10 June 2013

Civil Society: The Need to do More to Make Malnutrition Visible

At the end of a packed few days for the nutrition community, the Civil Society Network of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement are set to hold their Inaugural Meeting  tomorrow, June 11, in Washington, DC. 

The meeting will mark the launch of the newly-formed Network, which takes over from the vaguely-entitled “Task Force C” as the network supporting civil society’s contribution to the SUN’s objectives.

The meeting follows from a hive of activity in the nutrition community in a very short space of time. The Lancet launched their new Nutrition series in the UK on June 6th. The UK and Brazilian Governments’ Nutrition for Growth event on June 8th proved to be an extremely significant moment for new nutrition financing. 

Meanwhile today, June 10, the Sustaining Political Commitment to Scaling Up Nutrition meeting in DC will bring many parts of the SUN movement together to mark the culmination of the first 1,000 Days and consider what is needed for the next 1,000 days.

The Inaugural Meeting follows these events on June 11. Gathering 70 civil society representatives from 30 countries, the agenda for the meeting does a good job at prioritising the voices of participants from SUN countries. Discussions will focus on their experiences from work within the SUN movement, and on their visions of how an international Civil Society Network can contribute effectively to the SUN movement objective of reducing under-nutrition.

But what will the Civil Society Network actually do? Of course the answer to that question will depend to on the outcomes of the meeting. It is likely though, that the new Network will continue the sterling work that Task Force C took to support the development of effective and coordinated civil society input into national-level dialogue and to ensure nutrition is prioritised by leaders around the world.

The Civil Society Network should support civil society from across different countries to forge links to advance nutrition at the national, regional and international level.  And I think it is also important for the Network to ensure that civil society organisations’ efforts to reduce malnutrition are aligned with the broader efforts of other parts of the SUN movement.

The contribution of Civil Society Organisations to national level advances against malnutrition has been impressive. They have played an essential role in advocating, providing nutrition services, and holding other parts of the SUN movement to account. In many SUN countries, effective civil society alliances regularly input into the development of national nutrition plans through seats on governments’ nutrition platforms, and often civil society has been implemental in persuading governments to join the SUN movement. One reason why we at IDS developed HANCI, which rates nations’ commitments to tackle malnutrition, was to provide a tool to support civil society with such work at the national level.

But civil society also has an essential role to play at the international level. The many international processes which will affect nutrition around the world require strong input from civil society. A good recent example from the world of nutrition is in the launch of the High Level Panel’s report on the post-2015 framework, which includes many of civil society’s demands, such as for a stunting target and a standalone goal on hunger. Similarly, civil society’s voice has been essential in making the Nutrition for Growth event such a success.

For me, there are at least three reasons why a strong Civil Society Network which can raise the voice of civil society’s experience to international nutrition-related process is essential:

  1. Civil Society is often very good at conveying messages from ‘the field’ to the desks and meetings of decision makers. When I attended the Irish Government’s Hunger Nutrition and Climate Justice event in April, the experiences of civil society organisations were essential to helping us to answer the big questions being asked. Their big advantage is that they can make malnutrition visible. 
  2. Of all the parts of the SUN movement, it is often civil society who can be most ambitious and prepared to push the boundaries, setting the bar high for other parts of the network as well as for themselves.
  3. Civil society’s fluidity often means that they are in the best position to do the essential job of reaching out to other sectors (agriculture, health, education) that impact on nutrition. Nutrition is often discussed at the Committee on World Food Security, for example; and of all the networks of the SUN movement it is civil society who are best positioned to make these links with their (more established) counterparts there.
For all of these reasons, the Civil Society Network’s Inaugural meeting in DC is one to watch, for others in the SUN movement and beyond. 

I will be keen to see the outcomes from that meeting.

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