Part Three: From challenge to advocacy: how Social Justice put children at the heart of the budget

This is the last in a three-part series on the budget analysis and advocacy learning journey of IBP’s civil society partner, Social Justice, in Cote d’Ivoire. Part one is available here and part two is available here.

This post is also available in French.

The word was out. Social media conversations on YouTube, webinars with journalists and bloggers and meetings with high-level government officials were all centered around the issue of school canteens across Cote d’Ivoire. The Minister of the Budget recognized the need for better funding of and accountability for the canteens that help kids stay in school. But how did we get here?

We first wrote about Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire- a civil society group focused on transparency and good governance in Cote d’Ivoire – in an earlier blog and their evolution from a group working on broad transparency issues to one focused on rigorous budget advocacy and analysis. In partnership with the International Budget Partnership (IBP), Social Justice had sharpened their vision and focused on analyzing the government budget and identifying non-functioning or subpar school canteens as a critical issue facing their country. As they dove deeper into the issue, they were able to link the problem directly to the budget and a lack of community involvement and oversight in the functioning of these canteens. But that was the easy (ish) part. The next step was to figure out what to do with the information they gathered, who to share it with and how to create a plan to close the school canteen gap.

Developing an evidence-based advocacy plan

In our previous blog, we learned how Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire began capturing evidence of the problem with their budget analysis report. This was a critical step in understanding the entirety of the public finance system as well as laying the foundation for an evidence-based advocacy plan. They soon learned that the school canteen issue was about much more than just the canteens – they also had to look at issues of nutrition, food security and the political ecosystem of critical stakeholders. School canteens are infrastructures that fall under the responsibility of the state at the central level as well as local authorities. As such, the relationship between the central and local governments is a complex and important one – the influence of the central state is needed to promote the consideration of school canteens at the local level. This implies, if necessary, an increase in the resources allocated by the state to local authorities. This in turn means there will be an additional expense in the community budget requiring new taxes or the redirecting of certain expenditures to school canteens, making the local community’s political will vital. To gain the support of local authorities, it’s important that the Ministry of Budget increase the resources allocated to community budgets to take on better funding of school canteens.

The need for allies

At this juncture, Social Justice recognized the need for powerful allies who could carry the message and navigate the discussions among state and local government officials. Due to the high-quality of their budget analysis, Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire was able to secure major development partners such as the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF and the United Nations Development Programme, in addition to local budget officials at the Departmental Budget Directorate. Additionally, Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire knew that the involvement of cooperatives would be essential to reducing the costs of taking over school canteens in community budgets and thus alleviating any reluctance at the local level to take on the financial burden.

Pivoting during COVID-19

 width=With critical partnerships in place and their analysis report validated, Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire knew it was time to get the school canteen message out far and wide – press releases were drafted, and press conferences were planned. And then COVID-19 hit. Like so many other civil society partners IBP works with, Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire had to quickly find new ways of working – and they did. In light of the quarantine and travel restrictions, the national analysis report, as well as the locality report, were sent to a directory of 22 local civil society organizations to inform and assist in local dissemination and advocacy.  Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire also partnered with three local radio stations to broadcast debates on the problems and to find national solutions and local alternatives to finance school canteens.

Social Justice also held an online press conference and invited reporters to a webinar to discuss the findings of their investigation and to encourage wide reporting on the issue. It is also important to note that working online in this way is no easy task in Francophone Africa. Spotty or nonexistent Wi-Fi is a challenge many face but Social Justice approached it with a spirit of collaboration and shared or donated airtime for those who needed it. As a result, several blogs, newspapers and a radio station ran stories on Social Justice’s investigation, with more planned. Additionally, Social Justice has established key relationships with the media and is working with a group of bloggers on tips and strategies on publishing compelling online content. Moving forward, Social Justice can be an expert resource for the media on budget matters and help carry the message of budget transparency and accountability.

Successes and lessons learned

Social Justice’s hard work to explore the challenges affecting school canteens is by no means over. While widespread awareness of the issue has been achieved and partnerships forged, they will have to continue to pressure national, regional and local stakeholders to ensure school canteens benefit the community’s children.

However, it’s important to highlight Social Justice’s wins and the long-term skills and competencies they gained throughout this project, including:

  • The strengthening of Social Justice’s capacity for budget analysis;
  • The availability of budgetary and statistical data generated by the project, which will contribute to continued advocacy in the sector;
  • Significant partnerships with allies such as the WFP, UNICEF, the Ministry of the Budget and the Ministry of National Education;
  • Awakening local actors (cooperatives, associations, local authorities, etc.) to the alarming situation of school canteens through awareness campaigns;
  • Involvement of the media on the issue of school canteens.

While Social Justice Cote d’Ivoire will focus on other issues in their country, the experience of building their budget analysis and advocacy skills will strengthen their ability to fight for transparency and good governance.

The author would like to thank Carol Kiangura, IBP Senior Program Officer, Sub-Saharan Africa, Training, Technical Assistance & Networking and the Social Justice staff for their invaluable help in writing this post.

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