NATIONAL CIVIL SOCIETY EDUCATION FUNDS:
OPTIONS AND IDEAS
The FTI has provided GCE with $17.6 million to support national education coalitions in up to 50
countries up until June 2011. Some funds may be available for reporting on the work up until
December 2011. This is a lot of money over a short period and the big question is, what will
happen after that point? There are two basic options
1. Sustain funding by approaching in-country donors at a national level in each country –
through creating some form of National Civil Society Education Fund. This is the original concept
and is why the project is called CSEF!. This paper explores what this option means.
2. Try to secure more international support. This will not be easy as we have made a strong
argument that future sustainability of funding will be at a national level. However GCE and others
will try to secure some continued regional or international funding (maybe particularly for
supporting countries with few in-country donors). We will approach the reformed FTI (the new
EPDF, likely to be called PACE, will focus on supporting Local Education Groups and we will argue
for a CSO window within this) and we will seek funds from sympathetic bilaterals who may support
work in a particular region (like AECID in Spain is supporting Latin America) - but there are no
guarantees. This paper does not address this.
So what is a National Civil Society Education Fund? The original idea came from detailed
research and consultation by the Commonwealth Education Fund in 2007-8. The idea is that a
national CSEF would:
be an independent national fund run by an inter-agency board (ie separate from the
national education coalition) run by key individuals from NGOs, teacher unions, social
movements, academia etc;
channel multi-donor funding from in-country donors (especially bilaterals) to the national
education coalition and to members of that coalition / national CSOs; potentially a lot more
money could be raised through a national CSEF so this could be a large fund!
prioritise strategic investments promoting social mobilisation, raising public awareness,
consolidating learning, channelling grassroots voices, engaging in policy dialogue,
monitoring budgets and increasing domestic accountability – NOT funding service delivery;
have a small implementing team of up to 5 people who receive proposals, prepare papers
for the Board, promote good monitoring and evaluation and sound financial reporting;
be run to high standards of transparency, with clear criteria for decision-making and
strong policies to avoid any conflict of interest etc.
Many questions have arisen about why should a CSEF be separate from the national education
coalition? Why not just channel the money direct to the coalition for their strategic programme of
work? This has led to a variation of possible models each of which has advantages and
disadvantages. Here are four basic options:
1. A fully independent CSEF as outlined above – giving grants to coalition and others
Advantage – high level of credibility for donors; prevents the coalition from being distorted
into a funding agency for its members; keeps the political independence of the coalition;
facilitates the involvement of people with real expertise in fund management.
Disadvantage – may become a separate power-base on education (rival to coalition) and
could even undermine the coalition; would require separate legal registration that can take
time; could lead to fragmented projects (lacking strategic coherence) and even competitiojn
between members (rather than joint working); what happens if the CSEF refuses to fund
the national coalition??
2. A CSEF run entirely by the national education coalition, re-granting to members
Advantage – no parallel structures - so costs are reduced; overall coherence more likely to
be assured and there is no risk of fragmentation into projects – the strategic work of the
coalition and its priorities can be supported but the coalition can involve its members and
not have to do everything itself.
Disadvantage – may distort the basic nature of the coalition as a political voice, making it
into a donor to members (who may leave if they don’t get given grants); donors may be
reluctant to directly fund an agency that is seen as having a political voice / profile; the
coalition might be discredited if it is seen to be funded directly by “foreign funds”; the result
may be fragmented programmes with members competing with each other.
3. An independent CSEF Funding Committee set up by the national education coalition
Advantage – has some independence but keeps a close relation to the coalition;
coherence likely to be OK
Disadvantage – coalition is still identified with the decisions made and so members may be
upset if funding decisions go against them.
4. A CSEF run by the national coalition that funds only the coalition’s own strategic
Advantage – coalitions can develop ambitious strategic programmes of work and secure
reliable funding; the coherence of work is ensured; all members can have an input into
designing the strategic programme through the democratic processes of the coalition.
Disadvantage – if large amounts of funding are secured there may be issues of absorptive
capacity; the coalition may not have very democratic processes; the coalition may consume
all the space for policy engagement and campaigning, cutting out members; the coalition
may end up being an organisation itself rather than a real coalition.
To some extent the operating of the present CSEF project at regional level operates as an
The regional coalitions host the small secretariat
Decisions are made independently – by a funding committee
Funds are distributed by a financial management agency
The key is a separation of functions and powers to give some independence.
We can draw learning from this experience which may be relevant for national level CSEFs in
Different models will be appropriate in different countries. Much will depend on factors such as:
the stage of maturity, breadth of support and credibility of the national coalition;
the legal options for registering a national CSEF;
the number of in-country donors and their open-ness to this;
the existence of other civil society funds in other sectors.
Reflections and Issues
1. Single grants / multiple grants. In the present CSEF project the regional CSEFs provide a
single grant to each country, to the national coalition. One of the key questions in future will be
whether a national CSEF should be willing to fund both the national coalition / platform AND good
initiatives by national NGOs / teacher unions / specific members of the coalition which fit within the
wider strategic priorities (eg work on education budgets / specific research or capacity building or
popular mobilisation etc),
2. Who will fund? We should be targeting the bilateral donors (inc UK DFID, Canadian CIDA,
Swedish SIDA, Norwegian NORAD, Japanese JICA, Netherlands, Spanish AECID, French AFD,
Italian aid) who are presently supporting CSEF through their engagement on the FTI’s Education
Programme Development Fund These bilaterals are indirectly funding the work already and
national coalitions should contact them NOW (perhaps via the lead agency in any donor
consortium on education) to explain this and to engage them in a dialogue about the future model
that will be most relevant in the national context. Other donors such as USAID, Danish Danida,
German BMZ, UNICEF, big foundations, even INGOs and the private sector etc can also be
3. How to convince donors? The most important way to convince donors is to ensure that they
understand the work that you are doing already. We have 18 months now of well-funded work and
we should make sure that it is well documented and evaluated – and that it is widely shared. One
of the best ways to convince people is of course to involve them in your process … invite bilaterals
to attend workshops and events organised by the coalition. Also, engage in strategic discussions
with them. If the government does not give systematic space to the national coalition in education
policy dialogue, ask the bilaterals to make the case for you to have a seat at the table
Over the coming few months the CSEF Secretariat in GCE and regional coalitions should identify
countries where different models from the above are being tested – and give specific support to
those who are most advanced – so that we can pool learning regionally and internationally. There
is a case for some specific piloting of the different models in specific countries. This would allow
for some systematic documentation which can be used to share learning and good practices.
However, even if there are pilots, every country receiving CSEF money should be looking at
options for future funding – even if that means just persuading one or two specific donors of the