11/12/2018

Impact of Single Issue Funding on Sustainable Development CSOs

Door: Dina Townsend | Categorie: Uncategorized

By: Nicky Broeckhoven & Dina Townsend (Post-doctoral researchers, Tilburg Law School)

Researchers from Tilburg University and Mekelle University are currently collaborating on a project that aims to investigate the role of civil society organisations (CSOs) in securing sustainable development in Ethiopia. In our first blog post, we looked at restricted civic space and the impact thereof on local CSOs.[1] In this blog post, we discuss some initial findings on the impact of single issue funding. This project is part of the ‘New roles of CSOs for Inclusive Development’ Programme which investigates the assumptions underlying the civil society policy framework ‘Dialogue & Dissent’ of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This research is funded by NOW-WOTRO.

Mekele (Photo: D. Townsend)

Mekele (Photo: D. Townsend)

Over the course of the past six months, we have conducted a series of interviews with CSOs working in Ethiopia to better understand how these organisations adapt under a regulatory regime that radically constrains their funding and activities. While regulatory constraints affect the sustainability of these organisations, a recurring theme in our interviews concerns the considerable impact of ‘single-issue funding’. Single-issue funding includes grants and funding programmes that address problems and concerns in an atomistic and isolated manner.

Single-issue funding is particularly problematic for organisations working on complex environmental problems like sustainable development, climate change and food security. Both foreign and local CSOs reported that they have been forced to either shut down or shift their programme focus due to new funder priorities. The organisations we interviewed told us that funding opportunities over the past year or two have been concentrated in the area of migration and displacement. Work on food security and other resilience programmes do not meet the funding requirements for many of these grants.

One organisation described receiving funding from a Dutch Funder to address crisis relief in Ethiopia. With this funding, the organisation established a number of local initiatives focused on food security at a local, community level. In 2017, the Dutch funder changed the focus of that funding to address migration, and the organisation no longer qualified for funding. This resulted in a loss of years of built up expertise and good community relations. This is particularly problematic in the Ethiopian context where CSOs had been portrayed as self-serving and unreliable. It also affects the stability and resilience of the communities who had previously benefited from the work of the CSO. Productive and beneficial programmes are forced to either stop or shift their focus, as funding priorities follow the shifting political winds.

This example is particularly worrying from an environmental point of view as addressing concerns such as food security, sustainable development and climate change – which also may not fall under migration funding – generally require long term engagement and are rarely short term. In addition, an atomistic approach is in direct conflict with funders’ own aims and goals, as addressing environmental threats and ensuring food security are crucial components of addressing unsustainable levels of migration.

A shift in donor focus can also have a significant, and often overlooked, impact on the institutional set-up and human resource situation of a CSO. One organisation told us that, despite their extensive expertise in environmental issues, they no longer qualified for many grants. Donor priorities had shifted to migration and the organisation could not easily transfer the expertise they had to a new and different focus area. Another organisation described how changes in donor focus had had a serious impact on their financial stability, making it harder for the organisation to retain capable and qualified staff.

Our initial findings suggest that, while state regulation in places like Ethiopia may have a significant impact on CSOs, shifting funding priorities might also jeopardize their sustainability and undermine their efforts.



[1]  https://blog.uvt.nl/environmentallaw/?p=338

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