A Retrospective on the GFF & CSO Engagement
Global Financing Facility
On July 13, 2015, I was sitting with Aminu Magashi Garba of AHBN, in a dark conference hall on the margins of the Third Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa. The hall was abuzz with excitement surrounding the official launch of the GFF—an innovative funding model for sexual, reproductive, maternal and child health and nutrition.
A Retrospective on the GFF & CSO Engagement
By Suzanna Dennis, 7/12/2018
On July 13, 2015, I was sitting with Aminu Magashi Garba of AHBN, in a dark conference hall on the margins of the Third Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa. The hall was abuzz with excitement surrounding the official launch of the GFF—an innovative funding model for sexual, reproductive, maternal and child health and nutrition. I was there, along with hundreds of other interested advocates, because I believed the GFF would help drive much-needed investments to these under-funded sectors.
The vision of the GFF as a “new” model for development finance is compelling. Core to the GFF is a focus on building country ownership through country systems: using existing multi-stakeholder country platforms; and existing country strategies as Investment Cases where appropriate. Just like the GFF, at the heart of PAI’s values is a belief and focus on country ownership. We work with civil society partners to mobilize and track government funding for sexual reproductive health and rights. We also forge connections with broader country-driven health financing processes such as UHC.
The value of civil society as a development actor is clear. For the GFF, civil society’s potential contributions are vast: advocacy, monitoring and accountability, elevating the voices of affected populations, implementation, research and analysis, and technical assistance. But meaningfully engaging civil society is a complex endeavor. Civil society is not monolithic. It is a diverse constituency with many competing priorities. Following years of World Bank-driven conditionality that required governments engage with civil society as part of PRSP processes, the GFF architects resisted this approach. They—and others—argued that participation conditionality does not work.
Through the GFF, governments and civil society have been presented with an opportunity to collaborate for long-term change. Governments should meaningfully involve civil society actors in the GFF because of the value they bring, not because a donor is requiring them to do so. And this is the key to sustainability—country ownership means that change must be driven by country governments.
Following the GFF launch, the Civil Society Coordinating Group on the GFF, the coordinating body hosed by the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, elaborated the value of civil society in GFF processes at country level. In 2017, the GFF Investors Group adopted a Civil Society Engagement Strategy and Costed Implementation Plan, which outline the ways that civil society brings value to the GFF’s goals and how different stakeholders can maximize that value. That same year, the GFF released its Guidance Note: Inclusive Multi-Stakeholder Country Strategies which elaborates the expected ways that GFF governments will engage civil society. These strategies together provide the tools to successfully make the case for civil society as an indispensable stakeholder in bringing the full potential of the GFF for the lives of women and girls.
The challenge ahead is to ensure that meaningful CSO engagement becomes standard practice in GFF countries. Without meaningful participation of civil society, the GFF will miss a chance to advance health funding mechanisms to the next level. GFF processes and investments may sidestep the voices of intended beneficiaries during planning and implementation. Routinizing CSO engagement also promotes openness of the process, and ensures feedback and learning. These checks-and-balances for continuous improvement are diminished if civil society is engaged on an adhoc basis.
This engagement, learning and adaptation is particularly important today, as the GFF is seeking replenishment and a dramatic expansion and into the future. Development finance evolves, with each new funding mechanism building on the successes and avoiding the shortcomings of the previous approaches. The GFF is currently seen as a pathfinder in the health sector. What comes after the GFF will endeavor to improve upon the progress it made. The GFF has the potential to finally harness the full power of civil society as a development actor in health and get it right for the global development community once and for all.