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ADB’s Work in Civil Society Partnerships

Finding Common Ground

Awareness training in Cambodia
Sanitation awareness for villagers in Cambodia

Since the late 1980s, ADB has worked increasingly closely with civil society organizations. The result has been more effective projects, more help for hard-to-reach communities, and an avenue for redress when things don’t go well.

In Azerbaijan, students and educators are making their schools healthier. Students are learning safe hygiene habits and they are teaching them to their parents at home. School administrators are installing improved sewer systems and increasing access to clean water.

The work is part of an ADB project, but it is being carried out by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in partnership with Local Governance Assistance, a civil society organization (CSO), and Azersu, the Azerbaijan Water Utility Company.

Partnering with CSOs is increasingly part of how ADB does its business. These organizations provide expertise and knowledge, give voice to marginalized communities, test innovative approaches to poverty reduction, and ensure that those affected by development projects have a greater opportunity to get involved. Partnerships with groups that work at the grassroots level can help ADB reach some of the most vulnerable communities in the region.

“ADB is committed to collaborating with civil society organizations on project design and implementation, and in monitoring project activities and outputs,” said ADB President Takehiko Nakao. “Civil society organizations have much to offer through their rich ground-level experiences and strong understanding of communities.”

Many roles, many partnerships

ADB began working with CSOs in the late 1980s. In 1987, ADB adopted a formal policy on cooperating with CSOs that sought to draw upon their special capabilities and expertise to enhance the effectiveness of ADB’s operations. Initial efforts included holding workshops to exchange views on how best to involve CSOs in ADB projects and programs.

A new policy was put in place in 1998 that identified developmental nongovernment organizations (NGOs)—civil society organizations particularly focused on the work of development—as ADB’s key partners. The policy sought to establish ADB’s role as a facilitator for greater collaboration between its member governments and civil society, and also expanded the role of civil society in ADB operations.

Partnering with CSOs for project implementation
ADB has been partnering with civil society organizations to enhance implementation of its projects

In 2001, the policy was expanded further with the establishment of the NGO Network and NGO Center, which was later renamed the NGO and Civil Society Center. Its function is to bring together CSOs from the countries where ADB operates to coordinate with project officers, field office staff, and departments throughout the institution, helping ADB share knowledge and collaborate productively with CSOs.

ADB also has strategic partnerships with global NGO networks. For example, in 2001 ADB signed an agreement with WWF that established a basis for information sharing, knowledge management, and capacity building. The two organizations have since collaborated on large-scale regional environmental programs—sustainable environmental development in the Greater Mekong Subregion, the Coral Triangle, the Heart of Borneo, the Living Himalayas—and on water and climate change more generally.

“Two heads are better than one, and this is needed to address the Asia and Pacific region’s major challenge of steering its economies toward a path of green growth,” says Aaron Vermeulen, former ADB–WWF Partnership Manager. The partnership is mobilizing knowledge, technical assistance, and resources to help countries conserve large-scale transboundary ecosystems that are critical for the future of Asia.

Another important function of the relationship between ADB and CSOs is in ensuring that development projects and programs benefit vulnerable minorities and disadvantaged communities that are often difficult to reach. CSOs that work closely with such groups provide the expertise needed to help ADB deliver effective assistance.

IIn the Greater Mekong Subregion, ADB has worked with CSOs to conserve more than 1.9 million hectares of threatened forest that is home to more than 170,000 ethnic minority people. The Biodiversity Corridors Conservation Project is working with CSOs to improve livelihoods and build resilience to climate change and food–price shocks among the poor and vulnerable.

" ADB is committed to collaborating with civil society organizations on project design and implementation, and in monitoring project activities and outputs. Civil society organizations have much to offer through their rich ground-level experiences and strong understanding of communities."

Takehiko Nakao
Asian Development Bank

Similarly, the ADB-supported conditional cash transfer program in the Philippines relies on the work of many CSOs to promote enrollment of elementary school-age children, reduced child labor, and improve access to maternal and infant health care, benefiting millions of disadvantaged individuals.

ADB also works with CSOs to monitor projects. An example is the rehabilitation and reconstruction of schools in Armenia under the ADB-supported Seismic Safety Improvement Program. The government agency overseeing the implementation of the project includes participation from four CSOs.

In 2013, ADB launched the Youth for Asia initiative to harness and mobilize young people, one of the region’s greatest assets, in driving positive social change, environmental sustainability, and technological innovation. The initiative facilitates youth engagement with governments and other key stakeholders to increase their opportunities to actively participate in the design, implementation, and monitoring of development efforts.

CSOs have been invaluable partners in ADB’s disaster relief, rehabilitation, and disaster risk reduction efforts as well. ADB has worked closely with CSOs to respond to disasters such as the Nepal Earthquake, Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu, and Tropical Cyclone Winston in Fiji.

Knowledge sharing and capacity building
The ADB–CSO partnership includes knowledge sharing, capacity building, and information disclosure

After Typhoon Haiyan roared through the center of the Philippines in November 2013, leaving thousands dead and massive destruction in its wake, farming families saw their livelihoods disappear. The post-typhoon recovery effort by ADB and other partners set up a cash transfer program carried out by Plan International, an international NGO with an established presence in the area, to restore livelihoods and rebuild communities. The program created a lifeline for the thousands of poor families who had lost their source of income by implementing daily cash-for‑work activities, such as cleaning debris, and repairing schools and hospitals.

Civil society also plays a vital role in strengthening ADB’s accountability for delivering positive development impact. In 2003, with inputs from CSOs, ADB established an accountability mechanism that helped people who were negatively affected by ADB projects voice their concerns and obtain redress. Since its creation, ADB’s Accountability Mechanism has received more than 60 complaints and CSOs assisted complainants in more than half of them.

Over the years, ADB has progressively mainstreamed CSO engagement across its operations. In 2016, CSOs were involved in 96% of sovereign projects. Reforms that are under way, such as simplifying contracting procedures and mainstreaming partnership arrangements with CSOs, will help expand this collaboration further. ADB has also joined new initiatives such as the Open Government Partnership, which promotes transparency, empowers citizens, seeks to fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. As ADB redoubles its efforts to support the Sustainable Development Goals, partnerships with CSOs will be critical in helping developing member countries achieve them.

This article was originally published in a special edition of Together We Deliver, which tells 50 stories highlighting the importance of good partnerships in Asia and the Pacific in meeting the complex development challenges of this dynamic region.