Reductions in Danish development aid worry civil society organisations

KirstenAukenCIVICUS spoke to Kirsten Auken, Director of the poverty reduction department at Danmission, about the effects of the recent reductions in the Danish development aid. Danmission is a Danish faith-based NGO that supports development projects of partners in the Global South based on principles of Christian ideology.

1. How will the budget cuts by the Danish government impact your civil society partners in the global South?

Danmission will have to cut around 4-million DKK (US$570 000) out of a previous Danish Development Assistance (Danida) framework of 14-million DKK (US$2-million). The cuts will affect partners and activities in Egypt, Tanzania, Myanmar and Cambodia.

In Egypt, we work together with the Coptic Evangelical Organisation for Social Service (CEOSS), which is an important NGO in the Egyptian civil society landscape. We support two big dialogue and development projects of CEOSS, which will experience the biggest cuts of all the projects we support globally. 17 out of the 81 participating community based organisations are not able to continue being part of the project due to the cuts in the Danish development aid.

This will exclude around 21,800 poor, local people in Egypt from the project who would otherwise have benefitted tremendously. Out of these organisations, 7 work in agriculture, 6 work on economic empowerment, 2 work on health issues and 2 work on education. These are all areas where the affected community based organisations could have done important work for positive development in Egypt. This is now compromised. 

The cuts by the Danish government means that Danmission’s partner in Tanzania, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, will not be able to continue the running of the Governance and Gender Rights Programme (GGRP). This project is innovative, as it deals with establishing public-private partnerships within Tanzania’s educational sector and that it facilitates cross-diocesan collaboration. Moreover, the important work that GGRP does on fighting female genital mutilation will have to stop.

We have been forced to cut our strategic reserves therefore our ability to support small strategic initiatives in Myanmar and Cambodia throughout the year is most likely to be affected. We normally use our strategic reserves to support different types of civil society groups to advocate for an enabling environment for civil society.

2. What steps is Danish civil society taking to reduce the negative impact of the funding cuts?

We will have to prioritise fundraising more in order to diversify our resources. This, unfortunately, means that will have to downscale other parts of our work to upscale fundraising a lot more than we had planned for.

The affected organisations are dealing with the impacts on an individual basis. It is difficult to reduce the negative impacts when the cuts are so large and the notice so short, so there is no way that we can avoid the effects on a lot of poor and marginalised people who count on us for support.

However, we are trying to identify other possible sources of funding for the partners or to quickly achieve greater sustainability of the projects. In Danmission, we also have the possibility of moving some of our own funding around in order to mitigate some of the negative impacts. Finally we intend to as much as possible, decide the exact implementation of the cuts in close dialogue with the affected partners. However, there is no way to completely avoid the negative impacts.

3. What do you see as the added value of official development assistance support to civil society organisations compared to the assistance being channelled through governments and international institutions?

With the general increase in legislation restricting civic space in many countries worldwide and limitations in freedom of expression and assembly, civil society organisations (CSOs) and other citizen initiatives play a central role in protecting poor and marginalised groups. The pressure on the distribution of natural resources and the question of who should profit is an important issue in many countries. Additionally, freedom of religion is also under pressure. These issues can only be sufficiently addressed by a diverse civil society instead of only through international governmental institutions and governments. 

The official development aid channelled through CSOs, reaches civil society in the developing countries we work with. Danish CSOs have access to a wide range of CSOs, community-based organisations, trade unions and networks who are actors that the state-to-state support system has little possibility of reaching. A vibrant and independent civil society with active citizens is a crucial part of a flourishing democracy. In Denmark we have a strong culture of organised civil society and establishing popular organisations around virtually every topic which citizens are engaged in, and thus, Danish CSOs have a lot to contribute in partnership with CSOs in the developing countries. 

As Danmission, we work with churches and church based organisations as well as other religious actors. This is an extremely strong and widespread network with great legitimacy in the countries where we work. Through these partners, we can reach parts and corners of countries where it is much more difficult for other actors to get access. Furthermore, in countries plagued by conflicts, churches and religious actors often times can play a mediation role and enter into dialogue to make sure that religion is part of the solution to the conflict rather than part of the problem. Danmission has a strong competency in this kind of dialogue and peace work. 

Finally, as Danish CSOs, and as church based organisations, we have a strong base of supporters, volunteers and members in Denmark. We see this network as a crucial part of spreading information about global development and keeping the support for and interest in foreign and development policy among citizens in Denmark.

4. What is your message to decision-makers concerning these cuts and their consequences?

The cuts make no sense whatsoever and they are not in Denmark’s own interest. In recent months we have seen a huge influx of refugees to Denmark and other European countries. How do we expect this to stop if we cut the money which could help reduce poverty and build a future for poor and marginalised people in their countries of origin? A false and extremely harmful competition for funding appears to have been created between refugees coming to Denmark and the poorest people around the world. With the latest announced additional cut in Danish official development aid of 1.5-billion DKK because of an increased influx of refugees expected in 2016, the largest receiver of Danish official development aid will become Denmark itself, receiving almost a third (29,5%) of the total Danish official development aid.

Humanitarian emergency aid is much needed but money for this effort should not be taken from the long-term development cooperation which could prevent future disasters and create hope for the future. Financial stability is important but the bill should not be sent to the poorest people in the world! Denmark is a rich country that can afford to look beyond its own borders to play a more visionary and global role. 

5. What support and solidarity can international civil society offer Danish civil society? 

I hope that the international community will support the Danish civil society by making it clear that the security concerns and foreign affairs issues we face today cannot be solved without a strong civil society.   

It would be helpful if international civil society can contact Danish politicians and tell them why the support from Denmark is so important for their work and for poor and marginalised people in their countries. 

International civil society could additionally underline how important it is to create the right conditions in their countries so that people choose to stay and build a future in their countries of origin instead of migrating to Europe. It would also be important to underline what it means for a small country like Denmark to be known as a “friendly superpower” when it comes to development cooperation and support for civil society and human rights globally.

Follow @KirstenAuken on Twitter



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