Rachel Hayman and Emmanuel Kumi

As Siri Lijfering writes in her opening to the Vice Versa special on Shift the Power: “Civil society is under pressure around the globe. Governments are trying to clip the wings of critical organisations by branding them as a mouthpiece of the West and setting ever narrower restrictions on the receipt of foreign financing. This makes local fundraising activities and mobilising a strong local support base more important than ever. The question is: is the development sector ready for that?”

But as momentum grows amongst civil society and development actors to innovate with local fundraising in response to challenges to organisational resilience, including related to changes in aid flows (see WACSI’s February 2019 report, and debates at International Civil Society Week 2019), the bigger question that raises its head is: what evidence is there that domestic resource mobilisation (DRM) can help to improve the operating environment for civil society? Does it have an impact on civic space?

With the financial support of the Civic Engagement Alliance (CEA) through the Wilde Ganzen Foundation, we set out to do a rapid scoping of the evidence base on these questions, to explore what research had been done that demonstrates how generating resources and support from domestic sources can expand the space for CSOs to advocate for citizens’ rights. We wanted to know what evidence gaps exist and consider ways to address those gaps.

Our interest was driven by a concern to test the core assumptions in current debates about domestic resource mobilisation. The report that we present is grounded in a review of around 100 literature sources, plus an analysis of primary data emerging from a review of the Change the Game Academy carried out by INTRAC, including country studies in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, India, and Kenya.

The review revealed evidence that:

  1. The mobilisation of domestic resources enhances CSOs’ legitimacy and credibility at the grassroots by increasing downward accountability
  2. The mobilisation of domestic resources can improve the relationship between CSOs, government officials and the private sector
  3. CSOs use DRM as a platform for engaging citizens and opening spaces for collective action
  4. Political actors, including government officials, seem to be more receptive towards CSOs with a local support base, but it depends on the context and the functions of CSOs
  5. DRM has the potential of having unintended and negative effects on the credibility and accountability of CSOs due to mission drift, co-optation and alternative dependencies

The final one here is worth understanding further. While overall the findings suggest that DRM could have positive impacts on civic space, the relationships are indirect and complex, and we found that it is equally possible for DRM to have negative effects on civic space if CSOs refrain from critiquing those with power in order to ensure access to support and resources.

We also identified a number of gaps and weaknesses in the evidence base that deserve to be addressed if we are to understand fully how local fundraising can strengthen civil society, and if we to design appropriate initiatives in this domain. 

In particular we consider that:

  • Further research is required on the processes by which CSO credibility and legitimacy affect civic space both positively and negatively.
  • In-depth, comparative research is required on the receptiveness of political actors towards CSOs with or without a local base, and on the underlying factors that affect political actors’ receptiveness.
  • Longitudinal research is needed on whether and how CSOs that mobilise domestic resources champion the rights of citizens, and whether their strategies for engaging communities and political actors change over time as their local support base grows.
  • Further study is required on what CSOs use domestic resources and support for in practice.

The full report can be accessed here, as well as a four-page brief of the key findings.