The program that gave birth and supported education civil society movements worldwide

Let’s go back in time and learn some of the history behind the Civil Society Education Fund, managed by GCE and funded by the Global Partnership for Education, which supported activism to push education higher on the development agenda, worldwide and nationally.

April 24, 2020 by Wolfgang Leumer, Global Campaign for Education
6 minutes read
Participants listening during a session of the CSEF's 6th world assembly in 2018.
Participants listening during a session of the CSEF's 6th world assembly in 2018.

In the 2000s, the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) decided to replicate its successful model of bringing civil society organizations together. But this time it was at the national, regional, and global level, gradually giving rise to the Civil Society Education Fund funded with US$70.3 million by the Global Partnership for Education.

The CSEF was anchored in the belief that alliances and coalitions have the power to bring about change. For 10 years, the CSEF was a unique and ambitious global program that supported citizen engagement in education sector policy, planning, budgeting and monitoring.

It has also helped civil society organizations come together to build diverse national coalitions – and hold their governments to account for commitments to education. GCE went from supporting 44 coalitions in 2009 to 63 coalitions worldwide by 2019.

The early years

GCE and the World Education Forum 2000

The history of the CSEF is not complete without credit to the movers and shakers of civil society who convened in 1999 to organize civil society in education: ActionAid, Oxfam International, Education International and the Global March Against Child Labor. All came together to form the Global Campaign for Education (GCE).

GCE was quickly recognized as the legitimate representative of the 300 NGOs that assembled in Dakar in the build-up to the World Education Forum in 2000 and “became the de facto representative of the NGO position” in the Education for All - Fast Track Initiative (EFA-FTI, former name of GPE) and other external policy spaces.

The work of GCE focused on establishing national education networks, with an aim to secure global education financing commitments, reconfirm the status and importance of teachers for achieving EFA goals and protect children’s rights.

2002 - 2010: The Commonwealth Education Fund (CEF) and the Real World Strategies project were key trailblazers and forebearers to the CSEF (Find out more about these programs).

2009 - 2012: Phase I - The birth of CSEF

In 2008, aid efficiency discussions were high on the agenda. EFA-FTI had promised ‘No countries seriously committed to Education for All will be thwarted in their achievement of this goal by a lack of resources.’

To find funding for national coalition to engage in policy dialogue around EFA, GCE submitted a proposal to the EFA-FTI to support national education coalitions (NECs) in 45 partner countries across Asia and the Pacific, Africa and Latin America.

These broad-based alliances of civil society would include local and national NGOs, teacher unions, parents' groups, community-based organizations, faith groups and many others who came together with the common interest of advancing education for all in their country. CSEF was approved for two years in December 2008. GCE was the hosting agency to oversee three regional CSEF windows in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

CSEF I proved to be a unique experience for CSOs committed to education advocacy at multiple levels. The reach of funds enabled GCE and its partners to strengthen the capacities of 45 national coalitions.

According to CSEF Independent Evaluation report, the CSEF ‘...has been able to articulate, capacitate and empower a range of civil society networks advocating quality education all around the world…’

2013-2015: Phase II - A full-fledged program with ambitious goals

Recommendations from CSEF I informed the design of CSEF II, which funded and supported 51 national civil society coalitions who had the liberty to carry out programs to influence education policy according to objectives set by each coalition.

Its objectives were “to contribute to the achievement of national education goals and Education for All by ensuring the effective participation of civil society organizations and citizens in education debates and sector planning and review.”

CSEF II was also supported by the German BACKUP Initiative – Education in Africa for activities in Africa, and the government of Spain (AECID) for non-GPE partner countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The AECID funds were managed directly by the Latin American Campaign for the Right to Education (CLADE), as part of a unified CSEF program in the region.

The 2015 independent evaluation of CSEF stated that:

“The CSEF program has demonstrated a considerable level of effectiveness in strengthening civil society participation in education sector policy development, implementation and monitoring, and coalitions are increasingly recognized by their respective governments for their credibility, demonstrated capacity, and effectiveness in contributing to evidence-based advocacy.”

“Data collected and analyzed point to the finding that supporting research with capacity building and financial resources is one of the major contributions of the CSEF program. Supporting coalitions to undertake or to support research has been a key tool that has provided coalitions with a way to bring substantive contributions into the policy arena.”

Participants during the CSEF's 6th world assembly in 2018.
Participants during the CSEF's 6th world assembly in 2018.

2015-2019: CSEF Phase III - The last installment

The CSEF III phase was approved by GPE in October 2015. Unlike previous iterations, grantees under CSEF III linked their work more closely to GPE strategic objectives, which included the full SDG 4 agenda.

Coalitions were supported to carry out advocacy-oriented research and public awareness campaigns, and to share knowledge and learning within and across regions, in order to coordinate messaging, learn best practices and improve political competencies relating to GPE and SDG 4 processes.

The CSEF III program further expanded to support coalitions across 63 countries to be better informed, and effectively engage in education- policy planning, budgeting, monitoring and review. It also included high-level policy debates at community, local and national levels.

Moving forward

The CSEF program has sustainably changed civil society's education advocacy work at national, regional and global levels.

Some of the high-level outcomes of CSEF (to be confirmed in the final evaluation) are:

  • Coalitions built their capacity and have strengthened their skills and capacities for (technical) advocacy work.
  • They have a broader understanding of SDG 4 and have increased their skills in budget tracking and monitoring.
  • Coalitions and their members have strengthened their ability to attract funds, diversify their resource mobilization and to be financially sustainable by promoting national civil society support funds.
  • CSEF has helped coalitions improve and increase internal communications across members and regions, such as with WhatsApp or telegram chat, to disseminate information or provide feedback from state/regional members through platforms (events) for sharing across thematic and regional groups.
  • The diversity and inclusiveness of coalitions were strengthened through the addition of new members such as youth groups, women’s groups, groups representing regional areas, and groups representing marginalized and minority groups.
  • Coalitions have earned greater recognition by governments as an important civil society stakeholder in policy and lawmaking processes; including via formal links with parliament and portfolio committees.
  • Some 90% of coalitions participate in and can influence local education groups or other consultative national bodies.
  • The coalitions’ advocacy activities exhort policy makers to prioritize global objectives and commit additional funding for education in the public agenda in response to civil society advocacy.Examples of policy changes include: ECD curriculum, framework for girls’ inclusion in education, contract teacher management, right for basic free education, gender responsive curriculum, teacher professional development, prohibition of corporal punishment, and recognition of minority languages.
  • Coalitions engage in actions around education in emergencies and are engaged with planning, coordinating and monitoring education services in emergencies.
  • Coalitions have used and disseminated research that identifies education research and analysis to gaps to raise awareness of key issues and inform decision making.
  • Coalitions engage in campaigns around child safety and corporal punishment, role of private actors in education provision, language of instruction.
  • Coalitions successfully raise awareness on equity and inclusion issues, increase empowerment of marginalized groups (girls, out-of-school children, pastoralist children, people with disabilities, illiterate adults).
  • Coalitions have increased their research capacities, reputation for and capacity in high quality research. They have strengthened engagement with academia and partnerships with academic institutions.

GPE’s new advocacy support tool, Education Out Loud, introduced a fresh and revised approach to civil society funding. The new framework allows for more actors to form alliances and partner at all levels, which is an encouraging step to increase the vibrancy of civil society, and a welcome initiative to overcome the many challenges to achieving SDG 4 by 2030.

The CSEF program has come to an end, but its legacy will remain.

The 10 years of support from GPE and other donors to the CSEF program has enabled the creation and growth of a strong and unified global education movement, fighting together for the right to education for all.

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