by Lucrezia Giordano, CPDE ICSO sector
Last June, CPDE participated in the OECD DAC Civil Society Days, an event that brought together diverse actors from civil society organisations (CSOs), governments, and development agencies to discuss critical topics and commitments: promoting locally led development, re‑evaluating partnership structures, and creating an enabling environment for CSOs.
Locally led development emerged as a main concern, and participants from all quarters acknowledged that communities should be at the forefront of their own development processes, integrating perspectives of all community members. This approach matched CPDE’s interest in showcasing its recent report on equitable partnerships, authored by Chilande Kuloba-Warria and Brian Tomlinson, within the larger picture of the Istanbul Principles and the DAC Recommendations on enabling civil society organisations.
Chilande raised concerns about the prominence of international CSOs and global north actors in shaping the development sector: to achieve locally led development, rebalancing power relationships and fostering mutual accountability between stakeholders are essential. Various development stakeholders in attendance highlighted the need to engage in open conversations about risk, mutual understanding, and equitable partnerships to create a more inclusive and efficient development ecosystem. For his part, CPDE Co-Chair Luca De Fraia shared his organisation’s efforts to promote equitable rights and responsibilities among all members of ActionAid International.
Shifting the current funding relations between donors and CSOs towards genuine partnerships is one of the key challenges addressed at the conference. Many felt that the current approach often turns partnerships into mere funding relationships. To avert this, participants emphasised the importance of appreciating community assets, embracing community-led development, and involving diverse voices in decision-making. UNDP highlighted, for instance, the need for flexible modalities and new entry points to promote and advance locally -led development since creating an enabling environment that supports civil society spaces is crucial to fostering meaningful partnerships and reducing administrative burdens.
Communicating development initiatives got into the spotlight as well. Development organisations need to ensure that communication tools are relevant to the target population, particularly in Global South contexts. As stated by Vitalice Meja of Reality of Aid – Africa, deliberate efforts to share credible and understandable information, avoiding technical jargon, and engaging with local organisations can significantly improve communication strategies. Going global in development communications emphasises tailoring communication efforts to partner countries, considering geopolitical risks, mobilising action for the Sustainable Development Goals, and adapting to the digital age. Development actors should prioritise narratives over branding to achieve more effective communication results and build public trust. Successful communication goes beyond merely disseminating information: it requires a nuanced and context-specific approach.
Civil society leaders often recalled the fundamental challenges stalling locally led development and effective communication. The persistence of colonial and racist power and communication structures was recognised, which calls for vocabulary changes and more inclusive narratives. Development agencies and organisations were urged to decolonise their strategies genuinely and involve local communities in shaping communication approaches.
Today’s development landscape highlights the importance of embracing change to promote locally led development and strengthen partnerships in the development sector. As civil society representatives argued, there is a need to rebalance power relationships, engage in open conversations, and create an enabling environment for CSOs. Effective communication, free from jargon and colonial legacies, emerged as a vital tool to build trust and foster inclusive development efforts. Overall, the event served as a platform for sharing insights, challenges, and successes, inspiring participants to continue working together to achieve a more equitable and sustainable future. #