Civil Society Organizations poised to become key partners for development in Yemen

June 24, 2014

Scott Wallace

  • The thousands of Civil Society Organizations that emerged in the wake of the revolution could play an important development role in Yemen
  • A conference organized by the World Bank brought together government representatives with a broad cross section of Civil Society Organizations to help build relationships
  • Acting on lessons learned from the conference, government ministries are drawing up plans to partner with civil society

Many of the thousands of new Yemeni Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) could come to play a key role in the implementation of government policies for grassroots development in Yemen.

The Yemeni government has been working toward setting-up a system to help coordinate the activities of non-governmental and civil society organizations since the ‘Partnership for Development Knowledge Conference’ in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, in March, which brought together members of the government and CSOs from Yemen’s different governorates.

The World Bank event was the first time a multi-stakeholder group had come together in Yemen to start talking about partnerships between the government and CSOs. Sameera Ali Balah, of the My Right Organization for Development, said the government should focus on engaging CSOs “in setting strategies to guarantee their participation and implementation.”

CSO members hoped the conference would pave the way for more engagement and coordination between them and Yemen’s different government ministries and agencies, with more collaboration enabling them to play a larger role in the development of their country. The conference was opened by high-level government officials, including the Minister and the Deputy Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, and the Minister of Social Affairs and Labor.

Dr Mohammed Al-Saadi, Yemen’s Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, said his government believed in the role of NGOs “as an important, strong, and independent partner” in strengthening and promoting development, improving service delivery, and “making it [the government] more responsive to the needs and aspirations of the citizens.”

After the Ministers’ speeches, international speakers from governments and CSOs from Indonesia, India, Ghana, the Palestinian Territories, and Brazil, presented some of the experiences they had had that enabled constructive government–CSO partnerships in their countries, as well as some of the challenges. The first day closed with a panel discussion by speakers from the international CSOs that highlighted the lessons learned in the context of each country.

The successes of government–CSO partnerships in other parts of the world inspired many participants by showing that no matter how complex development challenges are, they are almost always better addressed in this way. “The great results achieved in the international experiences were unexpected for us, given Yemen’s context and reality,” said Refatt Omer Fakirah of the Al-Zahra Charity Foundation. 

" What is needed is a complete partnership, not partial partnership. "

The conference’s main events took place over the second and third days when the participants broke off into five thematic working groups. In these, government and CSO representatives discussed specific issues, where they complemented one another and where they overlapped, as well as opportunities for better collaboration. CSOs were able to highlight some of the day-to-day challenges they faced in performing their core operations, while government representatives were able to point out their concerns and constraints.

This was the first opportunity some participants had had for one-to-one rapport about each other’s concerns. They listed some of the main challenges as insufficient communication and coordination between various government agencies and CSOs, the weak enforcement of certain laws and regulations, and the absence of a standard code of conduct for CSOs.

Participants also discussed how it could be valuable to focus on government–CSO partnerships in areas where the government lacked sufficient reach. Sameera Ali Balah said the government should “particularly support partnerships in remote, rural areas which the government cannot access no matter how strong it is”.

During the working groups, a few themes came to the forefront. There was broad consensus that the key sectors the government and CSOs wanted to focus on were health—particularly child and maternal health—and disability, as well as education—particularly curriculum development, rural education, and girls’ education—and women’s rights and empowerment.

Mohammed Al-Hawri, Yemen’s Deputy Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, said the government would develop guidelines for sectors such as health, education, and human rights, to help channel CSOs’ projects and activities.

Both government and CSO representatives were in favor of increased transparency and accountability. CSO representatives suggested improving the governance of their sector so that they could act as credible development partners to the government and contribute to building and reinforcing institutions to make Yemen more prosperous.

“What is needed is a complete partnership, not partial partnership,” said CSO representative Taha Yaseen Abdo Ahmed of the Yemeni Polling Center.

Yemen’s CSOs have expressed a keen interest in working with the government, not just in the planning phase of projects, but in playing a more comprehensive role as partners in implementation, monitoring, and evaluation.

At the end of the conference, the next steps agreed were:

  • To build on the outcomes of working groups and on discussions with the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, determining priority sectors in which more sector specific discussions should take place.
  • Establishing a web-based system on each sector to enable interested CSOs to sign up. CSOs will register for the sessions in which they are active, or are planning to be active. These sessions will be technical to define partnership and mutual accountability frameworks.
  • Ministries will prepare the groundwork for technical discussions. Sector specific dialogue sessions will start after Ramadan, which runs from late June to late July, 2014. These sessions will support the development of sector specific plans to identify concrete activities between government ministries and CSOs operating within the same sector.