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Civil society as the key to development
Published in Ahram Online on 21 - 02 - 2018

In January 2016, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) replaced the former Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as the main international mechanism for guiding development in all UN member states until 2030.
The SDGs are expected to create benchmarks that help balance economic development with tackling global environmental challenges, improving health and education services, and creating better jobs and alleviating poverty through protecting the planet's resources and guaranteeing inclusive development.
However, governments cannot realise these goals on their own. Collective and individual efforts at the local, national and international levels are necessary. Governments will need the broad involvement of all stakeholders, including the private sector through corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects, as well as civil society organisations (CSOs), as the main pillars for achieving the sustainable development of their nations.
Across the globe, civil society organisations provide services to stakeholders in various fields in order to help develop societies and improve the lives of citizens. The UN recognises that development is significantly achieved when civil society is permitted to flourish.
Over 4,000 civil society and non-government organisations (NGOs) are currently represented at the UN secretariat, and these give voice to ideas and contribute to research on various topics on the global agenda. For instance, in founding the SDGs, civil society organisations were not only active in the consultative process which generated them, but they are also valued partners in the implementation process.
In line with the 2030 SDGs global agenda, Egypt has developed a working plan called Egypt's Vision 2030, also known as the Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS), which encompasses the economic, social and environmental dimensions of development in Egypt. The SDS promotes economic development based on justice, social integrity and participation, while at the same time being strongly guided by the SDGs.
Besides investing efforts in aligning national policies with the SDGs, Egypt has also planned to work on specific projects that address the needs of young people, healthcare, education, the environment, women's empowerment and individuals with special needs.
Some of these projects include the government's social housing programme, planned to benefit 3.6 million people by providing affordable homes to low-income households, and the Takaful and Karama social protection programmes, which encourage children's school attendance and health monitoring along with other issues, in addition to the introduction of inclusive health insurance in Egypt.
However, despite government attempts at setting goals and indicators as well as the implementation of the SDGs in Egypt, less attention has been paid to discussing the roles and responsibilities that different stakeholders should have in achieving these ambitious goals hand-in-hand with government.
Egypt presented its first voluntary review of the SDGs at the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development attended by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi in July 2016, and it was among the 22 countries that volunteered to report on efforts undertaken to achieve this ambitious agenda.
Throughout the drafting of the report, it has become clear that engaging with major interest groups and the participation of civil society is pivotal to implementing the SDGs, and that this can only be done through capitalising on local and global efforts, partnerships for knowledge and appropriate resources to accelerate national development results.
Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali recently emphasised the significant role played by civil society organisations in the social and economic development of Egypt during the 56th Session of the Commission for Social Development (CSocD56) that took place at UN headquarters in New York from 29 January to 7 February.
She said that eradicating poverty was seen as an achievable goal in Egypt if government efforts were combined with those of the private sector and civil society in order to achieve security, peace and stability and pave the road such that development efforts can bear their full fruit.
The number of civil society organisations in Egypt was declared to be 48,300 in October 2017, but only 29,043 of these are active, most of them in Cairo, Giza and Alexandria, with a smaller number present in other governorates in Egypt.
The success stories of local Egyptian NGOs as role models for development should be highlighted as first steps on the sustainable development agenda, including the initiatives of the Helm Foundation in building capacity and supporting people with special needs in cooperation with the governorate of Giza, for example, and the Sawiris Foundation in combating unemployment and generating jobs for young people. The successful model of the 57357 Hospital in developing healthcare services in Egypt should also not be forgotten.
Yet, more collaborative efforts are still needed, and the principle of common but differentiated responsibility should be more effectively enforced in order to tackle the fundamental challenges that lie in the way of achieving the SDGs. High population growth rates, poor access to health services, environmental pollution and its impact on global warming, low levels of public educational services and unemployment are some of the main challenges hindering the achievement of the SDGs in Egypt.
In order to help meet these challenges, the government has adopted successful partnerships for resources, knowledge-sharing and capacity-building with a number of international non-governmental organisations in order to achieve Egypt's sustainable development. There are 96 such international NGOs and donors operating in Egypt.
Successful initiatives include the recent joint project between the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a German development organisation operating in more than 140 countries, and the ministry of the environment to help raise environmental awareness and reduce the negative impacts of climate change through addressing topics related to green mobility, biodiversity and solid waste management, and the efforts by CARE Egypt, an international NGO, to combat illiteracy in public schools by working closely with the Ministry of Education and its implementation of alternative curricula that prevent or remedy problems of illiteracy among students in schools and improve teacher skills.
There is also the Egypt Network for Integrated Development (ENID), a joint project between the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Ministry of International Cooperation, which aims to enhance the well-being of people in Upper Egypt by implementing an integrated approach to income-generation, food security, and improved basic services for local economic development. All these examples and more represent models of successful government partnerships with NGOs and civil society.
However, while the involvement of civil society organisations, whether local or international, might lead to successful initiatives, increased efforts across government agencies and further strong partnerships between the government and civil society are still needed in order to provide solutions for national challenges.
It is not enough simply to partner with civil society organisations: in order to be truly effective the state must provide an environment in which they can thrive. This environment will then help build cooperation between civil society organisations and the government, helping to build charitable and civic work for the greater development of Egypt.
Further synergies between government efforts and the contributions of NGOs throughout Egypt will help to bring the SDGs closer to achievement and improve the standards of living of all the country's people.
The writer is a media and communication consultant.
*This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly

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