Beads - Passion for Facilitation

Capacity development, learning, change, poverty/power/progress

Blog about learning/change, facilitation, systems: small groups and large scale processes, and poverty/power/progress.


Unlocking the inclusive potential of government policies and services

Government policies and basic services have the potential to create opportunities for large numbers of people to work themselves out of poverty. Local governments and frontline service providers are ideally placed to enable the inclusion, so that policies and services reach their potential. Here are some of the insight we gained and lessons we learned from interlocutor work by CSOs in the Ethiopia Social Accountability Program (ESAP).

Front line civil servants work in often remote areas, for low salaries and with very limited resources. They deserve more respect. Their training has been technical at best, and they are not always well informed about government policies, plans and budgets. They function in a system where they follow instructions. They may not understand that policies and services may exclude certain groups, unless specific action is taken that recognises social difference. Let’s look at two examples of inclusive change achieved by ESAP in the education sector.

Each district in Ethiopia receives funding for special needs education. In one district this money was never used. The district education office explained that there was no demand. It turned out that disabilities where a taboo. Children with a disability were kept in the family hut, away from society. An activist father never knew about the possibility for his disabled son to get an education nearby. He had been saving money to send his child to a special school in the capital. When he learned about the local possibilities, he personally went from door to door to convince families that their differently abled children could have a productive life ahead of them. With the increasing demand, the district opened a special needs wing in one of the schools.

The second example shows a case where awareness about special needs education actually enhanced stigmatisation. A deputy director of a primary school in Addis Ababa explained that she used to send children with a disability to the school which caters for special needs. When she learned more about an inclusive approach to education, her school found ways to accommodate students (and even a teacher!) who are differently abled, because with minor adjustments in access to school facilities they are perfectly capable of functioning in a regular school. Such actions take the pressure of the special needs school, which used to get many children that did not really have special needs beyond an access ramp. Because this school is no longer seen as serving special needs kids only, parents have started sending their ‘normally abled’ children to this school again. These kids are finding ways to appreciate the qualities of their differently abled fellow students, which builds a more inclusive society.

Such changes happened because CSOs helped citizens as well as civil servants to reflect on policies and standards of the government. Here are some of the things they learned:

  • Do not deal with excluded groups in isolation of others in society. Inclusion has a cost, and this is best negotiated among the different social groups in society. When excluded groups get a chance to be heard, and are treated as equally deserving of opportunity, society and its government can find ways to cater for their needs. When excluded groups sit at the table, society is perfectly capable to balance special needs with the wider needs of society. This is in fact the essence of social democracy.
  • Do not blame government for not delivering for excluded groups. They have many competing interests to take into account, with very limited resources. Help them to study inclusive development objectives and to reflect on what they can do to achieve these within the limited means available. Frontline providers have learned that when they truly listen to various needs of diverse groups in society, it opens up possibility. Dialogue on ways forward has multiple benefits: priorities get carefully studied and negotiated so that government can be more responsive. Community groups find ways to contribute to realise inclusive development goals, and to improve service facilities so that they can serve all.
  • It is hard to be an interlocutor, because social stigma and attitudes towards government are deeply entrenched. Yet if you stick with it, and trust the process that works towards open dialogue, you will experience that all people (including civil servants) can live up to their potential. The main role of an interlocutor is to enable social groups to be heard at the tables where government budgets get planned and evaluated. Do not speak on their behalf – their own voices are much more powerful.

The following poem was written by Ato Kassahun Melesse, a representative of visually impaired people (see picture above), who was invited to share his remarkable experience and achievements in one of the bi-annual learning events of ESAP. He offered this poem (my memory of it) in his closing speech – reading from braille.

When I was asked to close my eyes
At the start of the workshop
And to imagine beautiful Ethiopia
I could not see myself in it
People like me do not have a place
In our beautiful country
Now that I stand in front of you
I feel different
You have really listened to me
You have eaten meals with me
Even high officials
I begin to see my place now
I am inspired to continue
The dialogue among different social groups
And with our government

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