How can we support stronger local advocacy for reproductive health in Africa?
By Althea D. Anderson, program officer with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s Global Development and Population Program
When we meet in Kigali later this month, it will be a chance for all of us—researchers, advocates, policymakers, donors, and reproductive health practitioners—to continue our work towards the shared goal of helping an additional 120 million women worldwide access voluntary, quality contraception by 2020. While many international family planning conferences have focused on increasing aid—from multilateral and bilateral development institutions—to expand reproductive health information and services, I’m looking forward to this year’s ever-stronger focus on the important role local advocacy in Africa must play to increase and sustain women’s access to family planning.
Local advocacy plays a central role in ensuring governments fulfill commitments towards improving the health and well-being of the citizens they serve. In reproductive health, indicators of progress on these commitments include national and sub-national policies and budget allocations, and increased supply and access to contraception and reproductive health services. A vibrant civil society is one of the driving forces behind the progress in reproductive health outcomes that we have seen to date, including Kenya’s approval of a self-injectable contraceptive and a recent decree in Benin that exempts young people from having to pay for reproductive health services. These successes suggest that the reproductive health and family planning advocacy landscape has changed considerably in recent years.
One of these changes is a shift among donors to deepen investment in local civil society organizations (CSOs) who engage in reproductive health advocacy. Local CSOs are often better positioned to work closely with policymakers, community leaders, and citizens in their own countries to ensure that national commitments translate into increased funding and greater access to services and commodities. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has worked alongside fellow donors to find ways to get more money and resources closer to those who can advocate for sustainable change. As a U.S.-based foundation with a limited number of staff, this means directing investments primarily through intermediaries that in turn, make grants to local CSOs.
In 2016, the Hewlett Foundation launched a new grantmaking sub-strategy to support local advocacy for reproductive health in Africa. The sub-strategy aims to shift agency and authority towards CSOs advocating for greater funding for and access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. The sub-strategy’s guiding principles are to support local policy advocacy priorities; strengthen and support advocacy capacity; promote equitable partnerships and create mutual accountability between funders, grantees, and CSOs; and measure progress and adapt.
The vision is a vibrant local CSO-sector in Africa that can capably and positively influence the family planning and reproductive health policies and funding decisions of their own national governments and donors. The approach pays equal attention to people, process, and outcomes because we believe how we work together and the principles that underlie our working relationships affect our ability to achieve sustained advocacy gains and improve reproductive health outcomes.
Here’s what we’ve observed so far:
- Funding for advocacy is often short-term, project-specific, and intermittent. In response, the five-year grants we make to advocacy partners – international nongovernment organization (INGO) intermediaries – come with the expectation that they offer similar multi-year, flexible support to local CSO partners.
- Local civil society advocacy organizations have common organizational capacity needs, from financial and human resources systems to data security, and communications.
We’ve heard this from our partners and from some early evaluation work where organizations consistently identify the following capacity development priorities: financial and human resources; security for personnel and data; monitoring, evaluation, and learning; networking and coalition building; messaging and communications capacity; and understanding of and engagement with policy development processes. We’re looking at how capacity building is funded, sourced, and delivered to meet the needs of reproductive health advocates in Africa.
One part of our funding, for opportunistic engagement, goes to a diverse set of INGOs who offer various combinations of onward granting and technical assistance to CSOs through global advocacy initiatives and regional advocacy coalitions. The newest is the Advocacy Accelerator, which enables locally-driven advocacy in Africa by providing interactive online and in-person platforms to share learning, collaboration, and exchange among health and development advocates. In response to simultaneous constraints on civil society by national governments and a surge of bilateral and private investment in advocacy led at the local and national level, the Advocacy Accelerator is exploring new ways to reinforce the advocacy ecosystem in Africa.
- Funders should be thinking about more ways to increase accountability and transparency in relationships with grantees and between grantees and local civil society organizations. We’ve partnered with the Aspen Planning and Evaluation Program (APEP) to look at whether promoting more equitable partnerships among donors, grantees, and local civil society organizations can contribute to greater advocacy effectiveness and impact. The evaluation will help us learn whether our grantmaking approach affects the ways in which we – donors, grantees, and CSOs – work with each other. Together with APEP, we will share key lessons about the effectiveness of this grantmaking model with the field at large.
We’re excited about the potential to sustain and advance recent reproductive health advocacy gains with attention to local priority setting, increased advocacy effectiveness, and organizational strengthening of CSOs. And we’re working with grantees and CSOs to unpack and understand the principle of mutual accountability. One key insight is that mutual accountability includes open communication channels, transparency of organizational budgets, and opportunities for CSOs to share advocacy successes and challenges in high-level meetings typically reserved for INGOs. Through our local advocacy sub-strategy, we will explore ways to bring more accountability and transparency to our relationships with grantees, and between grantees and local CSOs.
These principles are aspirational, and we are still learning the various ways they can be applied in our grantmaking practices, in our funding relationships with grantees, and grantees’ funding and capacity building partnerships with advocates throughout Africa. We hope to learn more from all of you and the conversations we have in Kigali about where the opportunities and challenges lie. We also acknowledge that these principles are in many ways a sharp departure from how reproductive health advocacy has been funded previously. We hope what we learn from our grantmaking – with a focus on process and context – will inform and influence the way we work together towards sustained reproductive health and development outcomes.