[Niamey, Niger] 18 March 2022 — The West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) concluded a successful 3-day capacity building training for young civil society actors on effective advocacy for open civic space and civic engagement in Niger. While in Niger, the WACSI team including Omolara Balogun, Head, Policy Influencing and Advocacy Unit and John Frinjuah, Programme Officer, Policy Influencing and Advocacy Unit of the institute as part of their CSO consultations paid a courtesy call on CARE Niger. The team was warmly welcomed by the Country Director, for CARE Niger and CARE Burkina Faso, Mr. Yawo Douvon, and the staff of the organisation.
WACSI team received by Mr. Yawo Douvon (middle), Country Director, CARE Niger
The visit provided the opportunity for the WACSI team to apprise the leadership of CARE Niger about WACSI’s mission in Niger and to discuss mutual areas of interest, as well as explore further ways to strengthen collaboration between the two organisations in Niger and the greater Sahel region. During the meeting, Ms. Omolara reiterated the mission of the team in Niger which is to strengthen the capacity of young women and men drawn from across the Sahel on civic space, civic engagement, policy advocacy, and democratic consolidation. She highlighted the palpable passion of the youth and stressed on the need for them to be supported as they chart new paths in support of democratic ideals and an enabled environment.
The two institutions also revelled in their long-standing partnership and collaboration over the years. Speaking about the existing partnership with CARE, particularly policy research around women’s financial inclusion and advocacy to support the Village Savings and Loans Associations (VLSAs) model of grassroot women financial integration, Ms. Balogun, mentioned that “it is no coincidence that the two organisations are concluding another partnership agreement aimed to amplify the unified voices of women on gender equality through the ‘Collective Action Lab’ programme to empower women across the Sahel – a testament to the positive working relations between the two organisations over the years”.
Mr. Douvon on his part lauded CARE’s work on supporting young women and girls, strengthening various platforms and coalitions, building their capacity, and inspiring young women and girls to respond to the menace of child and forced marriage; he particularly recognised WACSI’s collaborative role in the fight to end child marriage through policy advocacy and national network strengthening processes in recent years. He said, “CARE has built a powerful platform that have over 29,000 VSLAs in Niger alone”. However, there are more opportunities for partners to build and strengthen further the platforms, especially around financial inclusion by connecting them to financial institutions and through digital and technological inclusion. “Indeed, women in the Sahel have a lot of ambition, but the challenge has always been the limited capacity for individual partners to support them. Therefore, a deliberate effort and partnership remain critical to the ability to make impact in the lives of many women and girls in the Sahel”, Mr Douvon re-echoed.
WACSI team discusses existing partnership and opportunities for further collaboration with CARE Niger
Newly introduced CSOs registration criteria in Niger
Beyond the regular partnership with CARE Niger, Ms. Balogun stated that, WACSI is equally interested in key policy issues that affect civil society development effectiveness and development ecosystem in general, including the recent government’s decree which makes it difficult for civil society organisations to register as legal entities unless they first belong to or operate as an association for an unspecified period – all apparently under the guise of anti-money laundering and terrorist financing compliance. She said, “With WACSI’s experience on civil society regulations and legislations in other jurisdiction particularly Ghana, the institute is well placed to bring to bear its experiences for CSOs in Niger to explore how to respond to the government decree”. Mr. Douvon, also expressed CARE’s concern by this development and enjoined other organisations in the sector and region to explore ways to respond effectively.
An important aspect of the meeting was to discuss organisational strategy and mutual areas of collaboration. Mr. Douvon noted that CARE is currently working on a CARE Vision 2030 strategy to replace one which expired in 2020. The Country Office would adapt the global strategy expected to be completed in April this year to finanlise its own strategy. The strategy would focus on food security, gender justice, democratic justice, and humanitarian action. More precisely, “it would focus on the so called ‘triple nexus’ – development, humanitarian action, and peace”, Mr. Douvon noted. Ms. Balogun on her part noted that WACSI has also initiated a process to develop its new strategic plan (2023-2027). Among many other broad areas in the plan that will reflect the needs and aspirations of civil society across the region, it would also deliberately establish a footprint for the institute in the Sahel.
Despite the success in Niger, over the years by CARE and its partners including WACSI, continue to face enormous challenges. A huge challenge has been the limited financial capacity to respond to the growing needs of women and girls, youth and their platforms. It has been challenging to scale up broader impact. Further, the economic challenges of the nation continue to place a greater impact on the youth, many of whom are unemployed. Although CARE and a few partners are providing some support through alternative income generation programme, the resources are limited, and this is where stronger partnerships are crucial to leverage collective resources to deliver on expectations.
Furthermore, civil society in Niger and the Sahel region are engaging under an increasingly challenging security environment. A major outcome of this challenge is the internal displacements caused by conflicts and terrorist activities. Women and children continue to be susceptible to needless killing, even on their farms. And when displaced, women and children move in with families other than their own and often are faced with gender violence and sexual abuse.
Omolara Balogun, Head, Policy Influencing and Advocacy Unit, WACSI
The meeting concluded with Ms. Omolara assuring the CARE team of WACSI’s openness to explore ways to support women groups in their drive to intensify advocacy for gender equality, and strengthen VLSA platforms for broader financial inclusion; as well as enhance their capacity to collect and analyse evidence for policy advocacy. She also reiterated WACSI’s commitment to an ongoing partnership with CARE on ‘Collective Action Lab’ project, which among other objectives seeks to bridge the widening gap between grassroots women’s organisations and national level organisations; as well as increase the former’s access to decision making corridors.