Non-Government Organizations: Partnering with Civil Society

In Asia and the Pacific, civil society organizations are active partners in development, says Haidy Ear-Dupuy, social development specialist at ADB’s NGO and Civil Society Center.

What is the role of civil society in development?

It varies greatly, depending on the type of civil society organization (CSO). There are research institutions that provide knowledge and understanding of development issues and groups that deliver much needed services in areas that are sometimes overlooked by other development stakeholders. You also have advocacy groups that monitor the development of projects and support communities that may have been negatively affected by the changes brought about by these projects.

Haidy Ear-Dupuy, Social Development Specialist at ADB's NGO and Civil Society Center.

How influential are CSOs in Asia? What is their impact on poverty reduction and good governance in the region?

The influence of CSOs differs from country to country. But on the whole, they play a significant role in helping develop their countries through initiatives spanning from education and health to social justice and climate change.

CSOs ensure that countries enjoy a healthy political space for groups holding different opinions. Diversity in thought and action is what safeguards development and freedom for us all.

What other roles do CSOs play in such issues as environment sustainability and gender?

Civil society groups are active development partners in all sectors. At the heart of it all, CSOs exist to meet a need or address a concern, so there will be as many groups as there are needs and concerns.

For example, some of the areas CSOs have been very active in are the fight against HIV-AIDS and, in recent years, child and maternal health. Climate change and environmental sustainability were topics of concern to CSOs in the 1970s and it is good to see now that these issues are part of mainstream policy discussions.

In practical terms, how do CSOs engage with institutions like ADB?

Typically, CSOs engage with multilateral institutions like ADB in developing innovative solutions, knowledge sharing, co-creation of proposals, co-funding of initiatives or through long-term working arrangements. ADB certainly supports civil society participation in its policies, programs, and projects.

“CSOs ensure that countries enjoy a healthy political space for groups holding different opinions. Diversity in thoughts and actions is what safeguards development and freedom for us all.”

Often, this engagement process begins thanks to the information available on the ADB website. Whether a CSO is focused on project implementation or advocacy, they can go to ADB.org and view the information that they are interested in. They can learn about a country partnership strategy and identify the sectors of interest to ADB in a particular country. The country pages give some ideas of the kind of work that ADB has been doing in member countries. People can also check the projects section for specific development projects.

With the wide reach and use of social media, how crucial is this technology in bridging gaps and gaining an audience which would have been difficult to reach a few years ago?

In order to reach as many people as we can, ADB uses social media to share information about what we are doing with respect to supporting participation and inclusiveness. Yet, we are aware that not all people have access to the internet or a computer, so we urge our social media users to pass on the information to others.

By tweeting or posting information on Facebook, we can get immediate feedback. While what we say is important, it is just as important to hear what people out there have to say in return. Getting the pulse of public opinion is perhaps the most important aspect of social media.

Through the Civil Society Program, CSOs featured prominently at the 46th Annual Meeting of the ADB Board of Governors in India last May. What does this marked increase in turnout mean?

We were very pleased with the interest of CSOs in our Annual Meeting. At the event, several CSOs showcased their ideas at the Solutions Market. Many participated in the civil society panel discussions on important development topics. At ADB, we were inspired by the many young people who attended the event and debated difficult issues with such energy and passion.

But the Annual Meeting is only one of the many venues where organizations or individuals can come in contact with ADB's management and government officials. CSOs can engage with ADB through our staff at headquarters and all our country offices. We can be reached via email, Facebook, and phone, and we encourage groups to contact us throughout the year rather than wait for our Annual Meeting.