ADB’s Cooperation with Civil Society
Finding Common Ground
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.
“Civil society organizations are ADB’s valuable partners. They help us craft relevant strategies and policies, design projects that respond to communities’ needs, and deliver on intended project outcomes. With their intimate knowledge of context on the ground, CSOs help ensure that ADB operations are transparent, inclusive, and effective.”
President, Asian Development Bank
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.
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.
In 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.
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.
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.
ADB works with civil society organizations (CSOs) which include NGOs, but also other types of groups such as trade unions, faith-based groups, and professional organizations. ADB-CSO cooperation can be summed up by these activities:
- On the policy and strategy level: soliciting CSO views on ADB policy formulation and review
- On the country level: consultation on development of country strategies
- On the project level: collaborating on design, implementation, and monitoring of ADB-financed projects
ADB recognizes CSOs as development actors in their own right whose efforts complement those of governments and the private sector, and who play a significant role in development in Asia and the Pacific. In the context of ADB's long-term strategic framework, Strategy 2030, ADB will strengthen collaboration with civil society organizations in designing, implementing, and monitoring projects. ADB will work with CSOs to tap their unique strengths, such as their local presence and specialized knowledge. It will explore opportunities for increasing their involvement in the design and implementation of projects supported by ADB. Particular focus will be on operations that use grassroots participatory approaches to target the poor and vulnerable groups, mobilize women and young people, and monitor project activities and outputs. ADB will also seek their inputs and advice on the review of major ADB policies.
ADB’s NGO policy paper, Cooperation between Asian Development Bank and Nongovernment Organizations, provides a specific framework for action with NGOs.
ADB provides loans and grants to the governments of its developing member countries and does not provide funds directly to CSOs. However, CSOs often apply for and are awarded contracts for components of projects and technical assistance activities. ADB’s Business Center and primer for NGOs looking for business opportunities provide information on proposed projects and contract awards.
Civil society organizations can work with ADB in a variety of ways. CSOs who work in the same sectors and geographical areas as the projects that ADB is financing should coordinate with representatives of the host country government or ADB resident missions to identify if there are opportunities for collaboration.
Contact your local CSO anchor of ADB’s CSO Cooperation Network. For general questions about civil society, please contact the NGO and Civil Society Center