Women smallholder farmers in Nigeria secure investments in agriculture

Women smallholder farmers in Nigeria secure investments in agriculture

In Nigeria, agriculture is responsible for roughly a quarter of the gross domestic product, the second-highest contributor in the country. Although the Nigerian government has reaffirmed its commitment to allocate 10% of its annual budget to agriculture as a signatory to the Maputo Declaration, it has not allocated more than 2.2% over the past 7 years. Women smallholder farmers especially are overlooked by officials overseeing agricultural policy and decision-making, which is surprising when they make up 70% of the workforce and produce 60% of the food Nigerians consume.

In just two and a half years the Smallholder Women Farmers Organization in Nigeria (SWOFON), with the support of IBP, secured three critical budgetary changes to bolster their livelihoods and contributions to the country’s agricultural sector. As a result of data-driven advocacy, the national government increased its spending on agriculture by 18.5% and made new federal budget allocations towards the sector in the five focus states targeted by the program. Crucially, 111,000 smallholder women farmers gained access to new or improved seeds and fertilizer to grow crops, and lighter and more modern equipment to increase production.



Small-scale farmers are the poorest part of Nigeria’s agricultural sector due to longstanding underinvestment. Women farmers are especially hard hit. Women are not only five times less likely to own land than men, but they also do not have the financial resources to invest in farming supplies and services. This means that they cannot increase their yields or earn as much as their male counterparts.


To redress this injustice, SWOFON formed in 2012 with 500,000 women farmers across the 36 Nigerian states and Federal Capital Territory. SWOFON organizes and empowers women farmers’ associations and groups to demand their rights, spur rural village economic development and increase food production. Before their partnership with IBP, SWOFON already had a track record of mobilizing their massive member base and engaging and lobbying officials, but their demands were not being met. We believe this was due, at least in part, to the demands being very broad and lacking evidence about the impact that inadequate allocation decisions had on the sector. In 2018, IBP joined forces with SWOFON under the SPARK program. This program leverages the budget analysis expertise of IBP, and the organizing capacity and local legitimacy of grassroots movements, to advocate for budget decisions that reflect the needs and improve the lives of underserved communities.


No farmer, no food on the table. No food on the table, no nation. We advocate for more increase in the agriculture sector [and] that a percentage of that increase go to smallholder women farmers so that they can be able to produce the food we can feed this nation with.


Mrs. Mary Afan
National President, SWOFON
During a press briefing after their submission of a mass application for assistance to the federal Ministry of Agriculture in February 2020.


Together, IBP, SWOFON and other support organizations1 pursue three main goals in five focus states:2 address the budgetary causes that are leading to underinvestment in agriculture; support equitable access to fertilizer, seeds, and lighter and more modern equipment; and encourage rural economic development and an increase in food production.


SWOFON’s path to results


IBP helped SWOFON advance their budget agenda through different tactics to reach those who could impact decision-making on the agricultural budget. These included mobilizing their members en masse during general elections; leveraging their nationwide presence to participate in formal and informal channels to influence budget decisions at the national, state, and local level; and working with the legislature and the media to raise attention to their issues (and the political costs of ignoring them).


Joining of technical and political power


It was important from the start of the program, as well as the subsequent annual planning phases, to focus on building IBP and partners’ understanding of the ecosystem of actors, roles, institutions and contexts that influence budget decisions in the agricultural sector. By understanding the political economy, SWOFON was able to design a purposeful and focused series of campaigns.

For instance, like all federal states, Nigeria’s agriculture budgeting and spending decisions and powers are spread across the federal, state and local level. This can be problematic as decision-making is often decentralized, which results in uneven reform. However, SWOFON’s nationwide membership structure provides a distinct organizing advantage, as well as the necessary political weight required to tackle this challenge: they have a deep and wide enough membership base to mobilize members, engage officials and influence decisions that are being made at all three levels.

IBP and SWOFON also benefitted from strong connections with key government agencies and institutions when the program started. This political power, combined with IBP’s fiscal governance expertise, is the foundation of SWOFON’s success, since it has allowed them to navigate the political aspects of this program with great skill.


Building budget and political advocacy skills


Smallholder women farmers marching for access to agricultural inputs in Lafia, Nasarawa State.

Budget processes in Nigeria, as in most countries, are hidden, opaque and dominated by men. IBP and technical partners assisted SWOFON in improving their budget and political advocacy skills so that they knew what they were looking for, whom to address, what to expect and what to ask for. Armed with these new skills to examine and navigate the budget and the actors who influence it, SWOFON’s state and national networks led mass actions, including marches across 3 focus states. They also organized mass applications from over 379,000 women for access to fertilizer, seed and equipment. This strategy exerted electoral pressure on state actors during general elections, since SWOFON represents more than 500,000 women farmers with the power to influence election outcomes through their votes.








I had always thought that Jigawa State had little or no women farmers – the reason being that most of the agricultural projects implemented by the State Government [are] male-dominated, but with the engagements, meetings and advocacy visits from SWOFON, I am happy to recognize SWOFON as an organized structure of small-scale women farmers. Therefore, I want to support and ensure that SWOFON farmers are officially part of the Agriculture Initiative currently being implemented in the state.


– Barrister Ibrahim Hadejia, Former Deputy Governor Jigawa State, while granting audience to SWOFON during the campaign march in the state.


Generating and leveraging data to make demands


Nigeria’s government generally lacks robust data about how its policies impact underserved communities. IBP seized on this opportunity to help SWOFON fundamentally shift its advocacy strategy to be more data driven. This shift proved critical to landing key wins and gaining buy-in from officials who began to recognize SWOFON as a credible, knowledgeable partner. Since 2018, IBP has helped SWOFON draft community charters of demands and organize its members to submit mass applications for seed, fertilizer and equipment that were informed by women’s priorities and accurate estimates of the volume of supplies they needed. IBP also helped them conduct ongoing research on the agriculture sector budget and related spending and allocations to supplies and equipment. In 2020, SWOFON participated in the Budget Office of the Federation’s public budget forum and found out that the agriculture budget would likely be cut. IBP and technical partners quickly drafted an assessment on the probable effects of the proposed cuts on women farmers in particular and national food security more broadly. SWOFON successfully leveraged this research to advocate against the cuts.

In the words of a SWOFON member:



We now understand that to have a voice, we need to be part of the process that puts together the budget. We need to know and engage about how much is being allocated to the agricultural sector – and how much of that goes to women farmers.


– SWOFON Member



Formal and informal engagement and participation


IBP and other technical partners supported SWOFON to identify and seize informal and formal opportunities to engage government and participate in the budget planning processes at all levels. Offices and institutions that they engaged with included local government chairpersons, state governors’ offices, state Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development permanent secretaries, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development at state and national level, the Budget Office of the Federation, and National Assembly legislators from the focus states. For instance, SWOFON members submitted the community charters of demands to local officials to inform local government budget planning processes. They also submitted position papers to national agriculture and women affairs’ ministries and legislators.

After one such engagement, the Commissioner for Agriculture, Oyo State said:


Women are the driving force of food production and agriculture in our State. My doors are open to hear their voices and demands. We will do our best to increase investment and allocation to the Agriculture budget as a state during my tenure in office.


– Commissioner for Agriculture, Oyo State



Working with oversight institutions


A particularly powerful moment came in 2020 after SWOFON gave a technical presentation to the National Assembly during the national 2020 budget revision process, which highlighted the effects of proposed COVID-induced cuts for agriculture on smallholder farmers and on national food security. By building relationships with parliamentarians from the focus states and providing the often data-poor National Assembly with robust evidence at the right time during budget appropriation sessions, SWOFON was able to ensure parliamentarians made evidence-informed decisions as part of their oversight role in the budget process. This strategy paid off.


Amplifying SWOFON’s voice


To exert public pressure on government, SWOFON and IBP also allied themselves with broader public and civil society agricultural campaigns in respective states and used them to put forward their women members and their issues. This was vital in helping identify and build relationships with influential decision-makers and legislators.

Prime time news coverage of SWOFON’s campaign on Nigerian television.

To build public support for these behind-the-scenes government engagements, the campaign also involved the media. Radio, national and state television, and social media increasingly broadcast compelling stories about the situation faced by individual women smallholders or about the sector as a whole. Newspapers and magazines published similar information

in articles and interviews. This brought the everyday plight of women small-scale farmers to the fore. The public became more aware of their needs, the impact of COVID, and the consequences of proposed budget cuts on food security – as previously these issues had been hidden or ignored.




SWOFON’s main successes to date


The strategic shifts SWOFON were able to make with support from IBP and other technical partners have helped Nigeria’s smallholder women farmers reclaim their voice and power. Now they can be heard and are able to contribute constructively to consequential government decisions over resources that impact their livelihoods and the nation’s food security.

SWOFON members receive fertilizer.

Not only did SWOFON get much needed fertilizer, seed, equipment and COVID relief into the hands of more than 111,000 women farmers in the five focus states, but they also played a part in the federal government’s decision to increase spending for the agricultural sector by 18.5% over the amount earlier proposed by the Executive Arm of Government in its revised 2020 budget, bringing Nigeria closer to meeting its commitments under the 2011 Maputo Declaration. SWOFON members receive fertilizer.


The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development also followed through with the 35% affirmative action provision for women farmers stipulated in the Gender in Agriculture Policy. It made new budgetary allocations worth just over 800 million naira (approximately $2 million USD) for seeds, fertilizer and light and modern equipment across the program’s five focus states in the 2020 revised federal budget.


Moving Forward


Inauguration of the high-level Technical Working Group on Agriculture and Related Sectors with SWOFON members.

Laying the foundation for longer term influence and sustainable change, SWOFON has also gained legitimacy as a valuable partner for government officials by demonstrating their knowledge of budgets and using that knowledge to help officials make more informed decisions.


This legitimacy has led to them becoming a key player when it comes to national decision-making. As a result, SWOFON can positively influence service delivery for its members and other women. Examples of these inroads include the fact that the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning invited SWOFON to become a member of the Technical Working Group on Agriculture and Related Sectors. In addition, the SWOFON State- level Coordinators in both Jigawa and Kaduna states have been included on the state committee responsible for fertilizer distribution.






For Nigerian women farmers to come out to the federal capital and make known to government what their demands are is a very commendable thing. I have to assure you that your comments have been noted and I assure you on behalf of the Ministry [of Agriculture] that we are going to take actions going forward. Now we are going to work with women on a larger scale.

The Ministry has also taken note of your demands, especially in the area of agricultural inputs as regards seeds and equipment. The narrative now has changed in the Ministry, that whatever interventions we are doing, whatever support we are going to give to farmers it should be demand-driven. We are going to procure what the farmers say they want, and we are going to start from the smallholder women farmers.


Mrs. Karima Babandiga.
Director, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, during a press briefing with SWOFON in February 2020.





Change is a gradual process. It is not easy to alter entrenched norms that influence who has a seat at the decision-making table. Through continuous engagement with government, communities and traditional leaders, women are shifting their role in agriculture at all levels. SWOFON have been energized by this process and have increased their membership across the country. They are finding their voices and are being heard.

KNTI: Fisherfolk advocate for fuel subsidies and COVID relief in Indonesia

KNTI: Fisherfolk advocate for fuel subsidies and COVID relief in Indonesia


Indonesia is the world’s second-largest fisheries producer, and small-scale fisherfolk make up 95% of the sector. These fishers depend heavily on fuel which represents 60% of their production costs. When President Joko Widodo came to power, he promised to prioritize assistance to the marine and fisheries sector and issued a plan calling for the central government to subsidize fuel for fishers. However, many small-scale fishers have not been able to benefit from this program due to weak implementation of fuel subsidy budgets by state governments and cumbersome administrative procedures.


We have helped Kesatuan Nelayan Tradisional Indonesia (KNTI) – which represents 300,000 small-scale fisherfolk – hone their budget literacy, strengthen their networks, and better influence government decisions to turn these dynamics around and gain much-needed relief for their members. As a result, in just the last two years, the union has secured access to US$95 million in COVID-19 social assistance for 1.1 million fishers and US$4.2 million in credit facilities to protect the livelihoods of fisherfolk impacted by the pandemic. Moreover, KNTI has convinced officials who oversee the implementation of the fuel subsidy program to simplify the registration process – a crucial reform that will allow 2.6 million traditional fisherfolk to access these subsidies.


Beyond these immediate gains, the government now sees KNTI as an influential player in informing fiscal policies for smallholder fisherfolk, which will allow KNTI to continue building community power over resources in the long term.





A social auditor collecting data on fishers’ challenges in accessing the fuel subsidy program.

Indonesia is the world’s second-largest fisheries producer. The sector generates approximately US$4.1 billion in annual export earnings and supports more than 7 million jobs. Small-scale fisherfolk make up 95% of the sector and depend heavily on fuel, which represents 60% of their production costs. Until 2014, the marine and fisheries sector was not a government priority, but President Joko Widodo has pledged to support this critical sector. Part of his new plan calls for the central government to subsidize fuel for all fishers.


Despite the new plan, small-scale fishers have struggled to benefit from these subsidies for various reasons. The government has consistently failed to allocate enough funds for fuel subsidies in its annual budget, and what it has allocated has not been distributed properly. In 2019, for example, authorities only distributed 25.6% of the subsidies they had allocated in the budget. Poor execution is mainly due to weak capacity among state governments to manage their fuel subsidy budgets.


Different state institutions are responsible for implementing the subsidies, which has resulted in complex and sometimes conflicting regulations. Fisherfolk must pay the local marine and fisheries office for a written recommendation that is only valid for a single purchase of subsidized fuel. Many small-scale fishers lack credentials, such as ship registration letters or business “Kusuka” cards that expedite the registration process to receive subsidies. Insufficient distribution points compound the problem. Authorities do not sufficiently monitor the distribution of fuel, so large vessels often drain existing allocations. In short, those who need the subsidy the most are least likely to receive it.


Kesatuan Nelayan Tradisional Indonesia (KNTI) is a community-based organization composed of 300,000 small-scale and traditional fisherfolk across Indonesia. It was established in 2008 to better represent the community’s interests and increase their access to subsidies and other assistance to keep the sector viable. KNTI had experience mobilizing its members but lacked knowledge about the budget process. Their members did not know what they were entitled to and did not understand the causes of underinvestment in their sector. The group was not impacting policy change, as it lacked the data to pinpoint the problem and propose solutions to decision-makers.



Path to KNTI’s results


Joining of technical and political power through building budget advocacy skills


KNTI has a large membership base across the country. It also has longstanding connections with local and national decision-makers. However, the group struggled to secure much- needed relief for their members due to a lack of understanding about how budget decisions impact resource allocations. Moreover, while KNTI has a strong, competent, well-connected and dynamic national secretariat, local level chapters lacked the leadership and dynamism to keep fisherfolk members interested in advocacy campaigns and motivated to mobilize.


We worked closely with two in-country technical partners, the Indonesian Forum for Budget Transparency (FITRA) and Perkumpulan Inisiatif to build up KNTI’s budget analysis skills and shore up their members’ interest in budget advocacy through trainings (22 training sessions have been held since 2020) and ongoing budget analysis support.1 As a result, union members understood where the government budget was falling short and who to target to seek reforms in the fuel subsidy program.



Generating and leveraging data to support demands


Generally, the Indonesian government lacks strong data on how its policies impact underserved communities. IBP seized the opportunity to help KNTI fundamentally shift its advocacy strategy and leverage data to propose policy solutions. This shift proved critical to landing key wins and gained buy-in from officials who began to recognize KNTI as a credible and knowledgeable partner in their decision-making.


In the first year of our project, KNTI set up Community Information and Complaint Centers (POSKOs) where fisher communities could discuss their difficulties in accessing the fuel subsidy program. In 2020, the first two centers established in Medan and Semarang provinces held six meetings and shared around 500 complaints with local and regional officials from fisherfolk who had experienced difficulties accessing the subsidies. In Medan, the mayor, legislators and other stakeholders visited the center, while in Semarang the center’s regular kampung (neighborhood) discussion with fisherfolk received media attention.


KNTI also conducted social audits in Medan and Semarang on the main impediments fisherfolk face in accessing the subsidies.2 As COVID-19 set in, KNTI also assessed the impacts of the pandemic on the lives and livelihoods of the fishers. More than 3,500 fisherfolk from five cities responded to the online survey at the height of the pandemic. Considering this was the very first activity of its kind, and those who participated represented broader communities, the response rate was promising.


While published government statistics showed very high fuel disbursement levels close to 100%, the data collected through KNTI’s surveys indicated that 69% of respondents did not receive this fuel. Furthermore, the data showed that more than 95% of respondents in Medan and 82% in Semarang could not obtain recommendation letters to access fuel.


KNTI took the valuable information collected in the online survey to key government officials. The organization held a gathering with the Governor of Central Java and more than 70 fisherfolk to discuss the findings and challenges fisherfolk faced in accessing the fuel subsidies. The live meeting was broadcast on KNTI’s Facebook page and viewed by approximately 800 people.



The social audit done by KNTI is very good. I need evidence from the field and this social audit provided me with the portrait from the field. We will follow up this result. The government will invite the KNTI representative (KNTI in Semarang) to discuss further about this with the line local offices.


– Ganjar Pranowo, Governor of Central Java 



Generating and leveraging data to support demands


Early in the project, we knew that helping KNTI transform its engagement with government would be critical to the organization’s success. We helped it forge new ties with local and national officials that could impact the reforms it sought and take a more data-driven approach with new and existing relationships in target institutions.

KNTI successfully leveraged the data collected by the POSKOs and social audits to engage the local Medan and Semarang governments, including local Marine and Fisheries Affairs offices that are now more willing to discuss issues directly with small-scale fisherfolk. By moving these engagements online during the pandemic, KNTI was able to engage even more local fisherfolk in these convenings.


KNTI also advocated for reform nationally by engaging the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAaF), the President’s office and two enterprises that the government tasked with implementing the subsidized fuel program.3 KNTI offered officials concrete budget and policy recommendations to improve fuel subsidy service delivery at the national and local level based on evidence from the ground. Recognizing that KNTI had valuable and unique data to inform policy, the Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries reached out to the group for its findings on access and availability of subsidized fuel and the impact of the pandemic on small-scale fishers. He publicly voiced his appreciation for their work, met with their leadership, and even hosted a ministerial hearing with their members across Indonesia to discuss the challenges they face.


We knew that improving the effectiveness of the fuel subsidy program was a priority for President Widodo, so we helped KNTI forge ties with the President’s office. With our support, KNTI and an alliance of fisheries-focused civil society organizations convened a meeting with the President’s office to share the challenges fisherfolk face in accessing the subsidy and the threats they faced during the pandemic. The President’s office subsequently engaged with the implementing authorities to address inefficiencies in how subsidies are allocated and simplify the process to receive assistance.



We need new initiatives to solve the existing problem in which fuel subsidy mostly benefited the mafia, not traditional fisherfolks. [The] survey done by KNTI is very useful and we will use this to discuss with other institutions and the ministry will simplify regulation and cancel the regulation that requires letters of recommendation for fisherfolks to access the fuel subsidy.


– Edhy Prabowo, former Minister, Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries Affairs



Working with oversight institutions


Headline of Indonesian news outlet merdeka.com: “KNTI: 90 Percent of Fishermen Do Not Have a Ship.”


In much of our work, IBP has found that accountability requires all-hands-on-deck. When civil society comes together with oversight actors like auditors and legislators, they can collectively check executive power and ensure governments follow through on promises. When auditors collaborate with civil society, for instance by scaling up and formalizing social audits such as the one KNTI spearheaded, they can also collect valuable information only communities have.


With our support, KNTI forged a relationship with the Audit Board of Indonesia (BPK). They met with senior officials of the audit board who committed to collaborate more strategically with civil society groups that conduct social audits on subsidized fuel and the Social Assistance scheme (PKH). We also helped KNTI forge relationships with oversight institutions like the ombudsmen in Medan and Semarang, the Corruption Eradication Commission and national parliamentary members. Regional ombudsmen play a critical role in monitoring and providing recommendations to local governments.


As a result of these engagements, the ombudsmen in Semarang and Central Java prioritized the distribution of subsidized fuel for fishers as part of their monitoring agenda. In Medan, the ombudsman, KNTI and FITRA went on a joint visit to a fisher settlement to assess the situation and hear from the fisherfolk directly.



Amplifying KNTI’s voice


Indonesia has Facebook’s fourth-largest global audience and one of the world’s largest media markets. KNTI leveraged Indonesia’s active digital and traditional media landscape to amplify its message, engage officials and garner attention for the challenges fisherfolk face.

In the second half of 2020 alone, KNTI launched 12 publications about the challenges their members were facing in accessing fuel subsidies and the need for pandemic-related relief. National and local media outlets covered KNTI’s findings and statements, as well as the online forums they held, such as the Facebook Live meeting with the Governor of Central Java.



Coastal Fishermen in the City of Semarang Can Report Corona Social Assistance Deviations to the KNTI Post.


– Headline from the Semarang TribunJateng.com news outlet



In November 2020, the fisheries minister and several top officials were arrested by the Corruption Eradication Commission on charges related to lobster exports. Widespread media coverage of the scandal provided an opportunity for IBP and KNTI to direct attention to the plight of small fisherfolk and bring their issues and related accountability challenges to the forefront of the media and public’s mind (IBP had related coverage in outlets with broad reach such as Detik Finance and CNN Indonesia).



Main successes to date


KNTI has increased public attention to the needs of small-scale fishers and become a trusted broker with the government. At the height of the pandemic, the government yielded to pressure from KNTI and its partners and allocated COVID assistance to 1.1 million fisherfolk (mostly in the form of fuel assistance). The government also set up credit facilities worth US$4.2 million for two state-owned enterprises to buy fish from small-scale fishers to mitigate their losses and bolster food security.



We had a meeting with PT Pertamina and the Ministry of Marine and Fisheries Affairs to discuss the issue of subsidized fuel for small fisherfolks based on reports from the coalition submitted to [the President’s office]. [The office] urged the government to accelerate the issuance of Kusuka cards as an instrument for the distribution of fuel subsidies. [The office] will also issue an affirmation letter, through the Ministry of Marine and Fisheries Affairs, for fisherfolk’s easier access to fuel subsidy.


– Alan Korompitan, Special Advisor, President’s office



As a result of KNTI’s activism, the government has substantially simplified the paperwork requirements to access subsidized fuel, especially for small-scale fisherfolk, by shifting responsibility from the MMaFA to the Oil and Gas Regulatory Agency (BPH Migas). More than 2.6 million traditional fisherfolk will now benefit from the simplified registration process BPH has put in place. In 2021, KNTI began monitoring the extent to which these reforms have improved subsidy access for small-scale fishers in its expanded focus areas. The government has also asked KNTI to work with it to help fisherfolk navigate the procedural requirements so that more of them can access subsidized fuel. To date, the government also distributed 1,066 Kusuka Cards (Fisherfolk Cards) to fishers and marine businessmen in Semarang so that they are now formally documented as fisherfolk and can access the fuel subsidy and other assistance. In addition, KNTI received 200 recommendation letters to access subsidized fuel in Bireun, Aceh province. One recommendation letter allows KNTI to access 100 liters of subsidized fuel for further distribution to KNTI members.


The MMaFA together with the President’s office plans to pilot a project on fuel subsidy stations in Semarang, Medan, and Padang. If successful, the pilot could pave the way for a fuel station infrastructure development project that would improve fuel access.





In a short period of time, KNTI has leveraged its strength in numbers, networks and newly acquired budget literacy to significantly improve access to subsidized fuel for its members. It has built a relationship with the government in which it now has a say in how budgets are distributed and who they will benefit. Moving forward, KNTI will follow up on the government’s commitments, closely monitor fuel subsidy access by small-scale fisherfolk, and engage local and national budget planning processes to further improve the fuel subsidy program’s budget allocations and execution challenges.

NCDHR: Empowering students from India’s scheduled castes and tribes

NCDHR: Empowering students from India’s scheduled castes and tribes


The Post Matric Scholarship (PMS) program is India’s largest tertiary education scholarship program for scheduled caste and scheduled tribe (SC/ST) students. The PMS program provides financial assistance to students from historically marginalized Dalit and Adivasi communities to complete their tertiary education. However, many students are unable to access the scholarship due to opaque application guidelines and timelines. Students who have managed to enroll encounter delays in the transfer of their scholarship funds as a result of the program’s chronic underfunding and poor implementation.


With our support, the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) reformed its strategy and built up a cadre of student leaders with the budget and political advocacy skills to advocate on their own behalf and unlock reforms. As a result, the NCDHR supported 4,802 PMS applications in three states and worked with the government to simplify the process so more students could apply. In Andhra Pradesh, the government ordered the release of US$870 million in arrears for the 2018/19 and 2019/20 academic years and US$90 million for FY2021-22, which will benefit 900,000 students. When the program came under threat of being cut, the NCDHR and a broad alliance of civil society partners convinced the government to not only maintain the program but also commit to an increased budget allocation of US$4.8 billion.




Dalits and Adivasis constitute one-quarter of India’s population and make up 14.4% and 5.2% of the student population, respectively.1 However, the number of Dalit and Adivasi students drops substantially when they move from secondary and higher-secondary education to tertiary education (see Table 1). In recognizing the need to retain SC/ST students at the tertiary level, the Indian government introduced the PMS program for SC/ST students in 1944. Between 2014 and 2017, an average of 5.6 million students benefited from the program each year.

Table 1 – Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER)
All categoriesScheduled castesScheduled tribes
Higher Secondary56.256.843.1
Higher Education24.519.914.2

 Source: Educational statistics at a glance, 2018, Govt. of India. Data are of the year 2015-16.


Since the beginning, however, the program has been fraught with systemic and fiscal challenges. According to a Parliamentary Standing Committee for Social Justice and Empowerment, the PMS program is “inconsistent, uneven and disjointed”.2 The committee stated that the PMS program was opaque in its operations, unaccountable, and under-resourced, which resulted in a variety of implementation challenges such as ineffective delivery of services to recipients, delays in funding flows from the Ministry of Finance to students’ bank accounts, and outstanding arrears. The Department of Social Justice and Empowerment noted that the funds allocated each year were substantially less than the amount requested, resulting in extensive arrears (see Chart 1). For example, the department submitted its request for US$1487 million to the Ministry of Finance but only received US$1045 million for 2018-19. Due to the accumulation of arrears year-on-year, thousands of eligible scholarship recipients have been excluded from the program or faced delays in receiving their scholarship funds.


Source: Departmentally Related standing Committee Report on DDGs of DSJE 2017-18, 2021-22 and the Union Budget Document.


The NCDHR was founded in 1998 by human rights activists, academics, and Dalit action groups involved in advancing the rights of India’s scheduled castes and tribes (Dalits and Adivasis). The organization works as a network in 14 states, representing more than 300 million members. It focuses on combatting deep-rooted caste and patriarchal structures in India that have resulted in inter-generational poverty and systemic deprivation in Dalit and Adivasi communities, particularly for women. For decades, the NCDHR prioritized SC/ST higher education as a key step towards addressing structural inequalities and discrimination but had limited success in PMS reform.


Through its partnership with IBP, the NCDHR has pushed for the PMS program to be redesigned based on feedback from the recipients themselves. They chose three focus states: Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Andhra Pradesh. These states were chosen because they have large populations of SC/ST communities, NCDHR already had strong networks there, and they provide geographical diversity across India.



The NCDHR’s path to results


Joining of technical skills and political power


Dalit and Adivasi communities represent a significant constituency and potential voting bloc for any national government, so in theory they should have political power. At the state level, however, it is more complex. Entrenched discrimination coupled with fragmentation within political parties makes it hard for the community to influence state governments.


The NCDHR has an impressive track record of training Dalit activists and community leaders across India, particularly in understanding budgets and public programs. It has achieved important policy and budget wins, such as the national government’s implementation of budget code 789 in 2010 to categorize funds for SC/ST communities to avoid funds being diverted to non-SC/ST activities. Despite policy reforms, however, change for communities on the ground has been slow.


Creating a student-led movement


Student youth camp in Jharkhand.

Early diagnostics carried out by IBP in partnership with the NCDHR revealed the need to strengthen the secretariat’s connection to its members and to build ownership among members to carry out the work in their own communities. This required a shift in strategy by the NCDHR secretariat, which was used to acting on behalf of members. We supported the NCDHR and its student networks to co-create a campaign to raise awareness among students about the political and budgetary context around the PMS program and equip them to lead their own advocacy to improve public service provision.


The NCDHR began with a student survey to understand the challenges students faced. It selected a core group of 193 student leaders across the three focus states, of which 51% were women. In the first half of 2020, these leaders organized 149 student meetings across three states with 3,149 students. From there, student leaders hosted 46 student camps with valuable support from tertiary institutions and government officials such as district welfare officers. In the camps, student leaders helped students and college officials to submit and process 2,850 online PMS applications.

The NCDHR’s next step was to build the student leaders’ knowledge of the PMS application process and bottlenecks. The students were also supported to conduct union and state-level budget analysis. In the second half of 2020, 19 training sessions were held to build the students’ political advocacy skills.


Students participating in social media training.

Armed with vital new skills, student leaders began developing good working relationships with college administrations, which had at times been strained. In Uttar Pradesh, district welfare officers conducted workshops across several districts to train college administrators and authorities to process PMS applications more efficiently.


Student leaders also used their new-found skills to file more than 125 Right to Information applications under the 2005 Right to Information Act to gather information on the status of student PMS applications and PMS fund disbursements. They also submitted tens of memorandums to colleges, district ministers, and magistrates to highlight issues in the PMS program.



Multi-level engagement with government



This is the first time I’ve participated in a training that taught us how to understand budgets. It was very interesting, as I had only heard of these big words but wasn’t able to understand them and how to use them. Now I am able to link the budget of the state and central government to my scholarship and why it’s important to stress on that budget so that I and others like me can get scholarships to continue studying.


– Abhishek, 12th grade student, Jharkhand



As with all SPARK projects, the campaign intentionally forged relationships with decision-makers and influential organizations across all tiers of government to bring about sustainable reform. These engagements were formal and informal. Student leaders in the three focus states engaged with the following state actors involved in PMS implementation: District Welfare Officer, District Collector, Department of Social Welfare, District Magistrate, Sub-District Magistrate, and State Coordinator Legislative Assembly Committee. Pro-reform actors were also identified and cultivated, such as the Andhra Pradesh District Welfare Officer and Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE). These informal engagements led to an early campaign achievement. In Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, the deadline for the online application process was extended by almost two months, allowing more students to apply. This decision bolstered student leaders’ confidence that they could impact change and motivated more SC/ST students to apply.



Every time there is a problem with the scholarship applications or distribution, it’s only the college authorities who come to meet me. But this is the first time that the Dalit students came to meet me on their own. I felt very touched. I knew of the work done by the NCDHR and DAAA, but this is the first time I saw these girls and boys coming to talk about the problems they face. I could understand how difficult it was for them, they all came from very marginalized families. I immediately took notice and have tried to help them in whatever way possible. They were facing problems in getting cast certificates and other such documents needed for the applications; it was fixed immediately.


– Kaushal Kumar Ashok, Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Jalaun District, Andhra Pradesh



Furthermore, NCDHR state coordinators and other civil society organizations and civil liberties organizations (CSOs/CLOs) initiated pre-budget consultations with members of political parties prior to the 2020 state budget release. These consultations served to ensure that the PMS program was adequately provided for in the proposed budgets.


At the national level, the NCDHR facilitated engagements between SC/ST students and the national ministries responsible for implementing the PMS program, as well as members of parliament such as those in the Public Accounts Committee.3 For the first time, the NCDHR and MSJE jointly organized a national consultation in February 2020. Almost 10 national-level experts and representatives attended the consultation, and after several meetings, a draft accountability framework was developed for the PMS program day service delivery. to strengthen day-to-day service delivery.


At the start of the pandemic, the NCDHR state team in Jharkhand became a formal member of the influential NITI Aayog, the Government of India’s think tank that is chaired by the Prime Minister and includes all state Chief Ministers. Leveraging the Aayog’s influence, the NCDHR team held 40 virtual and physical meetings with community social organizations across India over a six-month period in which it raised PMS-related issues and demanded resolutions.



Working through coalitions


While the focus was always on bringing independence and agency to the students, their progress would not have been possible without a strong support network. To date, 113 CSOs/CLOs across the three focus states have helped to strengthen the reach of the campaign and engage with students and other like-minded individuals and networks.

To strengthen these networks, the NCDHR trained CSOs/CLOs to understand the PMS application guidelines and how to engage with the relevant officials at the state and district level. They delved into the process of PMS online applications and discussed the challenges students face in accessing higher education, particularly scholarships. In Andhra Pradesh, where funds have not been released for two academic years, CSOs/CLOs met to discuss unprocessed PMS tuition and hostel fees for Dalit and Adivasi students.



Engagement with the media


#SavePMS campaign press conference.

Working with the media was critical to NCDHR’s advocacy. For instance, the NCDHR’s pre-budget consultation with political leaders received widespread coverage from local media outlets. The positive media coverage raised public awareness and support for the NCDHR’s proposals for improving the PMS program.


When rumors circulated in November 2020 that the PMS program may be on the chopping block, the NCDHR launched the #SavePMS campaign and convinced the government to maintain the program and commit to an increased budget. The #SavePMS campaign reached almost 1 million users on social media, reinforcing in the minds of the public the importance of the PMS program and the need for reform.



Covid-19 pivot

There is no doubt that Covid-19 stalled the campaign’s progress. Working with the country’s most marginalized meant that the NCDHR had to pivot to focus on humanitarian work for the first four months of the crisis. A core group of 40 students was selected by the NCDHR to continue campaigning for PMS improvements, while other activities were temporarily put on hold to focus on pandemic relief.



Every time there is a problem with the scholarship applications or distribution, it’s only the college authorities who come to meet me. But this is the first time that the Dalit students came to meet me on their own. I felt very touched. I knew of the work done by the NCDHR and DAAA, but this is the first time I saw these girls and boys coming to talk about the problems they face. I could understand how difficult it was for them, they all came from very marginalized families. I immediately took notice and have tried to help them in whatever way possible. They were facing problems in getting cast certificates and other such documents needed for the applications; it was fixed immediately.


– Kaushal Kumar Ashok, Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Jalaun District, Andhra Pradesh



Students conducted a survey to assist SC/ST communities receive relief packages from the government. The NCDHR developed an App called “WeClaim” to survey and locate communities that had not received government relief packages. Student volunteers spearheaded the relief monitoring, disseminated information about the relief packages, and set up a helpline to assist SC/ST communities. They facilitated application process for relief assistance alongside timely release of scholarships and in doing so emerged as leaders in their communities. New alliances were also forged in the states.



The NCDHR’s main successes to date


As a result of consistent advocacy efforts, the government of India took steps to improve the management of the PMS system. The MSJE established guidelines to strengthen day-to- day service delivery in the programs it funds by instituting a series of monitoring tools and oversight practices, such as strengthening grievance redress mechanisms for students; regular inspections of institutions; training of college heads on scholarship application processes; designated officials to register complaints; and an online portal to provide information on scholarship disbursements. The Welfare Department in the state of Andhra Pradesh also initiated a toll-free number (1902) to enable students to file complaints about the provision of basic services in boarding and college facilities, such as washrooms, libraries, and dining spaces.


The NCDHR also secured important wins to address underfunding of the PMS program and expand allocations. The #SavePMS campaign pressured the national government to allocate US$4.8 billion for 40 million SC/ST students over five years starting in 2021. The Andhra Pradesh government released approximately US$600 million in outstanding funds for the 2019/20 academic year; US$270 million for the 2018/19 academic year; and US$90 million for FY2021-22, which will benefit 900,000 students.


Thanks to the NCDHR’s advocacy and training, more students have submitted their PMS applications: 4,802 applications were filed across the three focus states, of which 1,557 (32%) were successful. However, Covid-19 has delayed the processing of some applications and disbursement of funds. The states of Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh also significantly extended the PMS application deadline.





With IBP’s support, the NCDHR brought about significant change in a short period of time by empowering students. SC/ST students now have agency, are better able to access the application system for the PMS program, and can expect arrears to be paid. Moreover, when the program itself was threatened, the community banded together and lobbied the government to maintain the program, improve it, and commit further funds.


Students who once had limited knowledge of the Indian political context nor the skills to lead budget advocacy are now leading the change and engaging with decision-makers. This has positively impacted the Dalit community as a whole. Dalit students who previously lacked the confidence to bring their concerns to college authorities now believe in their power to enact change and access education. These passionate changemakers are using education to uplift themselves and their communities.


COMEN: Communities achieve much-needed investments in Primary Health Care

COMEN: Communities achieve much-needed investments in Primary Health Care


The Primary Health Care (PHC) sector in Nigeria has suffered from chronic underinvestment since the 1980s, when primary health care was decentralized and handed over to local governments. Local PHC facilities have suffered from outdated procurement processes and delays in budget flows, which slow down repairs and investment in services. There has also been weak oversight and little opportunity for citizens to participate in decision-making about resourcing these facilities. Although many Nigerians rely on their local PHC facility for care, only 20% of the 30,000 facilities across the country are in working order.


With our support, Community Empowerment Network (COMEN) built the skills and coalition to get the Anambra state government to increase its 2020 budget health allocations by 6.4%. Their 2021 budget also centralized and increased allocations to the State Primary Healthcare Development Agency from 26.4 million in 2020 to 757.6 million naira. State officials also disbursed their 20% share (the federal government matches with the other 80%) of the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF)1 to 175 PHC facilities for the first time. Anambra is now the leading state in Nigeria in accessing the BHCPF.




Charity primary health care facility at Ezinifite community, Nnewi South Local Government Area, with worn-out mosquito nets.

COMEN is a large organization that helps 181 communities— over 6 million residents— to identify and prioritize development needs. SPARK’s strategy is to seek out groups that are already organizing and mobilizing around a service delivery issue. COMEN had been trying to influence community development priorities in Anambra state for a few years and in 2015 had managed to get community demands reflected in the budget but tangible changes in services were slow to materialize. We felt that by applying more rigorous budget analysis and advocacy tactics, COMEN could make further inroads in building the community’s influence over resource decisions.


Anambra has a poor track record of primary health care service delivery, as is the prevalent norm across Nigeria. Providers lack the capacity to provide basic care and clean water and basic sanitation to residents. PHC facilities are poorly staffed, have ageing infrastructure and equipment and lack supplies of essential drugs. We focused on what the community said was their top priority—access to clean water and sanitation— as our “entry point” to drive broader conversations around the need to invest in PHC facilities.


In 2015, Anambra’s State Government launched a program to rehabilitate 63 out of 326 PHC facilities annually. However, COMEN’s budget tracking with IBP revealed that PHC facilities had not received any funding from the federal health budget, state health budget or local government budgets in the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years. This underinvestment was not due to lack of revenue but poor budget execution (see graph 1). The state government succeeded in mobilizing and collecting 99.51% of its targeted revenue between 2015 and 2019. The problem was that these revenues were not allocated and spent effectively by the government to make good on its promises.





Path to COMEN’s results

We and our technical partners—Justice, Development and Peace Caritas, Nnewi (JDPC) and the African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development (Centre LSD)—helped COMEN to build budget analysis skills and forge relationships with local officials to demand that Anambra’s government adequately prioritize the PHC sector.


Joining of technical and political power

COMEN’s political influence as a well-organized network was already significant. What they lacked were budget and advocacy skills to address the bottlenecks that were keeping revenues from reaching their intended purpose. It was important for them to understand and map the actors, roles, institutions and contexts that influence budget decisions in the primary health care sector. COMEN had to be able to answer this question: If governments consistently made allocations for the PHC program, then why were the facilities in such a poor state?


We helped COMEN make the connection between public budgets and service delivery by understanding how resources flow to PHC facilities and how such resources are used to deliver services across facilities. Unpacking this process allowed us to identify what was keeping repairs and other services from being met. We leveraged our convening power to help COMEN build relationships with local and state officials that had a say in how PHC facilities were resourced. By understanding the political economy, and how to navigate it, COMEN was able to design more purposeful and focused campaigns.



Strengthening formal budget spaces


Strategic training on Charters of Demands in Idemili South community.

Many of Nigeria’s rural areas have town unions that convene community members and local officials to address needs and improve services. They do not, however, exist in all communities and, for the most part, have failed to help communities achieve the improvements they seek. Many communities had grown apathetic about the value of engaging with government because they were not seeing tangible results. They were organized but struggled to have the power and voice to seek change.


We had to counter this apathy and help communities understand how they could turn things around. We worked with COMEN to host participatory workshops through the town union structure. We educated residents about how to interpret and monitor budgets that matter most to them. With their newfound skills, these residents were able to speak up about their needs and to speak out against the failures of budget implementation. As a result, town unions transformed from spaces of tired apathy to ones of hope and action.




Generating and leveraging data to make demands


To gather data on the state of the PHC sector, COMEN visited and inspected 21 facilities late in 2019, with a specific focus on water and sanitation. They interviewed frontline workers and held discussions with community members to form an all-round view of what was needed both by patients and workers. We supported COMEN to research, analyze, package and use these facility assessments, and budget information, to drive change. By arming themselves with facts about the conditions of facilities and budget implications – facts which the government did not have – COMEN grew its reputation as a knowledgeable, credible and legitimate partner for local and state government. These new dynamics renewed hope in COMEN and community members after years of being ignored.



Building alliances


We also realized that data was not enough—we had to help COMEN navigate and transform relationships with officials and community leaders who had to take this data to drive constructive action. When COMEN initially tried to engage frontline service providers at PHC facilities they found resistance and they ultimately realized this was due to pressure providers were receiving from the Anambra State Primary Health Care Development Agency (ASPHCDA) to not share data. These efforts also strained the relationship between communities and frontline health workers who felt victimized.


COMEN worked to build trust and form coalitions with local actors, including traditional leaders, religious formations and civil society organizations—like the Idikacho Women in Governance (I-WIG) and the Anambra State Associations of Town Unions (ASATU)—who helped amplify community reach. They also forged ties with local officials like Ward Development Committees (WDCs), Water Sanitation and Hygiene Committees (WASHCOM), officers in charge of PHC facilities and local government health departments who helped them analyse service gaps across facilities and recommend strategies to improve them.



I am proud of leading members to advocate for Primary Health Care Centers, championing and defending civil society space and the formation of a partner network. Our partnership with the Justice Development and Peace Caritas helped us influence and improve Primary Health Care Center’s service delivery and provide the evidence needed for the #FixmyPHC campaign, which directly led to governments increasing money spent in Primary Health Care Centers.


– Ubagu Martha Amuche
A member of COMEN in the Ojoto community.



Formal and informal engagement and participation

We saw an opportunity to leverage the PHC assessments, and the inroads we had made through the town union structure to impact change. The Anambra State Government had created a Community Charters of Demands Desk within its Ministry of Economic Planning, Budget and Development, for communities to submit Charters of Demands on services and other community development priorities. This channel had not been utilized effectively because communities had lacked the skills to draft effective Charters. With support from us and our technical partners, COMEN worked with 12 focus communities to submit Community Charters of Demands. They also encouraged other communities to do so through the Anambra State Associations of Town Unions. In total, 57 communities submitted Community Charters of Demands for the 2020 fiscal year.



Communities should come together in their townhall meetings to prioritize what they would like to have in the annual budget, so it can be pushed to make sure that what they want is accommodated financially.


Mr. Arthur Iweanya
Director, Ministry of Economic Planning, Budget and Development Partners



Through the new alliances built and with clear community demands in hand, COMEN reached key government offices such as the ASPHCDA, the Anambra State Government Commissioner for Health, the Senior Special Assistant, the COVID response task force and the Ministry of Budget and Economic Planning. These officials could influence budget systems at PHC facilities and effectively monitor their service delivery. Increasingly, local officials are more willing to provide valuable information about PHC facilities. Through dialogue, frontline health workers also now understand the crucial role they play in strengthening the performance and accountability of local health care systems. As a result, they have applied pressure on ASPHCDA to improve health workers’ conditions.


COMEN’s engagement with relevant government institutions has given them access to decision-making spaces previously closed to them. COMEN are now part of annual budget bilateral forums in Anambra, where the executive presents budget proposals to civil society for feedback before they submit them to the legislature for appropriation.


Working with oversight institutions


At the height of the pandemic, COMEN tried to link their state campaign to a national health budget cut campaign. They sent position papers to National Assembly health committee members and Anambra state legislators. They participated in donor-led advocacy, such as an event organized by the UK Department for International Development. Though no concrete outcomes emerged, these efforts helped connect COMEN’s coalition to the national health budget debate. COMEN’s work with oversight institutions has been mostly reactive and represents an area for further investment.



Amplifying COMEN’s voice


Radio Program for COVID -19 Awareness at Anambra state Broadcasting Services Awka.

COMEN and partners embarked on two media campaigns to garner public and political attention. The first of the media campaigns was a 3-week series of radio and TV phone-in programs, featuring a representative from the ASPHCDA. These programs raised awareness about preventing the spread of COVID-19 and tied in the poor conditions of PHC facilities across Anambra leveraging the facility assessments. By putting government “on the spot,” COMEN and partners made a strong case to prioritize PHC facilities during the pandemic. This campaign was effective because the Anambra State Governor wanted to be seen to be a “champion of good health” during the pandemic.






COMEN’s main successes to date


As a result of COMEN’s budget advocacy and coalition-building, the Anambra State Government revised the 2020 health budget upwards from 4.7 billion to 5 billion naira (an increase of 6.4%) and reiterated its commitment to implement the program to rehabilitate PHC facilities and improve health services.


Anambra state officials also heeded COMEN’s and our recommendation to strategically centralize all allocations for PHC facilities to the agency that is best suited to manage the funds. In its draft 2021 budget, state officials moved all monies for repairing the facilities under the ASPHCDA, increasing its allocation from 26.4 million to 757.6 million naira. Because the funds are under the direct supervision of the agency responsible for repairing facilities, there are less opportunities for delayed funds, political patronage and waste to sidetrack these monies from being spent on what they were allocated for.


Finally, the state government yielded to pressure from COMEN and partners to disburse the BHCPF to PHC facilities. 175 out of 326 facilities in Anambra have successfully accessed the first disbursement tranche. 17 are from the campaign’s 21 focus facilities serving an estimated 91,000 people. Out of those 17, 15 have commenced renovation work, such as fixing taps and water systems. Because of our partnership, this is the first time the Anambra State Government has met the criteria for accessing the BHCPF and provided its 20% share of the Fund (the federal state provides the other 80%). Anambra State is now the leading state in Nigeria accessing the BHCPF.





Score card process in Charity PHC Nnewi South local government area.

By building mutual understanding and trust with health officials and budget decision-makers, we are finally seeing much-needed repairs to PHC facilities in Anambra. Beyond the immediate improvements, COMEN and the communities’ skills and government relationships have been permanently transformed. These transformations will prove invaluable going forward. They also provide lessons learned we are applying to scale up results beyond Anambra to Oyo state in 2021.


In 2021, COMEN and their civil society networks will monitor the implementation of the BHCPF and the 2020 Anambra state revised health budget allocations to the PHC sub-sector. They will collate this information to address budget implementation bottlenecks. They will also monitor the conditions of the PHC facilities every quarter through a community scorecard to document service improvements. This information will be used to engage relevant government actors at national and subnational level, who, in turn, will commit to keep improving PHC service delivery.





Asivikelane: Helping South Africa’s informal settlement residents’ voices be heard

Asivikelane: Helping South Africa’s informal settlement residents’ voices be heard


The Asivikelane campaign was founded in early 2020 through a coalition formed by IBP South Africa and its partners – Afesis-corplan, CORC and Planact – in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The coalition feared that the conditions in which informal residents live – very close quarters, with failures in adequate water, sanitation and refuse removal provision – were not being sufficiently addressed by the government and municipalities. While the government in general, and metropolitan governments in particular, have enough money available in their budgets to reduce poor service delivery in informal settlements, they do not allocate enough of this money to improving services and infrastructure in these poverty-stricken areas. IBP and coalition partners had worked together since 2018 to hold metropolitan governments accountable for improved service provision in five metropolitan municipalities using the power of evidence-informed advocacy with local governments. As the COVID-19 pandemic set in, Asivikelane was designed to mobilize informal settlement residents to monitor failures in the delivery of critical water, sanitation and refuse removal services; report those findings, notably through the media; and engage metro governments on the challenges and potential short-term and long-term solutions.


Asivikelane – which means “let’s protect one another” in Zulu – asks informal settlement volunteers to respond to questions regarding the quality of water, sanitation and waste management services over a seven-day recall. IBP South Africa then consolidates the answers and disseminates monthly results to bring problem areas to the attention of the relevant city agency and the public.


Since the campaign’s inception a little more than a year ago, the number of partners in the coalition has grown from three to 141; the number of municipalities monitored has increased from an initial five metro municipalities to eight metros and seven smaller municipalities; and the number of informal settlements represented through citizen monitoring has grown from an initial 65 to 275.


Through consistent monitoring of service delivery and holding the relevant municipalities and governments accountable, Asivikelane has contributed to large-scale improvements in informal settlement communities since its implementation in March 2020: 30 settlements (400,000 people) have access to improved water taps and tanks; 36 settlements (500,000 people) have access to safer and more hygienic sanitation facilities; and 18 settlements (250,000 people) have more regular refuse removal.


Furthermore, Asivikelane has built a network of 79 community leaders in participating informal settlements who have been empowered to campaign and advocate for improved service provision, armed with service failure information and insights, and connections to local decision-makers.


In late 2020 and early 2021, Asivikelane conducted budget analyses on the City of Cape Town, City of Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, and eThekwini. In addition, the team wrote a general analysis with suggestions about how these municipalities can improve services to their informal settlements without breaking the bank. These types of analyses serve to underpin the Asivikelane campaign with evidence-informed budget advocacy for improved allocations to water and sanitation services in informal settlements.





More than 5 million South Africans live in informal settlements. These sprawling, crowded communities frequently lack even the most basic of public services, such as clean toilets, running water and refuse removal. In fact, it is estimated that 43% of the total population of South Africa does not have access to clean water. In addition, within informal settlements communal toilets are often neglected and not regularly cleaned. Broken taps and blocked or broken toilets are the norm, and metros are generally slow to repair these. As a result, residents are left with fewer working taps and toilets, or in some cases none at all.


Most metros indicate that maintenance and repairs of basic services infrastructure is a “priority”, but recent comparative research has found that only six out of the 257 municipalities have spent adequately on repairs and maintenance over the 2016/17 – 2018/19 period. The lack of detailed budget information makes it difficult to evaluate whether the maintenance of taps and toilets in informal settlements is indeed being treated as important. This opaqueness makes it very difficult for the public and oversight actors to participate meaningfully in the local government budget process. What is clear is that the informal settlement share of budget allocations for the maintenance of taps and toilets is not sufficient, and more than 70% of residents reporting to Asivikelane have noted that it takes more than three months for anything to be fixed. Moreover, budget allocations currently prioritize slow, high-cost upgrades that only benefit a few settlements. Scaled interventions that also meet the basic services needs of a larger number of residents in the short term would be far better.


Prior to Asivikelane, IBP’s work focused on building the collective agency of informal settlement residents by promoting their participation in the planning and implementation of budgets for basic services. This work was done with support from its partners, Afesis-corplan, CORC and Planact. Planact has a solid reputation and base in the City of Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni; while Afesis-corplan is active in the Eastern Cape province, which covers metros like Nelson Mandela Bay. Meanwhile, CORC is an important partner that has prioritized mobilizing networks of informal settlement residents around issues such as land, evictions, informal settlement upgrading and basic services. By working together, this coalition can have a far wider reach across the nation and build on relationships with officials in certain target areas.



Path to Asivikelane’s results


Joining of technical and political power


Asivikelane builds on work carried out in 2018, when IBP South Africa and the Social Audit Network (SAN) partnered with Planact and 13 informal settlement communities in Ekurhuleni to conduct a social audit on the provision and maintenance of portable toilets. The audit mobilized the community as a whole, involving 20 000 residents as respondents, 157 community volunteers and seven ward councilors. The audit contributed substantial improvements to one of the city’s new contracts for the provision of good quality sanitation services.


In the same way that previous work by IBP and partners focused on mobilizing the collective power of informal settlement communities, Asivikelane also relies on informal settlement community volunteers to report and monitor sanitary conditions in the informal settlements in which they live on behalf of the communities they represent (between 1.5 million and 3 million people, as reliable informal settlement population estimates are hard to come by).


To reinforce this network of community members, Asivikelane developed a network of 63 community facilitators, of which half are women. The core function of these community facilitators is to help partners build the budget collective agency of informal settlement residents through a number of ways. They mobilize communities, particularly women and the differently-abled; assist in the identification of stakeholders in the communities; brief communities about who in government is responsible for basic services and how they may be reached; inform communities about what level of basic services should be provided to them; report to our partners about the state of basic services and improvements that have been made; liaise with and rally communities around formal participation processes like Integrated Development Plans and budget submissions; participate in and provide feedback to communities about the outcomes of engagements with the government; and coordinate the collection of stories (sometimes writing them up), videos or photos from the community in order to gather more evidence of the sanitation challenges faced in the community.


The number of residents and informal settlements taking part in Asivikelane’s service monitoring is constantly increasing (from an initial 65 to 258 informal settlements at the peak of the campaign in 2020). This is in large part due to excellent collaboration with partner CSOs and the reach they have in these communities. By mobilizing members of the community to become engaged in the process of holding the government accountable for its failures in providing adequate basic services, Asivikelane has helped informal settlement residents find their voice and achieve real change that has affected the lives of millions of individuals. Within the first weeks of Asivikelane’s launch, metros committed to improving water, sanitation and waste management service delivery and quickly acted on their commitments, installing new water tanks and taps and addressing water shortages in cities such as Cape Town, Tshwane, Ekurhuleni, eThekwini, or Buffalo City. In addition, some residents reported that more regular cleaning of communal toilets was taking place at their settlements and that protective gear was being distributed to janitors.



Building budget and political advocacy skills


Since the beginning of SPARK implementation, IBP South Africa has provided 160 instances of training, technical assistance and mentoring to seven partner organizations on SPARK strategy development and implementation, SPARK monitoring and evaluation, and engagements in relevant decision-making processes etc. Partners then further imparted knowledge and built the capacity of 876 informal settlement community members (including community facilitators) on budget and political advocacy.


In addition, two important learning events took place. The first occurred in July 2020 and was entitled ‘Building residents’ voice in Asivikelane: what have we learnt to date about deepening connections with communities and residents?’ The discussion brought to the surface several results from, and learning points about, what is working well in Asivikelane. We were able to determine that Asivikelane has strengthened connections between residents and community leaders within and across communities by providing accessible platforms for remote engagement; it has obtained and secured commitment from community respondents to stay engaged; it has given residents voice, which has raised hope and allowed space to raise other issues; and there are emerging signs that Asivikelane has helped create a dialogue between municipalities and informal settlements. This is significant as Asivikelane provides information that municipalities do not have and which they have no other means of accessing. It was also determined that in some cities the campaign is still viewed with suspicion and that traction is disappointing, a reminder that acceptance by residents is not automatic or necessarily continued. Asivikelane needs to up the ante in engaging residents in their responses and in closing the information loop back to them. It is crucial for residents to feel that they own the results and not that they are cogs in a wheel over which they have no control.


The second important learning event was on the subject of community engagement and occurred in October 2020. This event’s main function was to serve as an opportunity for partners to share their approach to community engagement and their strategies for building agency. Again, partners reflected on lessons learnt from the Asivikelane experience. They also discussed what would come next in terms of engagement and agency-building after COVID and a return to the ‘new normal’. Particular attention was given to the value of community facilitators and the impact their assistance has had so far on communities and the success of the project. Liaisons with individual informal settlement residents who volunteer their time, and sometimes their resources, to assist us in interacting with the communities in question form a core part of our partners’ activities. These community facilitators play a vital role in helping CSO partners build the budget collective agency of informal settlement residents.



Generating and leveraging data to support demands


As indicated above, a primary part of the campaign is collecting data from informal settlement volunteers regarding water, sanitation and refuse removal. At present, 1296 residents from 275 informal settlements are monitoring service delivery across eight metropolitan municipalities and seven smaller municipalities, and reporting these results back to Asivikelane. This data collection is vital in giving residents a voice. Data is published in the form of Asivikelane monthly releases, which are used to hold governments and municipalities to account by showing where they have fallen short, or alternately, where they have improved.


In addition, Asivikelane has also engaged in diagnostic work regarding the weaknesses in public finance management systems that cause the poor quality and quantity of services in informal settlements. This has primarily taken the form of budget analysis work that shows which budget shifts could help the government respond to the service delivery problems reported by Asivikelane. In the latter half of 2020, Asivikelane carried out budget analyses of the City of Johannesburg, City of Cape Town, eThekwini, and Ekurhuleni.



Multi-level engagement with government


The Asivikelane campaign was careful to take a multi-level approach to form affiliations with as many decision-makers and influential organizations as possible to build a strong network that could assist in bringing about change. These engagements were both formal and informal.

A particularly valuable aspect of Asivikelane’s formal engagements with the government has been the solidifying of their working relationship with the Auditor General of South Africa (AGSA). In 2018, IBP South Africa developed a Memorandum of Understanding with AGSA that is now being fully implemented through sending social audits and Asivikelane reports to AGSA once a month. They are then able to use this information to decide which aspects of municipal budgets and service delivery to audit. Asivikelane also meets regularly with senior managers of AGSA to discuss how the findings can be used.


Asivikelane’s work builds on a significant relationship that IBP South Africa developed with with the Extended Public Works Programme (EPWP) of the Department of Public Works. In 2019, the EPWP completed a strategy development process for Phase IV of their EPWP programme, of which social audits form a central part. After the department requested IBP South Africa’s support with developing an implementation plan, it accompanied IBP South Africa on site visits during the Kameeldrift social audit, and IBP South Africa provided the department with background documents and materials to help with its thinking. Subsequently, EPWP contracted IBP South Africa’s partner organization, Planact, to conduct social audits of EPWP projects at four sites.



I was previously afraid to talk to the municipality about the issues in my community. Asivikelane has encouraged me to not be lazy to engage and as a result, we have water and toilets in our community.


– Interviewee no. 3: Kanele Gova
Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality – Emibhobheni, Dice Etwatwa


In fact, the responses from the government have been very positive, with the national Minister of Human Settlements requesting a briefing. In addition, many city governments have undertaken to fix the issues that have been identified by Asivikelane’s findings. They have requested that Asivikelane bring them these problems on a regular basis.


On an informal level, through careful and consistent relationship-building and by using the networks of all partners in the coalition, Asivikelane has been able to engage policy-makers to the point that the government has now become more receptive to engaging with civic organizations working on the plight of informal settlement residents. IBP South Africa and its partners went from having to work for months to obtain a meeting with the government to weekly meetings with various national and local governments. At present, Asivikelane is meeting regularly with metro and national government departments to facilitate government responses to Asivikelane results. In line with our goal of engaging residents in government budget decisions, we have worked with CSO partners to include residents in these meetings.



Engagement with the media


When the COVID-19 pandemic hit South Africa in March 2020, Asivikelane’s first response was to start working with a team of health professionals to identify hygiene practices that would help informal settlement residents avoid contracting the coronavirus. Asivikelane produced posters about these hygiene practices, distributing and displaying them widely, including via social media and WhatsApp. The immediate response to the posters was overwhelming. National, provincial and city government agencies endorsed and reprinted the poster – often asking to add their own logos. After many requests from CSOs and community members, Asivikelane translated the poster into 11 languages. In addition, Wagtale, the film production company with whom they collaborate, also turned English, isiZulu, Tshivenda, Xitsonga and isiXhosa versions of the pamphlet into film animations as part of their pro bono support of Asivikelane’s work. Such films are particularly helpful in spreading the message since online and social media content is often preferred in this format by younger generations, as well as by those with low levels of literacy.


In addition, Asivikelane and Wagtale have produced several short films about service delivery issues in informal settlements and budget allocation failures. These films, which were distributed through Asivikelane’s mailing list and social media, were also extremely successful in giving voice to informal settlement residents themselves and making their daily circumstances visible. Many metro and national government engagements came in the aftermath of the release of these films. Asivikelane also made small bandwidth versions available so their community network partners could distribute them amongst community members.

Asivikelane also shares its monthly results releases via social media and its mailing lists. Their social media strategy is to share a mix of the good and the bad. They identify hotspots and tag the relevant municipality, which has helped to put pressure on municipalities to address those problems. However, Asivikelane makes a point of posting good news stories too. This shows that they are not only focusing on the negative but also praising municipalities when there is progress. Municipalities have started to respond to these posts and taps and/or toilets have been fixed after social media posts were made.


Because of the impact that the Asivikelane campaign is having, it has also been reported on regularly in newspapers and on radio and television. Every time the campaign is mentioned, it reminds the wider public about the issues being faced by their informal settlement neighbors and helps to keep the importance of the campaign in the collective conscience of South Africans.



Asivikelane’s main successes to date


The vast extent of the impact that Asivikelane has had on the lives of informal settlement residents is evident. Seven metropolitan councils took action in response to CSO campaigns for improved services. Not only did access to water improve in at least 30 settlements, positively affecting the lives of at least 400 000 people, but sanitation also saw an improvement in 36 settlements, with the result that 500 000 people have better toilet facilities. Moreover, refuse removal was either introduced or increased in 18 settlements, impacting 250 000 people.


In addition, Asivikelane successfully assisted communities in metropolitan municipalities in obtaining relevant budget information, such as service delivery schedules and the names and numbers of government contact people during COVID-19. In 2020, four communities (BCM, City of Cape Town, eThekwini and Ekurhuleni) were able to access relevant budget information. Specifically, eThekwini provided Asivikelane with the names and numbers of their sanitation area engineers and BCM regularly gave their monthly COVID reports to Asivikelane partner, Afesis-corplan. These reports laid out their service delivery plans in response to the pandemic. Asivikelane received similar delivery schedules from the City of Cape Town, Ekurhuleni and eThekwini. In addition, the City of Cape Town made its entire COVID response available to Asivikelane partner, SASDI.


The metropolitan councils of the City of Cape Town, eThekwini, the City of Johannesburg, BCM, Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay and Ekurhuleni worked together with CSOs to improve service delivery. During the lockdown, IBP South Africa and its partners met with the metros multiple times per month to facilitate government responses to the Asivikelane campaign. Of particular significance is the fact that Asivikelane results have become a standing agenda item in the weekly COVID-19 meeting between metros, the National Treasury and the National Department of Human Settlements, and also in the weekly management meeting of the City of Cape Town’s Water and Sanitation Department. Asivikelane’s partner, Afesis-corplan, was also invited onto the COVID-19 command councils of the Eastern Cape Province and BCM.


Perhaps most significantly, Asivikelane has mobilized informal settlement residents so that there is now a firm cadre of community budget facilitators that is ever growing. These leaders have the potential to have long-lasting impacts on citizen mobilization in bringing about improved service delivery, as well as wide-reaching participatory budgeting processes.





While the COVID-19 pandemic will hopefully soon start to subside, the long-standing difficulties experienced by residents of informal settlements when it comes to the delivery of water, sanitation and refuse removal are bound to persist. So far, the effects of Asivikelane have been positive. Relationships between the coalition and decision-makers have improved, and those in positions of power are taking more time to listen to the requests of residents and to implement real changes. As long as residents continue to be mobilized and empowered to speak in an informed way about their needs, change will continue to improve the lives of millions of South African citizens who are so often forgotten.


Managing Covid Funds: the accountability gap

Managing Covid Funds: the accountability gap


When the Covid pandemic broke in early 2020, there was near unanimous consent that a crisis of this magnitude required governments to act boldly and swiftly to meet the needs of their people. By the end of 2020, governments mobilized a staggering $14 trillion in fiscal policy responses of different types.

While welcoming these responses, a chorus of voices, including ours, urged governments to put in place the transparency and accountability arrangements necessary to ensure that the massive resources being mobilized did not go to waste. Responding to the crisis in an open and accountable manner was a way for governments to restore public trust and build back better.

Working with civil society researchers in 120 countries, we documented the introduction of almost 400 emergency fiscal policy packages from March to September 2020 and assessed the largest or most important of these packages in each country.


Our assessment shows that more than two-thirds of surveyed governments are falling short of managing their fiscal responses in a transparent and accountable manner, thereby jeopardizing the effectiveness and impact of their responses to the crisis (Table of Results).

These shortcuts and limitations are neither necessary nor inevitable. Many countries across regions and incomes have chosen a different path. An urgent and speedy response does not have to come at the expense of accountability. There are three key findings in our COVID accountability report.

1. Governments have failed to adopt key measures to enhance accountability that many voices had demanded when governments began to announce their relief packages.

  • Only in about a quarter of countries assessed were auditors able to produce and publish audit reports on Covid fiscal packages before the end of 2020.
  • About half of the governments surveyed published little information on the implementation of policy initiatives.
  • Approximately two thirds of surveyed countries failed to follow transparent procurement procedures.

Despite this, some countries have shown a different way is possible. For example:

  • Paraguay has a one-stop-shop site that publishes information on all pandemic-related procurement.
  • In Jamaica, the Auditor General published three concurrent audit reviews of the government’s cash transfer program, and the Ministry of Finance worked closely with the national audit office to follow up on audit recommendations.
  • Recognizing the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women, Canada, the Philippines and Sweden published a Gender Impact Assessment of their COVID-19 response. And in Togo, in a short period of 10 days, the government established a transparent platform for a cash transfer program that prioritized women.

2. The role of legislatures has been limited during the pandemic.

In almost half the countries in our assessment, governments introduced fiscal policy measures through executive decrees, side-stepping normal legislative and approval processes and preventing public debate. Not surprisingly, countries that bypassed their legislatures were also generally less transparent in their Covid-related spending.

Again, some countries showed that a better way is possible. For example:

  • In Nepal, the Parliamentary Accounts Committee investigated irregularities in procuring medical equipment and supplies to hold to account those responsible for these failures.
  • In the Philippines, weekly reports on COVID-19 response actions are sent to a Joint Congressional Oversight Committee that oversees implementation.

3. Public participation in the formulation and execution of COVID policy responses is virtually non-existent.

This has not only excluded the public from having a voice in decisions on priority-setting during the pandemic but it has also deprived governments of inputs which could greatly improve the effectiveness of their actions. Only 10 out of 120 countries made any meaningful efforts at engaging with their populations in the design and oversight of relief monies.

Even as governments largely kept the public at bay, civil society groups have been active in mobilizing local communities and amplifying their needs to government. One of the most successful examples of civil society and government collaboration is the Asivikelane initiative in South Africa which is giving an active voice to informal settlement residents in major cities who are faced with severe basic service shortages during the crisis. Through targeted advocacy and campaigns, the initiative has already secured improved access to water, sanitation and waste removal services from municipal governments affecting more than one million people.

Going Forward

There are practical steps governments and donors can take to bolster accountability as part of the ongoing response and to build back better.

  • Governments can adopt reforms now such as publishing monthly progress report and disclosing procurement details in open formats. They can plus up resources for national auditors to conduct expedited audits and take remedial measures in response to their reports. They can take actions to restore legislative oversight. Further, they can also leverage existing mechanisms in the executive, legislatures and within national audit offices to facilitate citizen participation in the formulation, approval and execution of new Covid-related packages.
  • Over the long-term, governments can strengthen systems in the annual budget cycle to be better prepared for future crises. These include reforming legal and regulatory frameworks to clarify roles and responsibilities in areas such as procurement, oversight and participation. They can also integrate innovations that emerged from this crisis, such as providing user-centered information.
  • The international donor community can play an important role in advancing accountability norms in emergency spending. As part of their assistance, donors should urge and support country-led efforts to publish more information about what governments are spending and its impacts and to facilitate oversight by legislatures, auditors and citizens.

The COVID crisis is far from over. We must keep mobilizing resources for the global COVID response, including filling the funding gap for COVAX to ensure everyone has equitable access to vaccines. But if we are serious about equity and justice, we must simultaneously get serious about accountability. This is about ensuring assistance reaches those who need it most. When governments do not deliver as promised, underserved communities bear the brunt.