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Category: Grants

Health and disability rights: multi-stakeholder approaches

The Foundation recently convened learning exchanges with civil society leaders working on health and disability rights—particularly the rights of vulnerable populations who have been ‘left behind’. The participants, who hailed from 11 Commonwealth countries and had each received support from our grants programme, shared strategies and approaches to realise these rights by making governments more accountable.  

This is the fourth in a series of blogs profiling the case studies our partners shared. Previous blogs in the series have examined how our partners gather citizen data and present it to decision-makers to improve health outcomes. This month’s blog looks at how our partners engage a range of stakeholders—from government agencies to think tanks and families—so they can advance health outcomes. This is known as a multi-stakeholder approach; it involves identifying and understanding the varied institutions and actors that can create change and considering how each can be persuaded to think and act differently to fulfil health rights.

Community Tours in Guyana

ChildLinK aims to improve the protection of children with disabilities at home, within families, and in education—particularly children with autism and those experiencing abuse. Their approach is based on building relationships between children and their families and communities, as well as government agencies and decision-makers. One innovative method they use is known as a ‘Community Tour’.

With guidance from the Ministry of Social Protection and ChildLinK’s caseworkers, ChildLinK identifies communities seeking more information on child protection or communities where there are high numbers of reported child rights violations. These communities are then contacted to assess whether they would participate in a Community Tour; if the community agrees, a small delegation of officials from, for example, the Ministry of Social Protection, local schools, and the police spends half a day in the neighbourhood, meeting and speaking with each household as well as families in the streets and in local shops. They carefully uncover a picture of the issues faced by children in the community and instances of child abuse. They explain what support is on offer and distribute information (posters and brochures) in shops, schools, and health centres.

‘They have helped build relationships between government agencies so they can work more effectively together.’

Quarterly, multi-agency meetings are organised at which information from the tour is processed. Regional teams are sensitised to the needs of children and children with disabilities, and a comprehensive inter-agency action plan is formulated. ChildLinK and local partners implement and monitor the action plan while regularly feeding back to the communities in question.

Community Tours have made governance institutions better informed about the situation of children, including children with disabilities. They have helped build relationships between government agencies so they can work more effectively together. Children and families say these tours leave them feeling more supported and help build their trust in government agencies with whom they can directly engage. Insights gained from the tours are currently being considered by the government as they develop new guidelines for schools to improve the educational outcomes of children with autism. ChildLinK plans to use future tours to identify community advocates who will be trained to sustain community monitoring and awareness. 

Preventing and controlling non-communicable diseases in India

HRIDAY’s Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) Taskforce programme is another example of a multi-stakeholder approach. The Taskforce aims to improve cross-sector collaboration to achieve health targets that reduce non-communicable diseases (diseases that are not directly transmissible between people). It brings together government, health service providers, international agencies such as the World Health Organization, research institutions, and civil society organisations.

At the start of their project, HRIDAY reviewed the available literature and consulted with experts on the Taskforce to track India’s progress against national and international targets on NCDs. Using the findings, HRIDAY established an accountability framework: a document that recommends additional action that the government and other stakeholders should commit to in order to meet the country’s targets. Crucially, the document provides a framework for civil society to monitor the government’s progress and hold decision-makers accountable to their promises to fulfil health rights.

The Taskforce keeps HRIDAY abreast of emerging trends, identifies which actors have the power to contribute to greater NCD control, and helps prioritise areas where action is urgently needed. Due to growing recognition of the greater risk that people living with NCDs have to COVID-19, the Taskforce is accelerating action on risk factors for NCDs such as tobacco and alcohol use, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity.

The work of the Taskforce also feeds into that of the Healthy India Alliance (HIA) which is part of the Global NCD Alliance. The HIA connects global developments with national civil society action on NCDs. Additionality, as HRIDAY functions as the Secretariat of Healthy India Alliance, they can facilitate information sharing between the Taskforce and global partners.

Dr Shobha Das is a former Director of Programmes at Minority Rights Group International and Gillian Cooper is the Programme Manager of Knowledge, Learning, and Communications at the Commonwealth Foundation.

Tackling youth violence: inclusion for a change

At the 1998 World Conference on Youth, the origin of International Youth Day, the late Kofi Annan made his famous opening remarks: ‘No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts itself off from its youth severs its lifeline; it is condemned to bleed to death.’

There is a fact that gives Annan’s sanguineous metaphor grim new meaning: violence is now the fourth leading cause of death in young people worldwide. Perhaps no other community of nations should seek to understand this fact more urgently than the Commonwealth; sixty per cent of our more than 2.4 billion citizens are under the age of 30. Here we explore three of our recently approved grants projects that are empowering youth so they can overcome this scourge.

‘Too often, discussions on violence in these communities are one-off events, occurring after policy decisions have been taken and without sufficient youth representation.’

In data released in 2017 by the UN, the murder rate in Jamaica stood at 57 per 100,000 of the population, the second-highest recorded rate in the world. Despite significant efforts to address this problem on the part of the Government of Jamaica, the young continue to be severely affected by violent crime as both victims and perpetrators. In a project that will last two years, Fight for Peace International will work in two of Kingston’s worst-affected neighbourhoods: Denham Town and Parade Gardens.

In designing this project, Fight for Peace focussed on how affected communities were being cut off from policy development and decision-making. Too often, discussions on violence in these communities are one-off events occurring after policy decisions have been taken and without sufficient youth representation. To counter this tendency, they will train 1000 youth and civil society leaders to formulate evidence-based recommendations during regular, specially organised meetings. This will provide youth groups with an opportunity to share their perspectives on security policies so, ultimately, these can be tabled at Jamaica’s Commission on Violence Prevention. Youth leaders will also be trained to deliver traditional and social media campaigns, giving them the tools to influence public discourse on the issue.

‘[In South Africa] an estimated 23 people are shot and killed every day, with the highest rates of death by homicide found among 15-29-year-olds.’

The same UN data that put Jamaica’s murder rate among the highest in the world ranked South Africa’s as eighth. Firearms play a significant role in the perpetration of violence in South Africa. The 2000 Firearms Control Act, which introduced measures such as stricter licensing, led to a significant decline in recorded shootings. Still, an estimated 23 people are shot and killed every day with the highest rates of death by homicide found among 15-29-year-olds. With a grant from the Commonwealth Foundation, Gun Free South Africa will support youth groups to deliver their input during the Control Act’s review in 2020. Young people with experience of gun violence will give oral presentations at public hearings to increase the impact of their recommendations. The organisation will also train youth groups to develop and implement safety initiatives in their communities, including the establishment of gun-free zones in schools and other public places. These initiatives will be coupled with awareness campaigns to mobilise support in favour of greater safety.

While young men are more likely to be the victims and perpetrators of violent crime both in Jamaica and South Africa, these projects will develop analyses and policy proposals that address the differing ways in which women and girls are affected, while ensuring they are fully represented at each stage.

Survey data collected in 2013 in Nigeria provides just a glimpse of the burden of violence shouldered by women: 28 per cent of women aged 15-49 have experienced some form of sexual violence. Of the woman surveyed, one in ten had experienced physical and/or sexual violence in the last 12 months alone. The Government of Nigeria has a clear policy framework in place to address the sexual abuse, violence and exploitation suffered by women and girls, including The Child Rights Act and the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act. But neither has been ratified in all Nigerian states and serious problems persist throughout the country. For example, there has been an alarming rise in reports of so-called ‘baby factories’, in which women are forced to give birth to children who are then taken from them and sold into illegal adoption and potentially also for exploitation. Other reports suggest a worrying rise in the normalisation of abuse in educational settings.

Nationwide ratification of the key laws and their effective application would go a long way in confronting this trend. Grants partner Youth Alive Foundation have identified what they believe to be the principal obstacles to the first step of ratification: a lack of coordinated advocacy, low public awareness, and prevailing cultural beliefs. Their project will create an alliance working across five target states made up of parliamentarians, students, and civil society and media organisations. The alliance will start by carefully mapping existing laws and policies to identify gaps, and, by gathering data in tandem, they will produce authoritative guidelines on how to bring nationwide ratification closer.

Constructive engagement between civil society and government lies at the core of the Foundation’s strategy, and in this new cohort of projects, there is a discernible sense of civil society cooperating with governments and building on their work. These projects do this by broadening and deepening participation of youth groups to strengthen national legislation. They are aimed at achievable and institutionalised change and highlight the importance of including the voices of the young from which there is much to learn.

Leo Kiss is Communications Officer at the Commonwealth Foundation.

For information on our next grant call and all other updates on our grants programme please sign up here. Profiles for each newly endorsed project will be available on the Commonwealth Foundation’s project pages soon.

After Cyclone Pam: rebuilding a community multimedia space

When the category five Tropical Cyclone Pam hit on 13 March 2015⁠—packing winds of up to 250 kilometres per hour⁠—people in Vanuatu were in a state of disbelief.

‘No one was ready,’ recalled Further Arts General Manager, Viviane Obed. ‘There were warnings but nobody took them seriously. At the Government level, there was little preparedness. [In evacuation centres] the quality was very poor; toilets were not working and many families were moved to them at the very last minute.’

At Further Arts’ Nesar Studio, a community multimedia space designed to train and support local artists, it was business as usual: the staff and members just expected the cyclone to pass through without causing much disturbance.

‘Half of the building’s roof was down on the road, 100 metres away [….] there was water everywhere.’

Nesar Studio is located just outside of the capital, Port Vila, on a hilltop in a residential area. The studio was created by Further Arts, a local NGO, in collaboration with youth and local communities, as a place for anyone to sign up and benefit from various media education projects and initiatives. Nesar refers to ‘nasara’: a word which translates locally as a ceremonial meeting place within a village for the intergenerational transmission of ‘kastom’⁠—knowledge and wisdom through song, dance, art, and other practices. Nesar Studio is named as such because it resembles a digital, urban nasara, imparting skills in new media so local artists can transmit messages and knowledge. Providing the community with education on these tools is a powerful means to enact change, enabling people to realise their rights to voice.

‘Before Pam hit, Nesar Studio was a centre for many youths in this area. Youth came here with interests in media, video, handling a camera or microphone for the first time, doing interviews, taking photos, and things like that,’ recalled Marcel Meltherorong, a local artist and Nesar Studio member and crew.

‘On Friday the 13th when the wind picked up, we were all at our own homes nailing down roofs and covering windows. But little had been done at the office to prepare it for what was coming⁠—we didn’t expect it to be so ferocious! Once night fell, the storm grew stronger and you couldn’t see anything… you just heard it—things breaking, cracking, landing, and crashing.’

During the proceeding cleanup, Marcel recalled that people helped one another; families helped other families to rebuild homes, and then helped to clear the roads.

When staff and crew finally made their way back to the organisation’s headquarters a few days after the cyclone, the streets were emptied out and damage to the office was colossal.

‘Half of the building’s roof was down on the road, 100 metres away. The wind had thrown it there. Most of the equipment inside was damaged, and there was water everywhere… it’s hard to describe it… I mean, this was where Further Arts and Nesar Studio was born!

‘When Pam hit, it was like this big space was just gutted. Everyone was feeling very down after that’ Marcel said.

Following the devastation, Further Arts staff and crew moved into a smaller space in town.

‘We weren’t discouraged, even though we lost the building. We kept going and didn’t give up because we were passionate about what we did,’ said Roselyn Tari, the Production Co-ordinator at the time.

Before long, Further Arts made an appeal to its key partners and donors for their assistance in rebuilding, and received generous support from many, including new opportunities for growth and activity.

‘When the idea to rebuild came about after Pam, we were all so happy—even though we had to start from zero—to train members and recreate that space. People were starting to feel hopeful again’ Marcel said.

The success of rebuilding was based on Further Arts’ deep networks and partnerships, both in-country and internationally. Working with the local community was also important to ensure that the new space could accommodate the needs of its stakeholders.

Further Arts was extremely fortunate to receive assistance from the Commonwealth Foundation so that it could continue its work. The funding supported the studio to conduct a needs assessment amongst its membership, and then purchase multimedia equipment and train members in its use. This enabled the facility to continue its work relatively quickly, which lifted morale during a very hard time.

Everyone agrees that disaster readiness and preparedness has become a major priority in the community following Cyclone Pam. Further Arts itself has begun implementing stronger disaster preparedness measures to mitigate future disaster impact to its resources and personnel.

‘It’s the work you do before the storm that is most important. Really, these storms, they’re just a part of our lives,’ the organisation’s Finance Officer, Ladonna Daniel, pointed out.

Production Co-ordinator Gina Kaitiplel believes Further Arts Nesar Studio has a very bright future because of all the work it has done supporting young people and local communities.

‘Further Arts has become a main powerhouse to support communities in Vanuatu through multimedia, arts and culture. It helps individuals within the community to know where they come from, and what the true meaning of culture is. And it does that by building the knowledge of young people in the media industries.’

This post was written collaboratively between Further Arts and Nesar Studio staff and crew.

Grants roundup: helping civic voices to be heard

Five grants projects were approved by the Grants Committee on 13 June 2018.

In line with the Foundation’s strategic goals, these projects will help ensure that policy, law and government institutions are more effective contributors to development through the influence of civic voices.

This year’s cohort features two projects focussed on disability rights.

The first is to be implemented by the Access Bangladesh Foundation (ABF), a leading Disabled People’s Organisation (DPO) that has a strong track record of working to empower persons with disabilities through community based approaches. Bangladesh signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2007 and passed the national Disabilities Act in 2013. This project aims to crystallise the government’s commitments by building on the advocacy capacities of people with disabilities.

This will be done by organising self-help groups in 20 union parishads (local constituencies) that are spread across three districts in Bangladesh. It is expected that by the end of the project, the self-help groups will be better integrated into planning processes and that government officials will have mainstreamed disability concerns into their programmes.

‘Carers often face a number of issues including deterioration in their own health, financial strain, isolation, and social stigma.’

In a project by ChildLink Inc, efforts are being made to support children with Disabilities in Jamaica and Guyana. In 2007, Jamaica became the first country to sign and ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) which was followed by the adoption of the (national) Disability Act in 2014. ChildLink Inc. will focus on developing the skills of parents to engage the education system and hold it accountable to the act’s provisions.

In Guyana, ChildLink Inc will work with parents, teachers, children with autism and child-focussed Civil Society Organisations to support special education needs in Guyana. Guyana became a signatory to the UNCRPD in 2007. This was followed by the Persons with Disabilities Act in 2010 which involved a commitment to the special education needs policy (SEN). It is expected that by the end of the project SEN could be mainstreamed into government schools.

Two projects from this year’s cohort will be implemented in India.

The government of India has accorded high priority to building sustainable, smart cities that are resilient and able to meet the challenges posed by rapid urbanisation. A project implemented by Gujarat Mahila Housing Sew Trust (GMHST) will support government efforts by amplifying the voice of women in planning processes to bring about community participation in city-level development. The projects will take place in Ahmedabad and Surat: two of the cities covered by the Smart City Mission.

‘Occasionally the Commonwealth Foundation sees the value in building on the success of former projects.’

Occasionally the Commonwealth Foundation sees the value in building on the success of former projects. There are 26.8 million disabled people in India, many of whom need to be cared for by an unpaid family member. Carers often face a number of issues including deterioration in their own health, financial strain, isolation, and social stigma. From October 2014 to September 2017 Carer’s Worldwide UK sought to tackle this problem using funding from the Commonwealth Foundation.

They used the funds to: raise awareness of local authorities in Jharkand, Andra Pradesh and Karnataka to the needs and rights of carers; enable their inclusion into local authority welfare schemes; provide carers with greater access to medical care; and improve their ability to take up new or additional livelihood activities leading to increased income levels. In a new project starting in 2018, Carer’s Worldwide will build on results achieved at local government level, strengthen civic voice in advocating for the rights of family carers and support the passage of favourable policy and legislation.

Following an uptick in applications from the Pacific, amongst this year’s grants partners is The Pacific Islands Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (PIANGO), a regional coordinating body and network of umbrella NGO bodies in 24 Pacific Island countries and territories.

It is well understood that climate change represents the most serious challenge to the future of the Pacific Island countries. Low-lying atolls such as Kiribati are among the countries most vulnerable to its adverse impacts. PIANGO is proposing to work with one of its members, the Kiribati Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (KANGO), in order to collaborate and dialogue with the i-Kiribati government and the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) to help shape policies that reflect the needs, priorities, and voices of local i-Kiribati communities on migration and climate change.

For information on our next grants call and all other updates on our grants programme please sign up here. Profiles for each newly endorsed project will be available on the Commonwealth Foundation grants pages soon.