Citizen Initiatives for Global Solidarity

This panel on Citizen Initiatives in Development, while acknowledging the importance that many attach to the role of citizens in development processes, starts out from the idea that these same citizens remain the missing link in the discussion on development aid. This not only holds for citizens in the global south but also for citizens in the global North. The latter are generally viewed only in terms of the ‘general public’ that agrees or not agrees with what ‘traditional’ actors do (or want to do) or as those that support such outside actors by giving their money and/or time. This is an old-fashioned view as citizens do substantially more.

They also set up so-called Citizen Initiatives for Global Solidarity (CIGS) referring to philanthropic, private, society-based international solidarity initiatives, charities or foundations formed by citizens who, on their own or together with a small group, voluntarily raise funds and implement or support development interventions in developing countries. These citizen initiatives in international development cooperation distinguish themselves from established development actors by their voluntary character and small scale (i.e., in budget and number of staff). As such, they are part of the dramatically changing aid landscape where traditional actors (e.g., bilateral DAC donors, multilateral agencies and many NGDOs) meet with non-traditional ones (ranging from the BRICS to vertical funds and from foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to, indeed, CIGSs.

Just as it is timely to ask whether the rising middle classes in emerging countries will step in as an alternative for tight aid budgets in most OECD countries one thus might as well ask whether the middle classes in the global North will step in. Unfortunately, systematic research into these citizen initiatives is rare and seems to be largely restricted to the Netherlands and Belgium. Dutch studies on this phenomenon, for instance, show that a big majority of CIGSs emerged after the turn of the century, are entirely run by volunteers have an average annual budget of less than €50,000 and are depending on their own direct network (e.g. family, friends, relatives, local businesses) for fundraising, and they mainly invest in projects related to children and education (e.g. constructing two extra classrooms for the local village school). While their budgets tend to be small, due to the large number of CIGSs operating in the North and South, they are not to be ignored.

Outside of Belgium and the Netherlands, these small-scale citizens-led development organisations seem to be mainly invisible; not only in the discussion on the changing aid-architecture but also in the scientific debate about development actors. This panel then sets out to bring these citizen initiatives as alternative actors in development to the fore by (1) discussing findings from studies into CIGSs in Belgium and the Netherlands; (2) strengthening and broadening research into these citizen groups in other (European) countries; and (3) discussing potential research topics and interaction among academic researchers.

Potential research topics include:

  1. In what way do CIGSs differ from other actors in the field of development cooperation?
  2. What drives the start of private initiatives and how can their activities be characterised (e.g., size, sectors, countries, etc.)?
  3. What is the nature (if any) of the cooperation between CIGSs and more ‘traditional’ (bilateral and civilateral) actors in development cooperation?
  4. What is the relationship between CIGSs and public support for development cooperation (e.g., are they trusted more than ‘traditional’ actors, what is their support base)?
  5. How effective are development interventions of these private initiatives?