03 June 2016

Guest blog: Investing in civil society is the ultimate commitment to sustaining momentum for nutrition

It is not often that I have guest bloggers on Development Horizons, but I feel so strongly about this topic that this was a no-brainer. 

Dear governments and donors: investing in civil society is the ultimate commitment to sustaining the momentum for nutrition.  Your Presidents, Prime Ministers and Ministers will sooner or later enough fixate on another issue.  But once you light a fire in the hearts and minds of citizens about malnutrition, that fire will burn on--it just needs enough oxygen to make sure it lights the way to effective advocacy, implementation and accountability.  Claire Blanchard's blog will help you make your case for funding CSOs so they can help end malnutrition by 2030.  

Dr Claire Blanchard, SUN CSN coordinator, makes the case for supporting civil society
Civil society plays an essential role within the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement, making the link between communities and the national and international platforms where governments, donors, agencies and others meet. In 39 high-burden countries, local, national and international organisations working on nutrition have come together into civil society alliances (CSAs). These CSAs occupy a unique position in the nutrition movement with many now being a recognised counterpart to government, with a place at the table and influence on nutrition policy and implementation.
Why are these alliances important in nutrition improvement?
They coordinate civil society to speak with one voice, raise the profile of nutrition, enrich nutrition policies by channelling the voices of those directly suffering from malnutrition, highlight the gender needs, promote and ‘walk the talk’ of accountability, strengthen local capacity, build sustainability of all nutrition efforts and are a real added value for money.
So what can civil society do that others can’t
Civil society operates at ground level in the communities most affected by the impact of poverty and poor nutrition – making these organisations ideally placed to design, deliver and monitor programmes, track nutrition-related spending, and verify that governments are delivering on commitments.
Civil society can:
ü  Share community knowledge of the needs of those directly suffering from malnutrition – as well as what works - to shape policies.
ü  Contribute to implementing nutrition actions and monitoring progress and impact.
ü  Raise community awareness of the importance of good nutrition and support them in understanding how to change behaviour.
ü  Help champions and citizens advocate for action and investment – and help people hold governments accountable for their commitments.
Investing in civil society can have significant impact
ü  In Peru, chronic infant malnutrition has been halved in less than a decade. Civil society advocacy has been a key driver of this progress sustaining prioritisation of nutrition.
ü  In Zambia, the CSA used public awareness and media campaigns to ignite national debate and convinced MPs to form All Party Parliamentary Caucus on food and nutrition
ü  In Guatemala, the CSA have 22 youth groups auditing the implementation of - and flag gaps in - the national 1,000 days strategy in ‘hard to reach communities’ – some suffering from as high as 90% malnutrition rates.
ü  In Zimbabwe, the Nyazhou Garden Project aiming at improving household income, food and nutrition security of vulnerable women in poor communities have changed the lives of 60 villagers. Sekai Tembo, a 72 year old widow said the project had completely changed her life.
“When my husband died, I had no choice but to carry on with life, though it was hard. I had no cattle, and you know the importance of draught animal power in our lives, but since I joined this project I now have two goats. Before, I used to do gardening but it would only sustain me and my family but now the produce is feeding me, my two grandchildren and I sell the surplus to surrounding villages. I get $15 dollars per week, which is $30 per month because the other two weeks the vegetables would be sprayed. Previously, it was hard to get hold of only $2,” Sekai Tembo, Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe, Zimbabwe
ü  Kenya’s CSA successfully advocated for revision of National Health Policy to include a stronger nutrition component.
ü  In Nepal, the CSA helped secure a directive that local level governments must include a nutrition program in their work plans.
ü  Budget tracking and advocacy efforts at decentralised level have shown increased nutrition investments by local authorities in Nigeria and Tanzania
Sustainability threatened by funding insecurity
Securing funding beyond 2016 is crucial for CSAs, with the SUN Multi Partner Trust Fund now coming to an end. Most CSAs are supported by their members through significant financial and in kind contributions and are seeking national funding as a priority.  Funding is also needed for the SUN Civil Society Network - the fastest growing network in the SUN movement with a combined membership of over 2,500 local, national and international organisations. SUN CSN is an accelerator– a fast-start mechanism enabling new national CSAs to quickly build capacity, set up appropriate governance and systems, and learn about effective advocacy from their well-established peers.
The recent independent evaluation of SUN’s Multi Partner Trust Fund praised the role of civil society in taking the SUN Movement into places it otherwise wouldn’t reach.
Donors want to see the best value for their investment, improved integration and innovation to ensure at scaled impactful and sustainable efforts.
We need more money for nutrition but more important a better use of existing moneys as highlighted by the recent World Bank estimates. However we also need to earmark some of these moneys to ensure civil society keeps doing what no one else can. We need existing and new donors investing but we also need to think of innovative and sustainable funding models, diversifying our funding sources and ensuring we are as effective with existing resources as possible.
Momentum is critical in any attempt to bring about a significant, lasting change. The momentum created by the SUN Civil Society Network over the last three years is significant – but is now in danger of being lost.
As Tom Arnold, Interim coordinator for the SUN Movement puts it: “Civil society has an absolutely pivotal role to play in the next phase of SUN. In order to build on investments to date and sustain its work, civil society needs funding to ensure that joint efforts are long-lasting and to ensure progress is accelerated.”