Author: Abdelrahman, M.
In consonance with its policy of supporting NGO coalitions, UNICEF signed a project co-operation agreement with the Egyptian Society for Child Protection, Alexandria, as acting secretariat for the NGO Coalition on the Rights of the Child, on Institutional Building and Capacity Strengthening. One of the main objectives of the project was to support the organizational capacity of the coalition and its competence in establishing a social base of self-motivated civil institutions that actively endorse child rights. The terms of the agreement indicated that the work was to start on 1 December 1998 and end on 31 December 2000. In view of certain amendments to the agreement, suggested by the coalition and approved by UNICEF, the actual work on the project ended in June 2001.
Purpose / Objective
The project agreement between UNICEF and the coalition stipulated that a final evaluation be carried out in order to document and appraise the experience of the coalition, which has been exceptional in the Egyptian and regional context. The terms of reference for this evaluation specified three tasks:
- to assess the achievements of the coalition in light of the objectives agreed upon in the initial phase
- to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of the coalition's modes of operation
- to provide a comprehensive record of the process of the development of the coalition and make projections regarding its future direction, including its relationship with UNICEF
In accordance with the objectives and framework of the evaluation, research for this report relied on a number of methods:
- Field visits to a group of twelve NGOs affiliated with the coalition, both from member NGOs and NGOs which only participated in the work of the coalition. The NGOs were selected to cover most of the geographical areas in which the coalition has been active: Cairo and Giza, Alexandria, Port Said, Sohag, Minia, and Beni Suweif.
- Semi-structured interviews and informal discussions with key informants at various levels:
Members of former and current steering and executive committees.
Groups of children from the Child Rights Clubs, organized by individual NGOs at the initiative of and along the model designed by the coalition, and from those who participated in other coalition activities, mainly children and youth camps.
Members of NGOs who participated in the coalition's activities. These were often employees of the NGO, and are cadres trained by the coalition. In a few cases, they were members of the boards of directors.
Representatives of partners in the government, mainly at the local government level.
Representatives of some donor agencies and development partners involved in the work of the coalition.
- Analysis of available documents related to the coalition's work, for example, reports of activities, correspondence with different agencies, proposals for funding and research projects, minutes of meetings of the coalition's different organizational bodies, material produced by the coalition (guides for trainers and facilitators, and awareness-raising kits), and financial reports.
Key Findings and Conclusions
The coalition has, in a short span of time, established itself as a solid entity in many ways and, to a large extent, has been successful in delivering what it originally attempted to do. Above all, the Coalition has managed to spread the concept of child rights in areas where previously it was unknown, and played an instrumental role in raising awareness of the CRC, particularly in the Egyptian context where the concept is not part of the local culture. It has, further, made child rights an accessible topic by translating legal and theoretical discourse into interesting and practical activities. By co-operating with governmental bodies on reasonably equal grounds, born out of its expertise and knowledge, the coalition has given a high profile to NGOs in general.
To date, the coalition has attempted to function as an executing body for projects and activities, a co-ordinating body among individual NGOs, and as a visionary body with a higher mission of inspiring debate and alternative thinking among NGOs and of engaging in a dialogue with the government on Child Rights issues. In theory, the coalition should have the capacity to manage all these identities and to operate on multiple levels. However, it is essential that the coalition prioritizes these roles, articulates them precisely, and presents them with utmost clarity to all groups it co-operates with, in particular, individual member NGOs. There are some serious issues that the coalition has to reflect upon in this regard.
The main feature of the plan of action drafted with UNICEF for the December 1998-December 2000 period was its ambitious, far-reaching scope. While this ambition was conceived necessarily in order to set the tone for the coalition at its consolidating stage, it has had its negative effects. It has meant that the coalition has had to stretch itself over too many fields of activity before it has had time to establish itself as an institutionally- and managerially-capable structure. Trying to keep up with all these activities and meet deadlines came at the cost of building the capacity of the coalition's organizational system. The load of objectives and activities set out in the plan was disproportionate to the size and capacity of the governing and executing bodies of the coalition, and especially to the support team (executive secretariat) allocated to the coalition.
The far-reaching scope of activities further meant that the coalition could not sustain an effective monitoring and follow-up system for its work. The coalition took initiatives in many fields but has not followed up to see how these initiatives have matured or whether they have yielded any results. When the overall objectives of the coalition are to raise awareness and establish democratic structures as venues for children's participation, one-off type activities is not the best strategy. To change the attitudes of a certain group of people, for example teachers, on issues of child rights, more is needed than holding one or two workshops.
One of the coalition's main objectives and the raison dêtre for its formation was to influence public policies with the purpose of transforming them in favor of children. However, influencing public policy is a complex and often lengthy process, and results, in this regard, could not have been expected from a body as young as the coalition in its short existence. The coalition, nonetheless, has taken a number of steps in this direction. Its involvement with the NCCM has been very positive in granting the coalition a semi-official status as well as recognition for its effort by one of the most important governmental bodies. Also, the coalition managed to involve representatives of local governments in their activities albeit in an often symbolic way.
However, the main groups that the coalition activities have targeted so far have been mainly NGOs and children, and, to a lesser extent, teachers and parents. Important as these categories are, they, by no means, show substantial involvement with policy formulation. Actual policies affecting the situation of children and their welfare are taken and implemented elsewhere; namely, in ministries of health, labor and education. Because of its semi-legal position, the coalition has not been successful in permeating these bodies and incorporating them in its agenda. In the future, however, the coalition has to engage more seriously in designing strategies for this end, if it is at all serious about making a meaningful contribution towards changing policies concerning children. Planting ideas and methodology into existing systems is the only guarantee for any long-term effects.
Although the activities of the coalition have given many NGOs the opportunity to meet other organizations working in the same or similar fields, there is not much evidence of regular channels of communication among NGOs. To a large extent, individual NGOs are responsible for this apathy, and for not making optimal use of the opportunity provided by the coalition's activities to make contact and familiarize themselves with the work of other NGOs. The coalition, however, could take it upon itself to do more in providing help for NGOs to facilitate exchange among themselves. As an umbrella organization, it has to adopt as a major aim the development of partnerships based on sharing practices and facilitating the opportunity for mutually supportive capacity building initiatives. Some of the mechanisms mentioned throughout this report could serve this purpose; for example, the re-activation of the newsletter and holding regular meetings with representatives of all NGOs. Another mechanism that the coalition has already envisaged and which deserves special attention is the creation of sub-coalitions at the local level.
In its upcoming action plan, the coalition has to be aware of the drawbacks in its previous plan and should attempt to avoid these shortcomings by focusing its efforts more and concentrating in fewer fields. A priority should be to follow up some of the successful projects initiated by the coalition in its previous campaigns and consolidate some of the successes it has achieved. Also, a systematic documentation system for the coalition's activities has to be put into place. The upcoming plan of action has to ensure that mechanisms for documentation are considered as part of the capacity building of the coalition.
A serious deficiency in the design of the project, however, is the absence of a plan by which the coalition could phase out its reliance on UNICEF for financial and technical support. Two years is a very short period to expect the coalition to become fully self-reliant, especially in light of the overwhelming range of activities it was supposed to carry out. An abrupt termination of UNICEF support for the capacity-building of the coalition, which was supposed to establish it as an independent body, could result in serious hampering of this goal. A gradual phasing-out plan over a period of perhaps two or three years, after the initial two-year phase of the agreement, is necessary for ensuring that the results of the project and the objectives behind it are consolidated.
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Advocacy and Communication
Egyptian Society for Child Protection