From challenge to advocacy: how Social Justice put children at the heart of the budget
This post is also available in French.
Why budget work? This is a question we hear a lot at the International Budget Partnership (IBP). The answer can be complex, but in short, budgets directly impact people’s lives and their ability (or inability) to access the resources and services needed to thrive. At the core of this work are our partnerships with civil society groups around the world. We work with them to bolster their capacity to engage in their country’s budget ecosystem to affect transformational change. One of those longtime partners is Social Justice in Cote d’Ivoire – a group that in just 18 months, significantly deepened and focused their budget analysis skills to take on a challenge affecting children across the country.
Context matters: the Francophone Africa Network
In IBP’s 20 years of budget work, we’ve seen our partnerships with government actors, civil society groups and social movements result in significant policy and process changes that improve the lives of the most marginalized people. These successes inspired us to expand our work and partnerships to other countries, but we know that replication is often not possible given a specific region or country’s context. One such region is Francophone Africa, where we have intensified our work with the establishment of the Francophone Africa Network (FAN) – comprised of 14 civil society groups from nine countries in Central and West Africa. The goal is to strengthen learning and practices on budget work so FAN members can execute ambitious but realistic advocacy strategies that contribute to more inclusive and equitable budget processes and outcomes in their countries. IBP has successfully convened this network through workshops and other events but also decided to go deeper and offer dedicated resources to three groups from FAN, including Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire. Having worked with them as an Open Budget Survey researcher, IBP knew they were well-positioned to take their budget advocacy and analysis work to the next level. Established in 2009, Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire advocates and works on issues of transparency, corruption and good governance and has used budget monitoring as a tool to achieve their goals. However, to go deeper into this work, both IBP and Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire knew they would need to pivot from issues of broad transparency to budget analysis and advocacy to narrow their focus and achieve significant change.
Understanding the ecosystem
The first step was to better understand the overarching public finance ecosystem in Francophone Africa to identify what they could focus their efforts on. Eight countries, including Cote d’Ivoire, are part of the West African Economic & Monetary Union (WAEMU) that share the same currency and one central bank. As a result, public financial management reforms happen at the regional level, requiring an understanding of the ins and outs of WAEMU. IBP’s support of Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire included a deep dive into WAEMU’s reforms to understand how Social Justice could best approach their budget analysis. They learned that as part of WAEMU’s reforms, they had transitioned to program-based budgeting (PBB) which aims to make budgets more transparent, ensure that public money is spent on the right priorities and links budgets more closely to the purposes of spending. This meant that Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire would need to understand how PBB works to engage in the budget process. It is this kind of region-specific context that makes it difficult to replicate successful budget work from other countries and requires a dedicated network such as FAN.
An emerging problem
Beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, the Ivoirian government had made school compulsory for six to 16-year-olds and recognized the importance of school canteens in keeping children in school and in turn improving success rates. In fact, according to the Ministry of National Education, the school performance rate increased from 62 percent in 2012 to 74 percent in 2015 in primary schools with canteens and the average success rate for the Certificate of Primary Elementary Studies is 68 percent in these schools, compared to 59 percent in schools without canteens. Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire decided to evaluate the effectiveness of school canteens in improving student performance. As Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire dove into their analysis, they focused on a key question: are there functioning school canteen programs in the country? They noticed a disturbing trend which would become their focus during our partnership: of the 12,537 existing public primary schools, 7,115 did not have school canteens, and of the 5,422 canteens, some were not operational or functional. Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire scrutinized budget allocations and determined that despite their importance, state and local authorities were not prioritizing or allocating sufficient resources to the canteens. It soon became clear that there were several factors contributing to this issue:
- School canteens are overwhelmingly dependent on support from donors, namely the World Food Programme;
- A lack of specific funding for school canteens by the central state and local authorities;
- A weak oversight system for monitoring and accessing information on school canteens;
- Minimal community involvement in the management and supply control of school canteens;
- No involvement of cooperatives or other food production groups in the management and supply of school canteens
Based on its analysis, Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire focused on a critical issue facing its community that was consistent with its goals as an organization: transparency, good governance and social justice. They picked up the school canteen issue and ran with it, building their capacity to examine the problem through a budget analysis lens and identifying the right stakeholders to help them champion success for school-aged children.
The author would like to thank Carol Kiangura, IBP Senior Program Officer, Sub-Saharan Africa, Training, Technical Assistance & Networking and the Social Justice staff for their invaluable help in writing this post.