Last week I represented MCC Canada at the 2014 version of International Cooperation Days in Ottawa. Co-hosted by the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC) and the Canadian Association of International Development Professionals (CAIDP), this included a public panel and debate hosted by CTV’s Don Martin, and a conference organized around the theme: “Redefining Development Partnerships: A New Role for Canadians in Global Equality and Cooperation.”
A key moment of the conference was an address by Minister of International Development Christian Paradis, followed by a question and answer session with CCIC President-CEO Julia Sanchez. This was the first time a cabinet minister has spoken at a CCIC gathering since 2008.
It was actually one of a series of steps Minister Paradis has taken in recent months to reach out to Canadian civil society organizations involved in international development. Steps intended, in the Minister’s own words, to “rebuild our relationship.”
This has included many meetings with CCIC’s leadership, and a statement emphasizing Canada’s commitment to “protect and promote an enabling environment for civil society” at a recent High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation in Mexico City.
In his address, the Minister committed to creating transparent and predictable funding partnerships with Canadian organizations, starting with the launch of a call for proposals for three international volunteer programs. This was the first general call issued by the government since 2011 (the last time MCC had an ongoing contribution agreement with what was then known as CIDA).
The Minister’s acknowledgment of past problems (“I don’t need to tell you that our relationship has not always been easy”) was also appreciated. So was his unabashed affirmation of the 80+ organizations that make up CCIC (“the importance of your contributions cannot be stressed enough”), not to mention his assurance that “mobilizing the private sector does not mean we should ignore civil society.”
What surprised me the most, however, was one of the key reasons why the Minister is now so keen to “collaborate,” “cooperate effectively,” and “work through challenges together.”
Certainly, front of mind for everyone is the desire to “produce results for the benefit of people in need around the world.” As a former Minister of Industry, Minister Paradis is interested in nurturing innovative approaches in order to “accelerate progress and reach our development objectives.”
Even more striking, however, is the Minister’s interest in partnering with CCIC’s member organizations in order to reach out to Canadians to explain why this work is so important, and channel their interest in global issues.
Thus the latest call for proposals actually requires—it doesn’t simply permit—organizations to dedicate up to ten percent of their proposal budget toward community engagement work.
Both the private sector and civil society can pursue innovation. But only one is well positioned to “represent the views of the poorest and most vulnerable” in engaging Canadians.
Minister Paradis also highlighted his appreciation for the way Canadian civil society organizations help the poorest and most vulnerable “compel their governments” to be accountable, and even “build social cohesion.”
He seems to recognize that acting for the common good by participating in public policy debates—both locally and globally—is an essential part of effective development.
Indeed, suggested community engagement activities on the DFATD website include: “public-engagement opportunities in Canada (or abroad) that provide interns with the opportunity to share their experience and give presentations that promote international development issues.”
This is the first time the Canadian government has expressed interest in funding public engagement work since 2010.
So it now appears as though, rather than being a liability, the capacity for public engagement is a much-needed competitive asset for international development organizations interested in government funding.
To be sure, the quest for government funding is certainly not what has motivated MCC’s commitment to mobilizing our supporters to address the root causes of poverty, oppression, and injustice! But if nothing else, this significant shift in the Government of Canada’s tone offers yet another reason why this is work we should boldly embrace.
By Paul Heidebrecht, MCC Ottawa Office Director