengths within them. As one CSO reflected,

“[This process] allowed us to understand better what we need to become more resilient. Focus on improvements of our narrative competencies and opening to a new constituency that can also become our donors in the future is the key. The ecosystem workshop at the end also made a huge shift in our thinking, increasing the urgency to optimize our digital tools and improve our narrative on values.”

Another organization offered,

“It enabled [us] to more strategically approach internal capacity development through identifying concrete needs of the organization. In this regard, considering that the crisis communications aspect was assessed as the most vulnerable, we worked directly on strengthening these capacities. This process also provided [our organization] with the opportunity to think about communications more strategically, to act proactively in order to prevent potential crisis situations, and use communications to overcome potential negative influences on the organization, with consideration of shrinking space and deteriorating conditions for civil society operations in Serbia.”

The development of tailor-made tools was the most significant outcome of the process for another organization:

“[The process] initiated concrete actions…resulted in developing resiliency tools (forms, guidelines and system for staff performance review, crisis communication plan, CRM IT platform for faster and effective communication in times of crisis).”

A unique aspect of the experience for many of the organizations was the inclusion of staff from all levels of the organization’s structure. Often, strategic planning processes involve only the top leadership. However, part of being a resilient organization is providing space for staff to get involved in more participatory ways. Why? Because it strengthens everyone’s connection to the mission of the organization and therefore, its success. One organization noted that as a result of the inclusion of all staff in the resiliency process,

“When something needs to be done to improve the resiliency of the organization, it became the priority for the entire team, not only for organizational leaders. That is a significant change.”

The greatest transformation however was the mindset shift. Adopting a resilient mindset is one of the most important aspects of organizational resiliency. A resiliency mindset is one that embraces uncertainty and welcomes flexibility and adaptation. As one organization puts it,

We learned to embrace uncertainty as a team. This is a big takeaway. Working in an environment with so many uncertainties, it is important to know how to enjoy your work despite or maybe because of this uncertainty.”

Another offered,

“Taking time to reflect on our own work brings long-term benefits to the team and that developing the resilience of the organization is not just a matter of spontaneous dynamics, but planned steps.”

The Journey Continues

As the accompaniment part of the original cohort of Serbian civil society organizations comes to an end, the second group of CSOs prepares to embark on their resiliency journey. Collectively, all participating organizations are contributing to a stronger, more durable civil society sector in Serbia and will continue to share experiences, resources, and lessons learned throughout the remainder of the INSPIRES initiative and beyond.        

  April 26, 2021

PartnersGlobal has promoted Bridget O’Loughlin to Director of Business Development. She moves into the lead business development role after serving over six years in various roles at the organization, most recently as the Senior Manager for Business Development where she expanded funding in innovative and important programming areas, including civil society resiliency, inclusive security, and accountable governance.

Her appointment comes at an exciting time as PartnersGlobal continues to align its current programming in response to global post-pandemic realities. This new leadership role will harness valuable lessons from PartnersGlobal’s experience and work around the globe about how to grow resilient organizations in unpredictable times of disruptive social, ecological, and health challenges. O’Loughlin will join the executive management team to offer strategic leadership that drives growth which is responsive to changing needs and predictive of how to reimagine organizational partnerships and funding relationships.

“Bridget’s leadership and vision has been so pivotal to the growth and success of PartnersGlobal these past few years,” says Roselie Vasquez-Yetter, Co-Executive Director for the organization. “In her new position, she’ll no doubt bring the same dedication as we continue to grow and innovate to support civil society and promote peace and democracy around the globe.”

In her new role setting the organization’s business development strategy, O’Loughlin says she will work to expand donor outreach for innovative and inclusive programming to meet the global peace and democracy challenges of the moment. Chief among these will be ramping up support for the comprehensive and on-the-ground peacebuilding efforts of PartnersYemen, which is providing critical conflict transformation and stabilization services in the midst of the country’s civil war and humanitarian crisis. She will also focus on continuing to bolster civil society resiliency in the face of authoritarianism, conflict, and crisis. She says she looks forward to increasing PartnersGlobal’s engagement with existing donors and partners and forming new relationships.

“This last year has been critical for global development as we reckoned with the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic and the foundational inequalities of the sector,” says O’Loughiln. “I look forward to working with our colleagues around the world to design transformational programing that embodies PartnersGlobal’s values of local leadership and true partnership.”

In her previous role of Senior Manager for Business Development, Bridget provided strategic leadership for PartnersGlobal’s business development efforts, including managing proposal design and preparation, developing and leading knowledge management processes, and building and sustaining external partnerships. She played a leading role in expanding funding for new programming, such as civil society resiliency building and served as an international peer coach and mentor in the space.

In addition to her business development expertise, O’Loughlin is an experienced trainer and facilitator in English and Spanish and has supported PartnersGlobal’s civil society resiliency, accountable governance, and conflict transformation work in Latin America, Yemen, and Nigeria.

She is a native of the Boston area and started working as an intern at PartnersGlobal in 2013 while pursuing her Master of Arts in Latin American Studies at Georgetown University. She has a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown, and previously lived and worked in Maracaibo, Venezuela as a Fulbright Fellow. 

“Bridget exemplifies the sought-after combination of programmatic, financial, and strategic design skills that have embodied her internal advancement from the most entry-level role to a senior leadership position within the organization,” says Vasquez-Yetter. “We can’t wait to see what this new challenge will bring!”

  April 16, 2021

Partners West Africa Senegal, Partners West Africa Nigeria, and PartnersGlobal are pleased to announce the recipients of the 2021 General Lamine Cissé Women, Peace and Security Research Fellowship.

Esah Holy ANAGHO is a Ph.D. candidate in International Relations and Conflict Resolution at the University of Buea – Cameroon. Her research is entitled, “Conflict Resolution, Peacebuilding and Counter-terrorism: The Roles of women in the North West, South West and Far North Regions of Cameroon.”

For almost a decade, Cameroon has experienced multiple conflicts that have gravely affected women and girls. The Boko Haram insurgency in the country’s Far North region and the separatist armed conflict in the North-West and South-West regions (the two English speaking or Anglophone regions of the country) have endangered the affected populations generally, but have been especially grievous for women and girls. Anagho’s innovative research will assess:

  • What are the roles of women in the Cameroon Anglophone Conflict?
  • In what ways has the Cameroon Anglophone conflict affected women and girls?
  • To what extent have women been able to contribute to the peace processes of the Cameroon Anglophone conflict?

Captain Mame Rokhaya LÔ is the Head of the Gender Desk within the Senegalese National Gendarmerie.

Captain Lo’s research is called, “Gender, Recruitment Strategies, and Management of Human Resources in the Senegalese National Gendarmerie.” With this research, she aims is to highlight gaps in current policy and practice, make policy recommendations, and engage decision-makers with the security sector for transformative change.

Five Years of the Partners for Security in Guinea project

Through its five years (2015-2020) the Partners for Security in Guinea project worked to build trust between police and citizens and reform Guinea’s security sector through community policing. It took collaboration among the Guinean government, law enforcement, community leaders, and everyday citizens and a committment from all to sharping a security sector that was more inclusive and effective as well as rights-respecting.

Take a look through the stories, videos and materials that capture some of the project’s successes, innovations, and best practices and hear from those most involved in the project about their experiences in shaping a more secure Guinea.

About the project

From 2015-2020, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs has supported PartnersGlobal and consortium members COGINTA and CECIDE in implementing the Partners for Security in Guinea project. The project’s goal was to institute community policing in Guinea and to reform the security sector by improving relationships between police and communities so they could collaboratively address shared security challenges. Learn more about the project here.

Read about the project’s best practices and impact

Guide to Best Practices on community policing in Guinea The Guide shares the innovative initiatives, tools, and best practices that contributed to the project’s success and that can inform community policing initiatives and security sector reform in other countries Read More
In Guinea, citizens become “actors in their own security” Read about this national approach to improve police effectiveness and build citizen-police trust through officer training, community-based policing, and positive community-police interactions. Read More

Cliquez pour accéder au Guide en français.

Learn about our 2019 Share Fair

Click the reports below to read about the lessons learned and successes discussed at the Partners for Security in Guinea Share Fair.

Watch our webinar and check out the presentations below

Check out our video library

by Jillian Slutzker Rocker   March 19, 2021

Tashkent and Los Angeles are some 7,204 miles apart, but if you ask a local leader from either city what their most pressing issue is, you will likely get a similar answer: being responsive to constituent needs amid competing demands.  

“The most important thing in local governance is communication and transparency,” said Anthony-Paul Diaz,  Executive Officer for the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. “I have 4 million bosses, and it’s my job to make them happy. We need to focus on the communities, listen to them, and deliver what they need.” 

Diaz shared his insight and experience in local government with more than two dozen new public councilors from cities across Uzbekistan, as well as state officials and civil society representatives, in a first-ever virtual exchange on good governance and civic engagement between the countries. The week-long exchange, coordinated by PartnersGlobal, was part of the USAID-funded Partnership for Innovation program, implemented by the Civil Society Development Association – ARGO and the national movement Yuksalish.  

“Everyone who is here is here not just because they want to share their knowledge but because they want to learn from each other,” said Roselie Vasquez-Yetter, Co-Executive Director of PartnersGlobal, welcoming the attendees to the event. 

She added that since the exchange was being held virtually, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more participants from across both countries were able to join, which would not have been possible with an in-person event. The virtual format also enabled Uzbek participants to journey across the United States from their own living rooms. 

Throughout the week, Uzbek and American participants from cities large, like Tashkent, and small, like Melrose, MA, shared experiences and best practices on topics such as engaging vulnerable populations, COVID-19 response, management of water and other natural resources, and overall constituent engagement. Uzbek public councilors explained to the American participants their role as volunteer organizations representing citizen and civil society perspectives to the government.  

Representatives of civil society organizations from both countries joined in to share practical examples of how partnerships between civil society and government can strengthen good governance, citizen engagement, and constituent services. 

Delivering to constituents 

Among both American and Uzbek participants, serving their communities in difficult times like the COVID-19 pandemic was a top priority. From offering psychosocial, medical, and material support to teaming up with local civil society organizations to reach vulnerable communities, participants discussed what approaches have worked best for them and what they have been able to accomplish.  

“We are very proud that our public council has undertaken the role of a coordinator of providing support during a pandemic,” said Marufjon Kokand, a member of the public council in the Namangan region of Uzbekistan.  

Zachia Nazarzai, Director of International Affairs, Policy, & Protocol in the Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti in Los Angeles, offered that this moment of local leadership stepping up could be an opportunity to reshape how government engages with citizens moving forward.  

“The changes we are making today are building the city for the next century,” she said. “We must embrace diverse ideas, experiences, and cultures in our community to transform how we operate to meet the needs of our residents, especially the most vulnerable, in this moment.” 

Local councilors in Uzbekistan, many of whom are new to their positions as public councils are a recent development in the country, asked their U.S. counterparts about the challenge of maintaining good relationships with citizens even when you can’t always deliver.  

City councilors from Melrose, MA in the U.S. suggested that being responsive, honest, and letting citizens know you have heard their concerns, even if there isn’t always an immediate solution, can go a long way.  

From the Uzbek side, Feruza Rashidova, Chairperson of the Commission on Social Development of the Tashkent Public Council, noted that the public councils could build trust with constituents over time. 

“The more challenges we overcome, the more trust we will build with the public, especially since the public councils are new here. We want to be constructive, and we need to be active,” she said.  

Participants also emphasized that local leaders must represent ALL constituents, not only those who are the loudest or most privileged, but also those whose voices aren’t always heard.  

“We can’t rely solely on community members coming to us, but we need to reach out to them and listen and learn from those who live in our city so we can really serve our community well,” said Dorie Withey, Secretary of the Melrose Human Rights Commission. 

Only the beginning for these new connections  

During the exchange, participants from both countries discovered many common challenges, such as responsive policy to climate change, and offered the tools and strategies they have used to overcome them.  And while the formal exchange is over, the informal dialogue between individuals and cities is ongoing.  

Uzbek participants, for example, offered to reach out the mayor of Tashkent to encourage the revitalization of its sister-city relationship with Seattle, after speaking with Fazliddin Shamsiev, the Vice President of the Seattle Tashkent Sister Cities Association. 

Jamila Asanova, Executive Director of Civil Society Development Association (ARGO), noted that while the virtual format meant more people could be included in this exchange it also means that connections can continue online long after the meetings have concluded. 

“It was my dream three years ago to do a virtual exchange,” she said. “My dream has become a reality.” 

  February 23, 2021

In honor of General Cissé , PartnersGlobal, Partners West Africa Nigeria and Partners West Africa Senegal are awarding research fellowships to two young African women researchers and practitioners working in the civil society and security sectors. Each fellow will receive a grant equivalent of 1,500,000 CFA (West African franc) to fund innovative research around the prevention and peaceful resolution of conflicts in Africa with a central focus on women, peace and security.

With these fellowships, the Partners Network aims to cultivate the next generation of leaders in women, peace and security and make progress toward realizing UNSCR 1325.

Eligibility and Selection Criteria

Only future or ongoing research projects are eligible for the Fellowship.

The selection criteria applied for the project appraisal are:

  1. Applicant’s capacity to carry out quality research (level of education, professional experience, published work, academic support);
  2. Relevance and originality of the issue in relation to current security and gender issues;
  3. Link to the themes selected for the Fellowship, as specified in Article 3;
  4. Methodology and structuring of the work;
  5. Analytical development of the project narrative and the planned fieldwork;
  6. Interest of the results and the practical impact of contributions.

Application requirements

Submit the complete application file electronically by March 15, 2021 to [email protected]

The application must contain the following files:

  • 1 Resume/CV (contact details including home address and possibly institutional address, training, career path and professional project, photograph);
  • 1 transcript of the Master’s degree and/or the doctoral research proposal approved by the committee members/ or a transcript of the doctoral/PhD diploma;
  • 1 Letter of recommendation;
  • 1 Copy of a research work already carried out (thesis chapter, scientific article, etc.);
  • 1 research proposal for the General Lamine Cissé Fellowship (10 pages) including the following sections, in .doc or .docx format:
    • Aim/goal of the research;
    • Research problem;
    • Research methodology;
  • In the appendix of the research project:
    • Indicative references;
    • Research timeline;
    • Estimated research budget.

Incomplete applications or those arriving after the Closing Date will not be considered. See the flyer below for more details.

  February 22, 2021

February 22, 2021, Tashkent, Uzbekistan–The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Partnership for Innovation Program teamed up with PartnersGlobal to facilitate a week-long virtual exchange on Good Governance and Civic Engagement that began today. Participants include members of Public Councils, State Administration, Parliament, and civil society organizations from Uzbekistan and the United States.

Through the virtual exchange, participants will learn about the work of City Councils, state authorities, and civil society organizations, including the methodological principles of public administration and professional skills of City Councils. The participants will become acquainted with good practices and lessons learned in developing, drafting, and implementing effective and inclusive public policies and comprehensive approaches and tools on public participation in policymaking and decision-making. Participants from Uzbekistan and across Central Asia can then apply the best practices learned in their work to advance civic engagement within their communities.

“We are excited to learn from the experiences of our peers in the United States and share their insights with colleagues across Central Asia. We are hopeful that this virtual exchange will strengthen the positive impact civil society can have on public participation in policymaking and decision-making,” said Partnership for Innovation Program, Chief of Party, Kaisha Atakhanova, about the event.


The USAID-funded Partnership for Innovation Program strengthens Central Asian civil society organizations for better engagement with their local and national governments to promote positive policy changes and improve the lives of citizens across the region. The $4.9 million program is implemented by the Civil Society Development Association–ARGO in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.


  January 5, 2021

Government transparency and accountability is key to healthy democracy, but building the systems and culture to support this is a long and challenging task. In Nigeria, the Public Private Development Centre (PPDC) has successfully advanced government reforms to increase transparency and elevated the voices of civil society in demanding accountability from their officials.

Nkemdilim Ilo
Chief Executive Officer
Public Private Development Centre

PPDC was recently awarded the prestigious ONE Africa Award, which celebrates African efforts aimed at achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The award recognizes Africa-driven and Africa-led advocacy efforts that have demonstrated success at the community, national or regional level.

As partners on the Promoting Civil Society Participation in Anti-Corruption Efforts in Nigeria (Access Nigeria), PPDC and PartnersGlobal have educated citizens on the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and increased collaboration between citizens and government around open contracting and freedom of information.

The project consortium, which also includes BudgIT, the Cleen Foundation, Partners West Africa Nigeria and New-Rule, are visualizing data to help citizens better understand government budgets; building open budgeting portals; tracking budget expenditures through civic tech tools; advancing whistleblower legislation; partnering with local government to diagnose and address institutional vulnerabilities to corruption; and supporting state governments to implement legislation that addresses corruption in Nigeria’s justice system.  

PartnersGlobal’s Director for Africa and Accountable Governance Muthoni Kamuyu-Ojuolo interviewed Nkem Ilo, CEO of PPDC, to hear her perspective on Nigeria’s gains in transparency and accountability and the challenges that remain.

How have tech tools improved government accountability and transparency in public procurements in Nigeria?

If we think of firewalls as cabinets or buildings, tech tools have removed these firewalls and created opportunities for citizens to access government-held information and data, provide inputs into planning, and advocate for reform.

Tech tools have improved governance and transparency in Nigeria in a number of ways. Firstly, prior to tech tools entering the space, citizens could not readily obtain publicly held data, let alone analyze such data. Nigeria has now signed the Open Government Partnership. The open government movement in Nigeria has motivated government to build its own tech tools A good example is the Open Treasury Portal and the Nigeria Open Contracting Portal. Another example is the Federal Ministry of Budget and National Planning and its presentation of the budget in a way that is understandable to different stakeholders.

On the supply side, civic tech tools used around open budgeting and open contracting have created a feedback loop so that citizens can share their views with government about the budget. This has improved the practice of governance.

Secondly, civic tech tools have enabled civil society to analyze large and complex data sets. Civil society is now able to identify trends in data and understand the “what and why” of the data.

In the present context, where COVID-19 has required government to respond with stimulus and procurement to address health needs, civil society is now able to use the Nigeria Open Contracting Portal to track and monitor the use of COVID-related government funds. This has generated much-needed conversation in the political sphere. People are beginning to raise questions about the past fiscal investments in the health care system. Why is Nigeria’s health system ill-equipped for a crisis like COVID?

“Because of our democracy, organized civil society groups are perceived as equal to government. The Open Government Partnership is a dividend of democracy.”

What are the “democracy dividends” for Nigeria?

Before democracy was ushered in, citizens were simply not able to question government. There was no onus on government to respond to citizens’ concerns or their requests for information. Participatory governance simply did not exist.

Because of our democracy, organized civil society groups are perceived as equal to government. The Open Government Partnership is a dividend of democracy. The process of becoming an OGP country requires co-creation, collaboration, and joint problem solving—very simply put, government is required to listen to a broad range of stakeholders to solve policy issues. That is the definition of democracy!

Because of democracy, the idea that citizens and civil society can request information is seen as a norm and these are enshrined in legal frameworks that exist to promote transparency and accountability, including the Public Procurement Act and various fiscal transparency laws. These developments have definitely generated democracy dividends because citizens have access to data, which they can use to push for reform on issues they care about.  

What are some of the challenges facing Nigeria’s democracy?

Nigeria’s democracy is fraught with challenges. On one hand, the country signed on to the OGP, a multi-stakeholder initiative, and on the hand, other parts of the government are clamping down on activists that led the #ENDSARS movement. There are various truths, untruths, and counter-truths that surround the government’s involvement in the Lekki Bridge massacre.

Similarly, our democracy is significantly stifled by corruption. Government spending is not free from corruption. Very few corruption cases are prosecuted to the full extent of the law and in a way that disincentivizes corruption. At present, the Finance Bill is being discussed. The bill is designed to promote fiscal transparency, but provisions in the bill have raised concerns that it may also weaken the checks and balances that the Public Procurement Act put in place.

These types of developments leave citizens wondering about the extent to which democracy has generated dividends. It is clear the government has made notable investments in transparency and, as a result, a wide range of data is available to citizens and civil society. What is missing is accountability. There is a lack of systemic or institutional incentives to change the behavior of public officials so that they truly are accountable. This is where the focus needs to be, otherwise the benefits of democracy will continue to be uneven.

“Our strategy is to stimulate change in how government operates by recognizing positive things government is doing to open up its processes and information.”

What has made the Freedom of Information Index and Open Government Partnership Index successful in encouraging open government in Nigeria?

Nigeria as a country takes pride in its competitive spirit. We like to be seen as doing better than our counterparts. PPDC’s Open Government Partnership Index and the Freedom of Information Index (administered by a civil society collective) are a direct result of the investment made by the Access Nigeria project, which we implemented jointly with PartnersGlobal.

These indexes have contributed to changing the narrative around the issue of corruption and, in particular, open contracting. Our strategy is to stimulate change in how government operates by recognizing positive things government is doing to open up its processes and information.

Since the launch of the Freedom of Information Index in 2014, we have seen healthy competition emerge between government institutions who actively seek to improve their ranking yearly. For instance, after each year’s ranking, we regularly receive calls from public institutions seeking training and guidance on how to improve their compliance with mandatory disclosure provisions in Nigeria’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Because of technology and the access that the Freedom of Information Act has provided, we are able to point to data to support public institutions to improve their rankings.  Similarly, the OGP Index has contributed to an increase in states signing the OGP and opening state governments.

“There is more will among civil society to push for government to be more responsive to FOIA requests than there is will within government to be accountable and respond to citizens’ and civil society’s requests for information.”

What are Nigeria’s top challenges regarding freedom of information? What does that mean for the country’s democratic development?

The top access to information challenge Nigeria faces is lagging government accountability. Even though the Freedom of Information Act has been passed and is being implemented, civil society is still facing challenges in obtaining information. Government is slow to respond to requests by citizens or civil society organizations. This is especially true of public institutions in the security sector.

It is possible to interpret the lack of full FOIA compliance by government as a strategy to close or restrict civic space. Government is closing civic space in other ways as well. An example of this is the controversy surrounding the recently passed Corporate Allied Matters Act and also the alleged withdrawal of a civil society organization’s registration for its participation in the #EndSARS campaign.  

At the state level, there still exists confusion as to whether state governments are required to comply with the Federal FOIA. Some states have passed their own FOIA, and in some instances, state public officials are aware these laws exist, while others are not. This presents a challenge for compliance and the implementation of OGP at the state level.

Under OGP, states should be required to comply with existing freedom of information laws (especially where such states are yet to pass their own laws) because access to information is central to opening up government. Total compliance with FOIA requires will on the part of government. There is more will among civil society to push for government to be more responsive to FOIA requests than there is will within government to be accountable and respond to citizens’ and civil society’s requests for information.

How has winning the ONE Award impacted PPDC?

The ONE Award has given us so much visibility and recognition.  This has been very welcomed because an opportunity exists for us to scale what we are doing and advance our central focus of increasing citizen participation around contracting and public procurement and, as an outcome, improve service delivery through citizens’ empowerment.