Aid actors have generally positioned themselves as ‘doers’ of VEA, but this has achieved limited impact and at times even weakened local capacities for action (Booth, 2012). A small body of emerging research is beginning to illustrate that shifting to an enabling role, with a focus on collective action and local problem-solving, might be more effective (Booth, 2012).
Collective action and problem-solving challenges are pervasive among both elites and citizens and constitute a major barrier to citizen accountability (Booth, 2012). Nevertheless, there is little practical guidance for donors seeking to support collective action (Unsworth, 2010). Adopting an enabling role also entails potential unintended consequences, such as the ‘NGO-isation’ of women’s groups, or backlash against empowering certain groups that may be disadvantaged, including women (Pathways of Women’s Empowerment, 2011).
Booth, D. (2012). Development as a Collective Action Problem. Addressing the Real Challenges of African Governance. Synthesis Report of the Africa Power and Politics Programme. London: ODI, for Africa Power and Politics Programme.
This report summarises the findings of a five-year comparative research programme. It argues that donor funds and templates for accountability often undermine self-help and inhibit local problem-solving. It emphasises that most debates in accountability and governance are locked in a straitjacket of principal-agent thinking, promoting either the citizen-led ‘demand-side’ or the state-led ‘supply-side’. Governance in Sub-Saharan Africa is not fundamentally about one set of people getting another one to behave better, but about both sets of people finding ways to act collectively in their own best interests. Three factors prevent this: policy-driven institutional incoherence; weak top-down performance disciplines; and an inhospitable environment for local problem-solving.
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Eyben, R. (2011). Supporting Pathways of Women’s Empowerment: A Brief Guide for International Development Organisations. Brighton: IDS, Pathways of Women’s Empowerment.
This briefing, based on multi-country mixed-method research, recommends that donors work from local processes to facilitate internal changes to the political economy. Recommendations for donors include: give long-term support to women’s organising and collective action; maximise multiplier effects on women’s empowerment and plan for doing no harm; and respond creatively to women’s aspirations to control their sexuality and relationships. All these approaches can be designed to reap long-term, sustainable value for money.
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For further resources, see the GSDRC helpdesk report on Interventions for collective action and accountability and also the supplement on challenges and risks in supporting VEA.