Centre for Civil Society Strengthening (CECSSO)-A new set of lenses through which we do not primarily ‘see’ the setting & the CSO’s in it as the ‘problem’ & the outsider as the ‘answer’. Rather the long term goal is for CSO’s to drive the human centered approaches that anchor the ultra poor population to mainstream development programmes.
There is a general recognition that sound civil society is very strategic in promoting transparency and accountability and also ensuring effective promotion of Human Rights, good governance and popular participation. Many study findings also suggest that no country could manage to attain its national development goals including the Millennium Development Goals without an effective civil society in place. Even though Malawi has experienced a proliferation of civil society organizations in recent times, most of them remain ineffective. They have inadequate skills to monitor government policies and practices and challenging government and its institutions to uphold the rights of citizens when these are being violated. A 2011 CSO Sustainability Index report conducted by USAID, reveals that many Malawian CSO’s are ‘one man shows’ and lack or have weak missions and strategic plans. There is a capacity gap between local and national level organizations, with little interaction between the two types of organizations. Furthermore, there is lack of competence in policy analysis to inform policy and decision makers on evidence based information to guide formulation, implementation and monitoring of policy.
The Malawi government perceives CSOs that criticize government policy or engage in government monitoring as siding with the opposition. James (2001) also made similar conclusions: government is not used to being constructively challenged; there is limited analytical capacity of CSO sector; CSOs are not used to working together and tend to be very disorganized and CSOs have limited time to give to advocacy work. Government is currently promoting alignment of projects to the sector working groups but very few CSOs are invited or incorporated in the exercise especially the district based CSO’s. Civic engagement is a critical element of national development and good governance. It requires the building of partnerships between government and CSOs who act as a bridge with local communities.
Call for Action (justification)
The purpose of this gap filler initiative among other is to discuss the role of NGOs in the present political and socio-economic situation of Malawi. Based on each of these NGOs’ individual past experience and its current role and portfolio it’s high time CSO’s reflected on the function and capacity of NGOs to contribute or even to drive the transformation of the Malawian political and socio-economic setup. Some open questions that come to mind include: Are NGOs primarily filling gaps where the state fails? What is the (minimum) state support that NGOs need to be able to deliver? To what degree do NGOs take up a critical and watch dog function? How does the latter go down with state representatives’ including local governments? Such questions we would like to discuss and find answers in order to serve the rights holder better. Civil society one stop center
The center wants to offer a chance for CSO’s/NGO/FBO/CBO’s to come together with their own agenda and learn from each other. It expected that CSO’s will use the platforms (festivals, best practices workshop etc) as an opportunity to share own experiences as well as mobilize extensive participation for increased voice and heightened activism at all levels. The festival, community of practice or best practices workshop will be an open forum for likeminded individuals and organizations to come together to share experiences and knowledge, to celebrate achievements and assess challenges ahead, to strengthen networking and coalition-building, to build capacity and to contribute to public debate and plan collectively for social change.
The mission and vision of the Centre are as follows:
To anchor CSO’s work in providing targeted and quality service delivery to clients
To be a one stop centre for civil society strengthening
The center is guided by a number of principles:
Serving civil society: the center serves CSOs/NGOs which in turn perform a key role in defining the center activities.
Transparency and accountability: the center will facilitate the development of an accountability charter by NGO/CSO that enables learning and building of a trustful relationship with all stakeholders.
Independence: the center is independent of influence from any business, government, and political party, donors with regard to its activities, projects and management.
Striving for excellence: the center aims for excellence in its own work and supports other organizations and individuals also striving for excellence.
Connecting governments, civil society and business: the center will bring together key actors from various sectors, facilitating communication, supporting cooperation and implementation of the national strategies.
 USAID.2011. CSO Sustainability Index for Sub-Saharan Africa. Washington: USAID  A lobbyist imparts her information with the help of graphs, charts, polls, and reports that s/he has hunted up or created. These lobbyists also report to politicians about the concerns and reactions they have gotten from community members. Indirect lobbying is also done through the media. Grassroots lobbyists write articles for newspapers and magazines and appear on talk shows to generate interest in and awareness of their issues.  James, R.2001. Breaking New Ground: learning from experiences of CSO coalitions in Malawi. INTRAC Research Report.  "The Charter is an important first step in demonstrating our accountability to our stakeholders. The reporting process provides an opportunity to evaluate our work and reaffirm our vision. It is a flexible accountability tool that we can confidently recommend to our partners and allies regardless of their size or structure."