Ziad Abdel Samad of ANND Speaks with CIVICUS about the Building Bridges Project in North Africa

Ziad Abdel SamadZiad Abdel Samad is the Executive Director of the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), based in Beirut, since 1999. The ANND brings together 30 NGOs and nine national networks from 11 Arab countries active in the protection of social and economic rights. Mr. Samad is a member of several institutions and organisations including the coordination committee of the Civil Campaign for Electoral Reforms (CCER), the board of the Euro- Mediterranean NGO Platform, the UNDP CSO Advisory Committee to the Administrator, the advisory board of the Economic and Social Commission of West Asia (ESCWA), the advisory council of the International Centre for Non-Profit Law (ICNL), the global facilitation team of the Better Aid network, the Coordination Team of the Open Forum on CSO effectiveness, the Asia Advisory group of the Reality of Aid, the International Council of the World Social Forum and the Lebanese Negotiating Committee for the accession in the WTO. In addition, he is also the Co-Founder of the National Euromed Platform and General Manager of the Centre for Developmental Studies (MADA), a Lebanese Centre for social and economic studies and research.

What is the interest and role of the ANND in the Building Bridges project?
The Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) is a regional network that aims at enhancing the advocacy role of civil society; ANND promotes the values of democracy and respect of human rights in the region. It is thus interested in coordinating with Civil Society Organisations (CSO) adopting the same values and working to promote social justice and human rights including workers, young people, women, and challenged people. In order to achieve this aim, ANND believes that the collective capacity of civil society should be strengthened, thus there is a need to enhance civil society networking at the national and regional levels. The voices from each country in the political decision-making process must be heard and taken into consideration. Moreover, the internal governance of CSOs in the region ought to be improved. ANND encourages and works on enhancing CSO participation and civic engagement in public policy-making in the emerging democracies, as well as on safeguarding the solid foundations of pluralistic democracies in the countries of the region.

The Building Bridges project is in cooperation among three different entities: NCVO, the largest UK based network of voluntary organizations, CIVICUS, one of the largest South Africa based global civil society alliance and ANND, a regional CSO network. The project aims at building the capacities of CSOs in three countries in transition: Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. It will be targeting already established CSOs by improving their performance as well as the emerging ones with the aim of contributing to the empowerment of civil society in these countries and enhancing the civic engagement in rebuilding the state on solid grounds and democratic foundations. The project will thus support a full range of civil society organizations based on a needs assessment conducted in the targeted countries during the last six months. The support will include four main areas: Peace building, mediation and conflict resolution in countries that are challenged by religious and cultural diversities; Advocacy and lobbying which contributes to the development of an effective civic engagement; building institutional skills in order to improve governance and collective performance; and finally, improving personal skills at the leadership, administrative and staff levels. The project will contribute to improving freedom of expression and strengthening the voice of CSOs. ANND and its partners in the project will also equip the CSOs with the necessary tools to deliver their voices and positions to government, develop shared advocacy campaigns and act as watchdogs when needed. They will provide the core training for civil society networks and are ready to act as a hub to exchange knowledge on the best practice models of engagement.

Why is a project like Building Bridges important and relevant for North Africa right now?
CSOs play a major role in monitoring public policies and enhancing civic engagement in public policy-making processes. However, in the North African countries in transition, CSOs were previously acting under the oppression of authorities that weakened their capacities and limited the role of the majority of the service provision and the implementation of some developmental programs. Yet, with the emergence of popular uprisings, civil society became challenged by the necessity to respond to the evolving functions of emergency, starting from the provision of medical supplies and food in the framework of the ongoing conflicts and breakdown of the economy, in addition to the drive for electoral and constitutional changes.

It is thus imperative for ANND to find the means to incorporate substantial missions and roles in the building of a strong and professional civil society. The CSOs should be able to advocate for sound and just policies with all stakeholders. This will be achieved by developing professional capacity, CSO management, registration structures and good governance across organizations in the emerging democracies of North Africa.

ANND believes that establishing close and solid ties among organizations in the emerging democracies will not only contribute to the formation and delivery of a strong civil society voice to governments and international players, but also participate in the making of pluralistic and sustainable democracies in these countries.

Why is the ANND partnering with the National Council for Voluntary Organizations (NCVO) on this project?
ANND, being a network itself, believes in the importance of coordination and networking in order to amplify capacities and resources. The coordination with NCVO comes within this context. However, NCVO has long history of developing good practice guides and assisting civil society in playing a more active role in countries witnessing democratic transitions (mainly in Eastern European countries). It is thus a recognized leader in training in transitional contexts and built on its long-term capacity-building expertise. For all these reasons, and with the aim of enhancing collaboration with a knowledgeable and expert partner to attain the goals of the Building Bridges project, ANND is pleased to partner with the NCVO and CIVICUS to connect with and empower civil society in North Africa.

ANND will work with NCVO to engage networks in each country and develop a tailored package of training and support to help them develop their capacity and provide them with the necessary tools to have the role of a hub for exchange of knowledge and best practice.

How does the ANND plan to collaborate with CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation on this project?
ANND, as an active member of CIVICUS, shares its values, principles and objectives. Moreover, ANND participates in the World Assemblies organized by CIVICUS and takes part of the Affinity Group of National Associations (AGNA) launched by CIVICUS in order to promote these values and principles. ANND is part of the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP), a global campaign seeking the implementation of the MDG hosted for years by CIVICUS. In addition, the two networks coordinate in Universal Periodic Review mechanisms (UPR), whereby ANND contributes to the process of reporting in Arab countries and CIVICUS supports the advocacy at the Human Rights Council. More specifically, CIVICUS has a substantial role to play in this project by contributing to the professional training, particularly in the areas of networking, advocacy, institutional building and campaigning for organizations. Besides, and in terms of workshop materials, some of the tools and manuals of CIVICUS will serve as reference to be used in these workshops. CIVICUS will also be the best partner to provide the international expertise and experience-sharing to these workshops based in the Arab region.

What does the future hold for further collaboration between the ANND and partners on projects similar to Building Bridges in other regions?
Following the people's uprisings that have erupted in the region since the end of 2010, the role of civil society has been enhanced and the latter is expected to contribute in a more effective manner, especially in the light of the revolutions that reflected several political, economic and social challenges. Moreover, many concerns are raised at the global level including the debate on the development framework and on the paradigm shift, how the global trading and financial systems must be reformed in order to address major challenges such as inequalities, unemployment, social exclusion and sustainability issues. In this context, lies the role of civil society in shedding the light on these challenges and in creating a space to itself in policy-making and advocacy processes. These challenges, among others, cannot be confronted except by building alliances and adopting systematic and continuous advocacy strategies. Therefore, there is a need to enhance further the collaboration between ANND and the partners with the aim to found an enhancement of knowledge amongst CSOs in areas of policy-making and in the monitoring of such policies.

Learn more about the Buiding Bridges project, read the interview with Chiara Butti, coordinator of the Building Bridges project in North Africa for National Council for Voluntary Organizations (NCVO)