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From the Inside Out: Why CSOs Need to Operate Effectively to Maintain Credibility

Historically, the emergence of civil society in West Africa was seen as the answer by many to prosperity and development following a massive erosion of popular confidence in the state. Today, despite the ongoing debates on the function of civil society, its relationship with the state, they are undeniably an important contributor to governance and development.

For most civil society organisations (CSOs) today, one of the main challenges they face is securing enough funds to implement a program or project that achieves a social objective. While it is perfectly commendable that organisations make their programmatic areas of focus a priority, an area often overlooked is its management of operations, which when neglected, can negatively impact how a CSO advances its mission. Some donors do not provide funds for payment of salaries or capacity building of the staff, even though competent human resources and equipment are needed to render the organization and its work efficient. In essence, the success of any CSO is dependent on how its operations are run.

In response to some of the critical issues organisations face, the West African Civil Society Institute (WACSI) has been developing and providing trainings on organisational management, human resources management, network and alliance building, and board governance & strategic planning to name a few. WACSI strives to revive organisations, restore staff confidence and enable organizations to identify and overcome critical challenges that have inhibited their effectiveness.

Though CSOs master the ability to articulate their vision and mission to an external audience, they oftentimes lack the skills to build consensus that would result in the development of a long-term strategic vision amongst key internal stakeholders. This can be said for the Platform for Peace in Ivory Coast (PSCDP), who participated in the training on Network and Alliance Building which enabled them to begin consulting a broad range of stakeholders (board and community groups) to identify the most pressing issues faced by their primary beneficiaries. They also put in place a participatory budget process for the municipality which enables citizens to determine which projects are of greater interest to them. Teamwork remains the ultimate key to sustaining an organisation, ensuring that all the stakeholders have a say in defining the work of the organization.

In other cases, WACSI offers tools developed with the primary aim of restructuring the operation of the organisation. ADREMGUI, a Guinea based organisation with a well-respected reputation in the region of Kindia, benefitted from a training that sought to enhance their efficacy. Through the training, they made the strategic decision to put in place a staff policy that would separate the different powers within the key organs of the organisation. Through this adjustment, among others, they became more successful at securing strategic partnerships.

For the first time, through the capacity building support of WACSI, FONAC (Benin) developed a three-year strategic plan that clearly outlined their objectives and areas of intervention, which resulted in successful fundraising efforts from big donors such as UNDP, USAID, and UNODC. The trainings implemented by the Institute are not always easy for already established organisations to adopt. However, embracing these new approaches helps give them more confidence in identifying, negotiating and developing key partnerships on a more global scale to further their objectives.

Despite CSOs having to operate in a constantly changing environment, WACSI’s training on board governance & strategic planning helps legitimise CSOs and rightfully positions them to foster improved relations with the government. This further enables them to play an intermediary role between government and citizens. This can be said for ROTAB in Niger, where a procedures manual with internal rules and regulations was adopted and established a board. In addition, they produced and submitted timely annual reports to state authorities. This enabled them to ensure both transparency and accountability in their engagement with the government. In Benin, WANEP and Social Watch were also able to develop a procedures manual following their completion of the training.

Successful organisations usually gain credit for developing environments that promote healthy interactions among employees. WACSI takes it a step further by offering a program aimed at rethinking human resources management structure to improve productivity and encourage organisational growth. Through this program, ONG GFEM3 (Cote d’Ivoire based CSO) discovered the weakness points within their human resources and were able to take bold steps in the right direction. They made long terms investments in the recruitment of talented individuals and implemented a merit-based recruitment model – putting a stop to their previous ad hoc approach to hiring. They also succeeded in ‘weeding out’ nepotism within the organisation, by advertising vacancies on career websites.

The quest in search for funding is a never ending mission for CSOs. Presently, most donors provide funding that is restricted to the implementation of project activities alone. This, coupled with the shifting discourse on funding, is the reason why WACSI has an integral role to play in helping organisations to identify the need for new fundraising strategies as well as diversifying funding sources. The Institute’s training on sharpening proposal writing skills has benefited organizations such as WANEP, and ONG GFEM3 in Ivory Coast.

WACSI plays an important role in ensuring that CSOs throughout the sub-region are stronger and well equipped to efficiently serve the citizens they represent. They have shown this by encouraging organisations to implement projects with quality standards, while tapping into network members and available expertise to generate revenue and improve visibility. WACSI’s power to unlock the potential of organisations in West Africa is a proven testament to the fact that the need for stronger CSOs with integrity still remains if they are to remain agents of change in the sub-region.

By Haingo Valencia Rakotomala, OSIWA Associate Advocacy Officer

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Haingo Valencia Rakotomala

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