Creating entrepreneurs of democracy

Photos courtesy of RESULTS and RESULTS Educational Fund

Photos courtesy of RESULTS and RESULTS Educational Fund

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>>Authored by Ken Patterson, Director of Global Grassroots Advocacy, RESULTS U.S.

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Ken Patterson

The solutions to some of our biggest problems are often right in front of us, yet out of sight. Take microfinance. Early pioneers recognized that we had a financial system that was serving less than half the population. It wasn’t that the under served weren’t economic beings — it was that financial systems just weren’t fully constructed to serve them. Early on, RESULTS, a U.S.-based global grassroots advocacy NGO, backed these pioneers who were determined to build the other half of the financial service spectrum. The results have been dramatic.

A similar phenomenon exists in most democracies: we have this great idea — that the people will guide elected officials who work for them in government to create policies and spending priorities “by and for the people.” But, we Americans treat democracy as something people should naturally know how to do — like eating or walking. We don’t educate people about how democracy works, show them how to interact with it, or create an environment that encourages engagement. It doesn’t show up in grade school, high school, or college. We treat democracy like it is a moment in time or something we’ve completed: “Oh yeah, democracy, we already have that.”

If one is lucky enough to have an activist parent, he/she might have some idea of what it means to be a contributing member of a democracy. But this isn’t the case for most of us, and engaging in our democracy is as foreign to us as speaking a different language or playing the didgeridoo. This is why Sam Daley-Harris founded RESULTS, to bring people in touch with their democracies and “get them off the bench and into the game.”

This lack of understanding and engagement isn’t true just for Americans. Democracy is a pretty new thing for many developing nations, and most people aren’t trained in what it is or what it means to be a citizen in a democracy. They don’t know the rights and responsibilities that come with it, nor do they have the skills to engage with it to benefit their communities. So, RESULTS has recently embarked on an effort to change that, and none too soon. Sharing the RESULTS deep citizen advocacy model with our global health and microfinance partners is pressing because as the economies of developing nations improve, donors will pull back, leaving governments to deal with poverty on their own. But most governments are not likely to prioritize the needs of the most marginalized without pressure from their own people, and if we want to truly make of go of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), citizen engagement will be a critical strategy for all nations wanting to address poverty, including the U.S.

We started this work of sharing the RESULTS deep citizen advocacy model with our partners in Kenya and Zambia, KANCO and CITAM+ respectively. Both organizations were doing effective advocacy at the staff level, but after seeing what RESULTS has been able to accomplish through deep citizen advocacy, they knew they could do more. So, they asked RESULTS to help them incorporate deep citizen advocacy into their model. The results have been impressive. Since 2013, KANCO has helped increase domestic health funding in Kenya, including 202 million Kenyan shillings (Ksh) for immunizations, and Ksh 286 million for tuberculosis (TB). They also helped resolve a national TB drug shortage. CITAM+ is working to reprioritize the site selection criteria for 650 new healthcare clinics in Zambia, making sure that the communities most in need get clinics first. With little variation, the RESULTS model is being successfully transferred, and it’s working.

So, if citizen advocacy is working with health-related, non-governmental organizations, why wouldn’t it work with microfinance institutions (MFIs)? The goal of most MFIs is to help their clients see themselves in a new light as economic actors. Why not offer the same for their lives as civic actors?

This is what we embarked upon at the 18th Microcredit Summit in Abu Dhabi this March. Forward thinking staff at the Microcredit Summit Campaign invited Sam Daley-Harris and me to lead a 6-hour workshop on integrating civic engagement into microfinance institutions. Fifteen people attended the workshop, including practitioners and microfinance support organizations. At first, the idea of integrating citizen engagement raised a lot of questions — and some doubt. This is the same reaction most people have when you ask them to develop a relationship with their government officials. However, as participants started learning the skills, they also started seeing the possibilities. A gentleman from Jordan said, “We can do this. I have microfinance agents I can train to take this to 56 centers. They are already meeting regularly.” There were many other revelations, and most of the participants signed on to learn more.

Though this was just the starting point in working with MFIs, it makes sense to seriously explore integrating civic engagement into the curriculum of MFI clients. Because if elected officials are not in direct relationship with their constituents, then there is no way government policies and priorities will reflect the needs of the people. And, who better to carry this forward than microentrepreneurs? In addition to being business entrepreneurs, they are in a great position to take on the role of entrepreneurs of democracy.

If you would like to learn more about RESULTS US and how you can integrate civic engagement into the curriculum of your clients, contact Ken Patterson at kpatterson[at]results.org.

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