The EI annual Development Cooperation (DC) meeting gathered 37 participants from 13 countries on 12-13 November in Brussels, Belgium. One of the six sessions allowed participants to take stock of the impact of the economic crisis on DC funding and activities, and discuss solutions.
“This meeting’s agenda has been developed around the impact of the economic and financial crisis on development cooperation,” said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen in his opening remarks. “There is a strong need to develop new strategies to mitigate the effects of this crisis.”
New EI initiatives pushing DC work forward
Van Leeuwen underlined three crucial initiatives in DC in education:
- The organisers’ network, showing that EI tries to mobilise expertise available in member organisations to develop strategies
- Occupy Education, helping affiliates become better equipped to engage in social dialogue with governments
- Encouraging member organisations to be involved in the Global Partnership for Education (GPE)
“Capacity-building is the best-funded part of EI programme budget,” van Leeuwen acknowledged. “In Burma, for example, it is vital to step up our work to support the emerging trade unions movement. We have to start from scratch in this country.”
Elsewhere, in Brazil and Argentina, education unions are becoming major actors in DC and the participation of their trade unions’ representatives at the meeting was highlighted.
Van Leeuwen also indicated that EI will continue with its regional women’s networks, as they are very valuable tools in its work. And he reminded participants about the UN Secretary General’s Education First Initiative, reiterating that it is important to progress towards the EI five priorities.
Canada: Crisis an excuse to cut DC spending
Richard Langlois from the Centrale de Syndicats du Québec(CSQ) was the first speaker at the meeting’s first Session on The Impact of the Global Economic Crisis on Development Cooperation.
“In Canada, the Official Development Assistance (ODA) was reduced by 5.3 per cent in 2011, for the first time since 1997,” he said. “The objective of spending 0.7 per cent of the Canadian GDP is becoming less likely. There is a general decrease in ODA in almost all countries, despite governmental commitments towards the realisation of Millennium Development Goals by 2015.”
He stated that this is not a question of economic crisis: “It is just an excuse for the government to pursue its political agenda.”
In 2011, CSQ lost CAD200,000 for DC activities.
Langlois also deplored the fact that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) follows governmental priorities linked to government foreign and trade policies - and trade unions must wait for the CIDA to launch a call for proposals to submit a project proposal.
Last year, he explained, no trade union benefited from a grant from this agency, and a number of partnerships with Southern countries had to be terminated.
On 13 November, CSQ, along with other education unions and an NGO, the International Labour Solidarity Centre, held a press conference to urge the conservative government to undertake more DC work.
CSQ also supports the creation of a new Quebecois agency. It will engage in the creation of consortia with NGOs and other Quebecois trade unions, and look for other sources of autonomous funding for DC activities.
Nederlands: Finding other sources of funding for DC activities
Trudy Kerperien, from AOb/Netherlands, stated that in her country, the economic crisis is just an excuse to cut more in DC funding: “But for at least 10 years, there has already been a poor climate and a campaign by political forces against DC relayed by the media.”
Negative press coverage has portrayed ODA in such a way that many people think the expenses represent 20 per cent of the national budget, which is false.
“An evaluation of 10 years of DC activities on education has been held, but decisions have already been taken as if the results were negative,” Kerperien said. “But they are in fact up to 95% positive.”
Because the DC budget has been more than halved, the Netherlands needs to change its strategies, she underlined.
She said that the confederation, of which AOb is a member, still has a DC budget, although this budget, provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, covers limited countries and areas – education is not officially recognised. Also, AOb can use its own trade union solidarity fund, as 0.7 per cent of the membership fees go to DC activities. It is therefore a small, but stable and growing fund.
“The Confederation now tries to find other sources of founding, like receiving inheritances, or fund-raising from members,” Kerperien said. “They seek cooperation with ‘unusual’ donors, i.e. with a lottery, or cooperation with other NGOs.”
She added that AOb is shifting its focus in DC work: “We now focus on effective short-term actions, triggering things for later. We try to connect southern partners among themselves, so that it’s more effective. And we support partners in finding their own way of financing plans.”
Canada: negative effects of cuts in DC
During the session, Alex Davidson from the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) raised the issue of pensions, saying that pension funds are currently under a lot of pressure.
“The CIDA turned into an organisation working for corporations,” he said. “Trade unions and teachers’ organisations do not receive these funds.”
He also noted that the effect of this shift in CIDA objectives on education in Canada and abroad is profound, leading to commodification and teacher deprofessionalisation.
Davidson said that there is a considerable temptation to develop short-sighted aims that would pervert values or established good practices.
Stressing that CTF is looking at other sources of funding, as its autonomy in DC activities is in jeopardy, he explained that funds can come from foundations having an acceptable agenda. He added that he agrees with the idea of looking more at South/South cooperation and capacity-building initiatives.
“It’s important that CTF remains a force in Canada,” he said. “We must remain strong, united and seek alliances in civil society. Public opinion changes when there is a broad-based understanding for development work.”
Building consortia at European level
Martin Rømer, the Director of EI European region, the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE), indicated that only a few European countries are currently able to do DC work.
“We must look for new funds and adapt to a changing world,” Rømer said. “ETUCE tries to help affiliates in Eastern European countries. We look into neighbourhood policies programmes, structural funds, among others, for funding.”
He acknowledged that often, it is too complicated for organisations alone to apply for European funds. There is therefore a need to build consortia.
“What are the possibilities of being big enough to get sustainable money?” he asked. “We must advise affiliates to work more at national level to form foundations or consortia. We also need to explore the EuropeAid programme in its full extent, and make sure that education is mentioned in concrete agreements as an area of work.”
He regretted that, sometimes, trade unions must get national agreement to receive European funding. And this can be a problem if the Government opposes such a move.
Rømer added that private funds from foundations must be explored. He called on affiliates to be clearer in their aims, and reform DC structures.
The DC meeting agenda is available here