chapter  7
23 Pages

EU micro- assistance to democracy and sustainability: a multi- level analysis of grassroots organizations

Introduction As discussed in previous chapters, most CSOs operating in new democracies have become heavily dependent on foreign funding. Especially in the African context, where local resources are limited and, more often than not, directly controlled by government, the issue of sustainability has become particularly important. The gradual reduction of foreign aid to non-governmental actors operating in new democracies has been extensively discussed in the literature (Edwards and Hulme 1996; Fowler 2000; Malhotra 2000).1 Several agencies, ranging from international donors to technical NGOs, have proposed various models of sustainability for organizations operating in new democracies faced with declining commitment from foreign donors. Thus, sustainability has become a buzzword in the development sector, all too often employed quite simplistically by international consultants. In general, when people refer to the sustainability of local civil society in developing countries they look exclusively at the financial resources available to these organizations. Nevertheless, the notion of sustainability is far from being limited to the financial aspect. According to Lisa Cannon (1999), there are at least three types of sustainability: benefit sustainability, which refers to the ongoing continuation of a specific service or activity performed by an organization (that is, an organization is sustainable as long as it is perceived to be important by its community and performs a role that is needed by the beneficiaries); organizational (or institutional) sustainability, which regards the internal capacity of the organization managing the project to achieve a sustainable development; and, eventually, financial sustainability, which refers to the capacity of an organization to raise income from a diversified set of sources (local, national and international, private and public) and recognizes that CSOs must shift from dependency on foreign donors (which is, by definition, not sustainable in the long term) in order to extract more income from their local environment, be it through donations, local fundraising schemes, or other strategies (Cannon 1999: 4-5). The World Bank acknowledges the existence of different interpretations of the word ‘sustainability’, even though most professionals overwhelmingly define

it in terms of financial sustainability: ‘diversifying revenue streams so as not to become overly dependent on a limited number of funding sources’ (World Bank 2003: 2). Although financial sustainability occupies centre stage in its developmental approach, the Bank also adds another element to the overall debate, that is, political sustainability. Since CSOs are considered to be the ‘transmission belt’ between the citizens and governmental authorities, the Bank understands political sustainability as the organizations’ capacity to response to widespread social needs and enhance citizens’ chances to affect policy making, be it through advocacy campaigns, lobbying, or protests (World Bank 2003: 4). Another example is constituted by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that has long developed a multidimensional index to measure the sustainability of NGOs.2 USAID goes as far as to offer seven dimensions of sustainability: legal environment, organizational capacity, financial viability, advocacy, service provision, infrastructure, and public image (USAID 2002). In terms of financial viability, USAID observes that the real challenge for local CSOs concerns the development of domestic sources of funding and/or revenues to replace unreliable donors (USAID 2002). According to USAID, in some developing countries national and local governments have become a growing source of support to CSOs: for instance, local government departments provide in-kind support for civil society, often in the form of free office space, in addition to direct financial support through grant competitions and tenders (USAID 2002). Due to the increasing importance of government funding, the advocacy role of grassroots CSOs has also become an essential dimension for their sustainability, as it is likely to increase the dynamism of these organizations and their capacity to deliver services to the target population (USAID 2002). The participatory element envisaged by the World Bank’s notion of sustainability is repeatedly echoed by USAID, in particular through the dimension of public image, which underlines how important it is that grassroots CSOs be known and trusted by the local population (USAID 2002). In line with the World Bank’s approach, USAID also maintains that the sociopolitical sustainability of local CSOs is undoubtedly enhanced by their capacity to link up with other networks and support organizations (this is USAID’s infrastructure dimension). Looking at this multidimensional approach to sustainability, programmes of capacity building for local CSOs have become more frequent in the policy agenda of foreign donors. According to the EU, the most important objective of civil society aid is to enhance CSOs’ watchdog role and their contribution to policy making (European Commission 2001c). In the specific case of South Africa, the EU’s declared goal was to support advice CBOs in order to improve their advocacy role so as to enable them to play a meaningful role in policy development, also through strong linkages with other likeminded CSOs (European Commission 2003a). In sum, civil society’s sustainability has been described as a multidimensional notion in which financial resources play a crucial role but constitute only one of several dimensions. Aspects as various as community participation (in the case

of community-based organizations), horizontal networks with other CSOs and sectoral service providers (such as training NGOs), and vertical relations with public institutions (especially local government) have therefore acquired centre stage in the policy debate concerning the sustainability of grassroots organizations in new democracies. Even those authors who admittedly focus exclusively on financial sustainability nevertheless recognize the importance of these other dimensions (Jordan 1996; Wilson 2001). Based on these theoretical premises, the present chapter analyses the overall sustainability of the advice CBOs funded by the EU during the first ten years of democracy in South Africa. It does so by unpacking the complex notion of sustainability into the following dimensions: community participation, horizontal networks, financial resources, and vertical relations with local authorities.