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Engaging & Including Civil Society in Indonesia

January 26, 2011

By Robin Bush

The Australian Government is to be congratulated on undertaking the Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness, in light of the upcoming massive expansion of the aid portfolio. The review panel was in Indonesia last week to seek input from a wide range of stakeholders – and I was invited to provide input to the panel on how civil society engagement can be integrated into a country aid strategy.

In my remarks to former Ambassador Farmer and other members of the panel, I underscored the importance of viewing civil society not just in a “watchdog” or “oppositional” role, but as a vehicle for technical assistance, and indeed a partner in support of government. This is especially important for AusAID, given the tremendous pressure of delivering large levels of assistance to the Government of Indonesia through government systems and direct support.

With a focus on development outcomes that Indonesia and Australia have agreed to achieve, analysis will often demonstrate scope for improving transformative impact by involving a wide ranging of entities – international organizations, the private sector, and non-government agencies – in networks striving to achieve the same goals. While marshalling such forces can be complex, requiring local knowledge and trust among actors, the effort is generally worthwhile. For instance, when civil society is brought in as a partner in designing and delivering assistance, there is:

1. More sustainability, as after project funding is gone, rather than an international consultant packing her/his bags and going home, the locally embedded university think tank or NGO often has other support to continue relevant activities; and

2. More efficacy, as local officials are more likely to adopt reforms or technical solutions when they are provided by civil society groups and linked to supportive domestic constituencies.

AusAID has a solid track record of working in partnership with civil society in Indonesia – we hope that the Aid Review will find this to be an effective approach to development overall as it has certainly proven effective in Indonesia.

This post originally appeared on the Lowy Institute for International Policy’s blog, Interpreting the Aid Review.

Robin Bush is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Indonesia. She can be reached at [email protected].

Related locations: Indonesia

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