Adapting CLD to Covid 19 and Beyond: Government Engagement (Call 5)

Wednesday, August 19 at 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. (EST)

Facilitators: Gunjan Veda (MCLD) and Nelly Mecklenberg (Institute for State Effectiveness)

During the fifth call in the Adapting CLD to Covid 19 series, participants reflected on government engagement with communities and civil society during the Covid 19 pandemic. This was particularly pertinent in advance of the UN General Assembly in September where the Movement for Community Led Development will be hosting an event building on the discussions and insights from this series. Through this event, participants of the series, government and community representatives from across the world will speak to how community structures have been mobilized during the pandemic. August’s call was an opportunity for participants to reflect on this theme in advance and identify questions and topics to raise with the panel.

From the Field:  Three speakers talked about engagement between government, civil society and communities in the pandemic response in their respective countries.

Samuel Mutambo (MCLD Coordinator and Acting County Director, THP Zambia) emphasized that coordination between civil society organizations and governmental offices, particularly the Ministry of Community Development and Social Welfare and the Ministry of Health,  has been largely successful. Civil society and the Government set up a joint task force to communicate and coordinate their responses. This has resulted in more effective aid and reduced duplication by creating a comprehensive understanding of the role each institution plays. CSOs have been working primarily at the community level, while the government has provided support at the district and national level. The link between CSOs and donors such as UNICEF and the World Food Programme also bolstered efforts. Samuel attributed this strengthened coordination especially to the creation of standard operating procedures, which may have applicability across countries. (and is available to any National chapter, organization or institution).

Edwin John (Focal Point at UN ECOSOC for Neighbourhood Community Network, India) explained that in the southern state of Kerala in India, a pre-existing and strong network of structures for community-led action has been a key asset during the governmental and CSO response to Covid 19. Aid has been primarily provided by the state government, but CSOs have been key to  catalyzing and mobilizing community participation in the execution and benefits of the governmental programs. He noted that Kerala’s network of over 300,000 neighborhood groups and assemblies, which are linked to wards and local government, had been critical. Efforts have included the distribution of meals, masks, counseling and loans, as well as forming gender resource centers and a push for laptops for children in communities to do schoolwork remotely. 

Daisy Owomugasho (MCLD East Africa Coordinator, Uganda) observed that the government response and its engagement with CSOs started out very strongly at the beginning of the pandemic but has somewhat waned as the months have progressed. (This trend appeared to be common among the experiences of participants as well.) Daisy did note, however, that Covid 19 has in many ways emphasized to the government the necessity of working with communities. The government-established response has engaged state actors, including CSOs and international NGOs; for example, civil society organizations were invited to weekly meetings with the Office of the Prime Minister to provide information and ideas. Cooperation between the government and CSOs therefore exists, but could still be improved. Daisy also shared that there has been frustration with funding that has poured into Uganda for the Covid 19 response from donors such as USAID, which civil society organizations have not benefited from as they continue to implement programs from their own often limited budgets.


Diana Delgadillo of THP Mexico emphasized that the relationship of CSOs with the government in Mexico has improved and that the Covid 19 pandemic has presented an opportunity for changing decision-making processes. Still, Diana also mentioned that subnational and national responses have been uncoordinated, to the detriment of the people and that political forces at play have had negative impacts on pandemic response. Likewise, Guillermo Sardi García of Caracas Mi Convive highlighted that in Venezuela, conflicting government responses and poor information dissemination have led to a lack of institutional resources and a political agenda that does not respond to the needs of the people. He noted that the majority of Venezuluans live by daily income and have had to continue high-risk work during the pandemic.

Breakout Groups

In breakout sessions, participants looked at this topic more closely and considered the following questions:

Think about government structures in your country of work, particularly local government and Covid 19 response.

  • What was the nature of engagement between government and civil society/communities?
  • What facilitated the engagement?
  • What was the impact of government collaboration?
  • What would you do differently when engaging with the government in the future?

They elected their own facilitators and reported back one key takeaway from the discussion. (A consolidated document summarising the salient points that emerged in all the groups can be accessed here.)

Breakout Group 1: Engagement with the government has been strong among countries represented in this group (Nepal, India, Benin, Uganda) due to long-standing structures and relationships. Some participants noted that these existing forums have increased coordination between CSOs and the government, but other participants expressed that unclear and delayed national communication about lockdowns has still created confusion. A more integrated approach to collaboration and clearer directions for CSOs would have reduced the risk of fracturing. Moreover, much of the collaboration centred around CSOs sharing information for the government (posters, rules) or trying to effectively ensure inclusion in outreach of government efforts. Communities and CSOs were often not involved in decision-making processes.

Group 2: From the perspective of participants based in Kenya, Malawi, Zambia and Uganda, CSOs have tried to engage with their governments but there has not been much support and there is a lack of information/transparency from the top, which has affected their work. Where there has been engagement, it has been facilitated by existing relationships and structures, such as neighborhood groups, community development councils, and unions. The pandemic has, however, made governments more aware of CSOs. For the future, participants mentioned uniting grassroots and national CSOs, using panels and discussions to raise awareness, and pushing for increased government engagement.

Group 3: While the government has worked with large NGOs, the general sentiment was that civil society organizations and small NGOs have been excluded from the process, limiting the nature of engagement. This lack of collaboration and trust has amplified the negative impacts of lockdowns as well as the disconnect between governmental efforts and community needs. In discussion of what could be done differently, an emphasis was placed on continuing to do what you can at the community level even when it seems unfruitful because the ground-up can indeed influence governments. 

In a closing discussion on group takeaways, participants underscored the importance of a multisectoral approach and response at the community level. As noted, there was also a common thread of coordination fracturing over time,  increasing the top-down nature of the effort and decreasing flow from the national to local level. This suggests the necessity of strong structures, such as unions and local community organizations, and continued engagement.

Next steps

In closing, participants were invited to submit blog posts or short descriptions/case studies of government engagement in their country in advance of the Movement’s side event at UNGA. This could include previous writing and could either be for the panel or dissemination beforehand. 

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