On Friday, I was left feeling optimistic by the news that RESULTS UK’s calls for more accountability and clear guidelines on transition are starting to be acted upon by the Department for International Development (DFID). A central point of responsibility for transition within DFID has now been appointed. This is a vital step towards creating accountability and a clear indication that our campaigning around transition in starting to take effect. Building on this progress, we must now make sure civil society, both in the UK and globally, are involved in the transition processes going forward and that DFID plays a leading role in securing their engagement.
Transition is the process whereby relationships with international donors change usually by a reduction in funding or a change in programmatic support. This most commonly occurs when countries move from low to middle-income status. RESULTS are concerned that if transition processes are poorly coordinated and happens too quickly, changes will have extremely negative consequences for the world’s most vulnerable and marginalised people. Becoming a middle income country in not an end in itself – middle income countries are home to 73% of the world’s poorest people. For example, Nigeria is a middle-income country with rich natural resources yet is one of only three polio endemic countries and has the highest number of unimmunised children in the world.
We cannot afford to assume that the transition from being a low to middle income country means that the country is completely ready to fund all of its health systems without external support. The change in relationship with international donors must be managed with an enormous degree of care to ensure that gains achieved in the improvement of health systems are not lost and no-one is left behind.
While DFID has taken early steps towards improving their approach to transition, we believe that more must be done to engage civil society, both in the UK and globally, to ensure that transition takes place in a well-coordinated and sustainable manner.
What is civil society engagement and why is it important?
When we talk about civil society we are generally referring to non-governmental organisations, charities and individuals united in their pursuit of development goals such as access to healthcare, quality education, adequate nutrition and other basic rights. It is through civil society engagement that we can minimize the potentially negative consequences of transition on human lives and avoid reversing years of progress in these areas in countries undergoing transition.
Quite simply, those who are on the frontline who truly understand the issues within a country must have a high degree of input into how transition is managed. Speaking from my own experience of working in developing countries, I know that the understanding of pertinent issues that we may have in the UK is often in fact quite different to the reality. It is therefore imperative that country-based civil society organisations are involved in the decision making processes in transitioning countries themselves to ensure the voice of those most affected by funding changes are heard.
The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) just last week published a report that raised continuing concerns over DFID’s approach to transition – one year on from its original evaluation of DFID’s approach in this area. While it must be acknowledged that DFID has taken a number of positive steps towards their approach to transition there are still areas in which we need more clarity and greater civil society engagement.
Case Study – Successful Transition in Estonia
Civil society consultation can negate the risks of transition and contribute to sustainable development. For example, Estonia lost eligibility for assistance from Global Fund in 2007 due to the country's rising Gross National Income (GNI). Despite the loss in funding Estonia has continued to reduce TB and HIV rates over the last decade and has taken over services previously financed by the Global Fund. This was due to a well anticipated and well coordinated transition plan in which civil society organisations were heavily consulted from the outset.
I am delighted to see that DFID has begun the development of ‘working principles’ for managing the transition process. This decision marks an excellent opportunity to ensure transition from UK aid happens in a coordinated, effective and sustainable way. Crucially, questions remain on how these principles will be developed, when they will be published and, most importantly, put into practice. It is vital that DFID reaches out civil society in the UK in their development.
Talking about transition is helping. It’s now time to ensure that we’re involving the right people in the conversation.