Enhancing the CSO role in the GEF mission

Pat Turpin and Victor Kawanga ponders a CSO point during a Council Session
Victor Kawanga (Co Chair Coordinating Committee and Patricia Turpin(Environment Tobago - RFP Caribbean) ponders the CSO position at the 52nd Council

Environment Tobago is the Caribbean civil society focal point for the GEF-CSO Network. The position (unpaid) requires that ET coordinate GEF activities at regional level and facilitate input from the region into (GEF) policy. Three years into this arrangement ET now has a clearer picture as regards GEF-CSO Network collaboration. We are also in a better able to comment on the relationship between the GEF and general global civil society. The historical record of the GEF to CSO 'marriage' is chequered when its constant internal wranglings are taken into account. Then again, given the scale of what the initiative intends and covers, conflict such as would have occurred is a clear sign that the democratic underpinning of the exercise is alive.

So here's the latest in GEF-CSO Network goings-on.
In November this year Environment Tobago, to fulfil its committment as liaison for the Caribbean region will again journey to the GEF Secretariat in Washington DC to participate in the 53rd GEF Council. The meeting itself will be a five-day event bringing together the regional focal points (people like ET who are selected to seek the interests of their various regions), members of the GEF Council, and the team from GEF Secretariat. The timetable is as follows.

On Sunday November 26th civil society representatives from Africa, Asia, the Pacific, Europe, Central Asia and Russia, Meso and South America, the Caribbean - present also will spokesmen for Indigenous People from the Americas, Africa and Asia/Pacific. The group will sit in an all day session to consult and prepare to address the Council on relevant matters. The Chair on the day will be Mr Victor Kawanga newly elected chair of the GEF-CSO Network.

On Monday, November 27th the GEF will open consultations with CSO Network and Evening Reception with each side airing its hpes and concerns. The session will last all day and moving directly into a short icebreaker reception in the early evening.

Tuesday and Wednesday, November 28th and 29th the GEF Council Meeting convenes in full. The following is the provisional agenda:

  • Opening of the Meeting
  • Election of a Chairperson
  • Adoption of the Agenda
  • Annual Portfolio Monitoring Report 2017
  • Proposed Policy on Gender Equality
  • Report of the Chairperson of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel
  • Work Program Proposed Policy on Stakeholder Engagement
  • Proposed Policy on Access to Information
  • A New Vision to Enhance Civil Society Engagement with the GEF
  • Plan to Review GEF’s Social and Environmental Safeguards
  • Rationale and Plan to Review GEF's Fiduciary Standards
  • Relations with the Conventions and Other International Institutions
  • Semi-Annual Evaluation Report November 2017 and Management Response
  • Tackling Global Environmental Challenges through the Integrated Approach Pilot Programs
  • Update on the Sixth GEF Assembly Executive Session
  • Other Business
  • Joint Summary of the Chairs

GEF Council activities cover a broad spectrum of environmental concerns and the Caribe-based or civicus-centered reader might wish to focus on 'closer to home' developments. If that is the case some retrospection may be necessary to bring it all together. The GEF was established on the eve of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to address the planet’s most pressing environmental problems. Since then it has provided or leveraged financing of over 100 billion dollars for more than 4000 projects in 170 countries.

Today, the GEF sells itself as an international partnership of 183 countries, international institutions, civil society organizations and the private sector that addresses global environmental issues. The GEF at its core is a partnership of 18 agencies — including United Nations agencies, multilateral development banks, national entities and international NGOs. It works with 183 countries to address the world’s most challenging environmental issues.

The GEF has a large network of civil society organizations, works closely with the private sector around the world, and receives continuous inputs from an independent evaluation office and a world-class scientific panel. The GEF is also a financial mechanism for 5 major international environmental conventions: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD), the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), and the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

Further, the GEF is also an innovator and catalyst that supports alliances to preserve threatened ecosystems on land and in the oceans, build greener cities, boost food security and promote clean energy. An example of this is the Community Management of Protected Areas Conservation Programme (COMPACT). COMPACT uses small grants (read more on the UNDP/Small Grants Programme here) to support community based activities that can or intends to strengthen biodiversity conservation in and around protected areas. The Caribbean already benefits in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park (Dominica) as do our Meso American neighbours in the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve.

GEF deliberates - while invited CSOs look on.
The relationship between the GEF and CSOs goes back to the inception of the GEF, when NGOs, in particular, demanded active participation of civil society in the GEF. This ultimately led to the NGO-Participants Consultation which took place one or two days prior to the formal Participants' Meetings. The consultations evolved into a meeting among the NGOs from different regions of the world where common positions and presentations to Participants were formulated. In 1993, Council Members, NGOs and Agencies in a Tripartite Task Force made recommendations regarding the NGO Consultations, concluding that the consultations should be organized in a more systematic manner with a proper agenda and written statements from the NGOs.

In 1995 the NGOs formed their own Network of accredited NGOs and Council approved criteria for the selection of NGOs to attend or observe Council meetings and NGO consultations. The GEF CSO Network was formed as a voluntary association of non-governmental organizations working in the fields of environment and sustainable development aligned with the GEF mandate. A NGO Voluntary Trust Fund was established in order to finance participation of CSOs in the Consultations and Council meetings. The main objective that the GEF Council mandated from the CSO Network was: “to prepare for and report on the GEF Council meetings and NGO consultations to the wider CSO community at the national, regional and international levels”.

In 2005, at the request of the Central Focal Point of the then NGO Network, the GEF Secretariat financed an independent review of the Network in order to identify ways to improve the effectiveness of the Network. The review concluded that the Network was operating ineffectively, and that it lacked a long-term vision for effective engagement and service delivery. The recommendations made and accepted by the NGO Network included strengthening accountability and effectiveness, outreach and the partnership with the Secretariat as well as capacity building needs for NGOs engaging with the GEF. Both the CSO Network and the Secretariat adopted a number of short term and long term measures in response to the review’s recommendations.

Consequently in 2008 the GEF Council approved the following decisions:

  1. recreating the Voluntary NGO Trust Fund and increasing the financial support provided for the participation of eligible Network representatives at Council meetings ;
  2. the replacement of the NGO accreditation system operated by the GEF Secretariat with a membership system operated by the Network, whereby the Network took on the task of accrediting and managing the membership of CSOs in the Network while the GEF Secretariat stopped accrediting new CSOs .

The Council’s mandated objective for the Network has remained valid. Over the years, the Network has developed an independent orientation, setting its own objectives, which as follows are:

  • enhancing the role of civil society to safeguard the global environment,
  • to promote effective engagement of CSOs in GEF operations and
  • to strengthen the capacity of CSO members to participate in GEF-related activities .

In 2015-2016, at the request of Council, the Internal Evaluation Office (IEO) conducted an evaluation of the GEF-CSO Network and recommended among other things that “a contemporary vision for the CSO Network should be created within the new GEF architecture”. Where even as it paid tribute to the Network's record of service particularly at the global level, the Evaluation concluded that the “CSO Network’s activities are distant from the country level where GEF projects make their mark and from where the majority of Network CSOs operate. As such from the GEF point of view the Network is compromised in its ability to inform Council with country perspectives and in servicing its members”.

As a result, during its 50th meeting in June 2016, the Council adopted the following decision: “The Council, having reviewed GEF/ME/C.50/02, Evaluation of the GEF Civil Society Organization (CSO) Network, and GEF/ME/C.50/03, Management Response to the Evaluation of the GEF Civil Society Organization Network, decides to set up an ad-hoc working group of interested Council Members to develop an updated vision of the relationship between the GEF and civil society, and a plan to achieve it, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, and report back to the Council at its first meeting in 2017”. The Council encouraged the CSO Network to establish a working group that includes balanced representation of CSO Stakeholder views to interact with the Council Working Group on a new, updated vision for the Network - including governance, policies, guidelines and cooperation mechanisms.

Following the Council meeting, the Ad-Hoc Council Working Group on GEF and Civil Society (the WG) was established in July 2016 with participation from six GEF Council members who expressed their interest as follows: Mr. Leonardo Martinez of the United States (now Mr. Peter Wisner), Mr. Carlos Rodríguez of Uruguay, Mr. Tanyaradzwa Mundoga of Zimbabwe, Mr. Stefan Schwager of Switzerland, Mr. Kees Rade of the Netherlands (now Ms. Carola van Rijnsoever), and Dr. Mohamed -Yahya Lafdal Chah of Mauritania.

In late 2016 the WG held a conference call with the GEF Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) to discuss the major findings and recommendations of their evaluation of the CSO Network. As the work of the WG focused on civil society engagement, the members believed that understanding the advantages and shortcomings of the current Network oriented system would inform their work. The IEO too highlighted the importance of the CSO Network in disseminating information about the GEF to other stakeholders, but they also provided several recommendations and areas where there is room for improvement.

The IEO highlighted that the network needs to modernize to keep pace with the changes in the GEF partnership, which was in line with the WG’s discussions to date. In addition to developing a modern vision, the IEO evaluation also suggested the CSO Network:

  • Set clear rules for engagement,
  • Better define its value-added to the GEF partnership,
  • Strengthen its governance structure, and
  • Establish a working relationship with the GEF Agencies.

To get a better understanding of the views of CSOs, the WG convened two global consultation meetings via teleconference in January of 2017 with fifty CSOs from both inside and outside the CSO Network. While several attendees raised project specific questions and comments, the most relevant comments related to an updated vision for civil society and the GEF include the following:

  1. CSO participation at the country level is weak, partly due to the unwillingness of the government via the OFPs to include this sector in both the definition of projects and the setting of priorities.
  2. More collaborative and transparent approaches to programming and project design are needed.
  3. Capacity building of CSOs and Community Based Organizations (CBOs) is needed in order to ensure their active participation in GEF programming and project execution.

Based on the information revised, its deliberations and consultations conducted, the WG prepared and presented a progress report to the 52nd GEF Council meeting in May 2017. The report contained a summary of the activities conducted by the Working Group towards developing the elements of an updated vision for civil society organizations engagement at the GEF, and a plan to achieve it. Elements to guide an upgraded Vision Statement for civil society participation in the GEF were presented:
"The overarching objective of engagement between the GEF and civil society is to achieve greater results and impact through improving its collaboration with CSOs".

In this context, the primary role of civil society within the GEF Partnership is to contribute to, as appropriate, the development, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of GEF projects on the ground. Civil society will play an advisory role for the GEF Council on institutional policies and building awareness of the GEF in local communities. Civil society will also continue to disseminate information about the GEF to local stakeholders.

This progress report was used as a consultation note to collect views and feedback from both Council members and CSOs and other participants during the GEF Consultations with Civil Society on the day prior to the 52nd Council meeting and at the Council meeting. In addition, the WG met with the CSO Network’s own working group in the margins of the GEF Consultations with CSOs and had a very constructive discussion about the ideas presented in the paper as well as the Network’s efforts to strengthen its capacity to engage at the country level, among other matters.

During these consultations, the following were the main comments and feedback received:

  1. Civil society plays a valuable role in GEF’s operations and in informing Council decisions regarding the programs and projects on the ground;
  2. Civil society can help bridge the gap between country level activities and decision-making activities at the Council level;
  3. Civil society engagement varies across countries. There are capacity issues which restrict effective engagement of CSOs at the national level;
  4. The role of civil society in the GEF partnership should reflect the evolving and unique portfolio of the GEF;
  5. There is a role for agencies and governments in the engagement of civil society at the national level;
  6. Coordination and capacity building of CSOs require dedicated funding

Taking into account this feedback, the WG produced a second draft of the paper which was posted on the GEF website for public consultation. In addition, two separate calls were organized with civil society members to consult on this second draft. Key changes in the second draft come under five major recommendations:

  1. Continued GEF support of civil society engagement at national and regional levels
  2. Continued strengthening of civil society to engage with the GEF
  3. Selection of CSO representation at Council Consultations and Meetings
  4. Structure of Council slash CSO Consultations before Council Meetings
  5. Structure of CSO engagement during Council Meetings

These recommendations expanded, reads:

Continued support of civil society engagement at the national and regional levels
In accordance with the upcoming Policy on Stakeholder Engagement, civil society (and other stakeholders) shall be engaged consistently during upstream consultations in each recipient country regarding programs and projects proposals.
In addition, as part of ongoing efforts to increase participation of civil society in GEF operations, the GEF will continue providing opportunities for civil society organizations to participate in regional activities organized as part of the Country Support Program, managed by the Secretariat.
Continued strengthening of civil society to engage with the GEF
As part of continued efforts to strengthen collaboration with civil society, the GEF will continue to provide civil society the opportunity to participate in several key processes and activities such as the GEF Assembly and the CSO Forum, the GEF Replenishment process, the workshops and meetings organized under the Country Support Program, the GEF Gender Partnership, among others.
Selection of CSO representation at Council Consultations and Meetings
The Working Group recommends changes to the selection of CSOs for Council consultations and meetings to ensure that CSO representatives are sharing the voices of CSOs from the field, while maintaining robust engagement on policy issues.
Thus, two groups of CSOs will be invited to attend the biannual Council Meetings: regional CSO representatives and local CSOs with experience in a technical or geographical area.
The GEF Secretariat would work with GEF Agencies, the CSO Network, Operational Focal Points (OFPs) and the GEF Small Grants Program (SGP) to establish a comprehensive list of CSOs from which to draw those to be invited to attend the Council Meetings.
The selection from meeting to meeting will aim to:
  1. include those CSOs presenting on the selected topic for the CSO consultation;
  2. track, to the extent possible, the Council Meeting Agenda;
  3. enable a healthy rotation of CSO representation that balances the competing needs of inclusion and expertise. The number of CSOs invited to each Council Meeting will be limited to 10-15 individuals, depending on the agenda.
  4. Structure of Council CSO Consultations before Council Meetings
    The Working Group proposes that the Consultations between the GEF Council and CSOs be more structured than in their current form. The Council will invite CSOs to present on specific topics – chosen by the Council, with input from CSOs and the GEF Secretariat – intended to highlight the experiences of local CSOs during project implementation while also seeking to align with the Council Meeting Agenda. To allow for adequate preparation, the GEF Council will select Consultation Meeting topics at least 12 months (or two meetings) before each Consultation Meeting. The Working Group suggests that the time allotted to these topics take up roughly half of the consultation’s agenda, with the rest allotted to topics chosen by CSOs.
    Structure of CSO engagement during Council Meetings
    The Working Group also suggests that CSO participation in Council meetings be more integrated with the discussion of Council members. Currently, CSOs are invited to speak at the end of each agenda item, once the Council members have spoken. To encourage more meaningful participation, the Working Group recommends that the CSOs be given the floor during Council discussions in the order in which they ask to speak, together with Council members.

BB. As confused as a cockroach in a chicken coopAlternate Caribbean RFP looks as confused as a cockroach in chicken coop - GEF 51
At this stage of writing - six weeks before the 53rd Council the general feeling among the Network is the GEF, while recognizing the value of their contribution, feels pressure with providing 'support'. That is -financing CSO attendance at meetings, footing the bill for assorted capacity building exercises that could in fact lead to enhanced CSO participation in the GEF mission.
The draft document which will inform Council in November re: “enhanced cso involvement” will probably be reworded though not substantially it seems.

As the situation stands, GEF asserts it is in a fiscal bind and that the Civil Society Network should take steps to bear more of its own costs to represent their cause. Network on the other hand believes the work of the GEF - and the pursuit of the (new) Sustainable Development Goals devolves heavily on community. Perhaps the Network might want to rebrand themselves as such if both parties are to stand any chance working together to mitigate stress to the environment.