Sponsorship Communications Coordinator
Save the Children in Malawi
June 23, 2018
Reading is a critical skill to learn, and one that enables all future learning – children must learn to read so they are able to learn. However, reading is also a skill where many children can quickly fall behind, especially those with learning disabilities. How then can children with learning difficulties be supported?
Save the Children in Malawi is working to address this problem through an education program we call the Special Needs Action Pack, or SNAP. Since 2008, we’ve been working with children, teachers and community members to strengthen literacy skills of children in Zomba, for example through efforts that improve access to books and introduce child-centered teaching methods in classrooms that use games, songs and play to help children learn to their fullest potential. Last year, we started working to redesign those programs to ensure they are truly all-inclusive, most importantly for learners who were not fully benefiting yet due to their diverse learning needs.
Through SNAP, we help ensure quality and equitable education to every child, regardless of his or her physical, mental or emotional status. SNAP explained simply is a set of tools designed to equip teachers with skills on how they can identify and effectively support learners with special needs, and ensure those struggling to read in class improve their reading abilities. Save the Children also works hand-in-hand with the district’s Ministry of Education office, to ensure local partners are involved in ownership of programs for children.
Modester is a 6th grade teacher who has benefited greatly from the SNAP trainings. Before the trainings, Modester faced numerous difficulties in teaching special needs children – she handled all the students in her classroom as though they had the same abilities. She did not realize the importance of treating children as individuals with different abilities to learn, and as a result, learners who were slow to grasp were missing out on her lessons.
Through lessons learned in the trainings she participated in as a part of SNAP, Modester is now able to identify and employ effective strategies of supporting all her students. Strategies include how to better plan lessons to accommodate individual learning and needs. Learning and assessment materials are also provided, and general knowledge on how teachers can ably accommodate all learners in their lessons. Modester also learned how to create learning materials using low-cost and locally available resources, for example, how to create raised prints for learners with visual challenges by hand.
“SNAP is an effective program. It has helped improve my relationship with children with learning disabilities as I have gained skills on how to involve them in all classroom activities. They are able to open-up to me whenever they have challenges. Similarly, parents of these children are now able to open-up regarding the challenges faced by their children, which they were unable to share in the past.”
Previously, discussing issues like children’s disabilities openly with parents was not culturally accepted, however Modester has learned how to bring up these topics with families in a sensitive and respectful way. She shared there is improved performance by her students as well. “The performance of learners in my class has greatly improved and I foresee more improvements.”
SNAP training sessions have been conducted in 30 sponsorship schools and through these sessions, teachers are able to use these skills to help children with learning difficulties in other learning areas besides reading, such as in mathematics. School attendance is up in these schools, and overall now all students can be seen participating in class activities, rather than just a few.
“I am proud and thankful to Save the Children. I would not have acquired these skills without them, and the Ministry of Education would not have done this alone. Such innovations are very imperative”, concluded Modester.
Interested in joining our community of sponsors? Click here to learn more.
In response to the Presidential Executive Order regarding family separation, Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save the Children, issued a statement outlining how the Executive Order is harmful to children. The statement continues to urge the President to do the right thing for children and for Congress to include the policies and recommendations outlined in the Keep Families Together Act in any legislation that is voted on in the House or Senate on this topic.
On June 20, a day recognized as World Refugee Day, NEWS8 interviewed Carolyn Miles, in addition to other Connecticut leaders. In the interview, Carolyn Miles articulated the grave concerns Save the Children has for what’s happening to children at the border, specifically the trauma they endure.
Separating a child from his or her family unnecessarily is inhumane, traumatic and simply put, unacceptable,” read the statement Carolyn Miles issued on June 19, one day prior to the White House executive order was signed. “The cruel act of separation can cause severe negative social and emotional consequences for the children and their families in the days, months and years ahead. Our global evidence shows that children living in institutions away from their families are highly vulnerable to emotional, physical and psychological abuse, which can lead to lasting developmental problems, injuries and trauma.
Save the Children believes the Presidential Executive Order addressing family separation achieves one thing: further harming already vulnerable children. As announced, the Executive Order simply replaces family separation with indefinite family detention – this unconscionable order does not once mention the best interests of children. Save the Children has zero tolerance for policies that do not put children’s interests first.
We know from our nearly 100 years of service that family detention has significant adverse effects on a child’s development and psychosocial well-being, which ultimately results in the loss of childhood.
To read the full statement and to learn how you can take action to tell congress that families belong together, visit Save the Children.
Around the world, children and families are fleeing their homelands to escape oppression, violence and ongoing conflicts. These people seek safety and shelter in countries other than their own and become refugees. There are currently more than 22 million refugees around the globe – and those numbers grow by the day. More than half of all refugees are children, whose childhoods are at risk of ending too soon.
World Refugee Day brings attention to the ongoing plight of refugees and what can be done to help them. It was first established by the UN General Assembly in 2001. World Refugee Day offers us a chance to raise awareness in our own communities about the conditions endured by millions of refugees every day. Together, we have an opportunity to show how everyone can help make a lasting impact on the lives of refugees in need.
A Childhood Lost
Today, on World Refugee Day, it is more important than ever to remember that all children deserve safety, an education and a chance at a future.
Desperate circumstances force refugee children into hazardous work. Child labor has been identified as a major barrier to education in many countries currently experiencing conflict or recently emerging from conflict.1 It is also reportedly on the rise for both Syrian refugee children and host communities.2 In Jordan, for example, a recent survey of the resident child population (which included migrants and refugee households) found child labor rates have roughly doubled compared to pre-crisis figures. 3
More than half of the world’s refugee children are not in school—forced from their homes, education and everything they once knew, their childhoods cut short. Education is a necessity and provides hope and opportunities for the future, as well as a sense of safety, stability and normalcy for children overcoming traumatic events.
Child marriage is reportedly on the rise for girls in Syria and among Syrian refugee populations.4 Marriage of children under 18 years old is not a new phenomenon in Syria. However, with the protracted nature of the crisis, child marriage has evolved from a cultural practice to a coping mechanism.5
An Uncertain Future
Suffering violence, witnessing violence or fearing violence can cause lifelong disabilities and deep emotional trauma. Separation from family members and economic hardship can expose girls and boys to exploitation in the forms of child labor, child marriage, sexual violence and recruitment into use by armed groups.6
Malnutrition takes a toll on the immune system and it is particularly severe for growing children. Refugee children are more vulnerable to succumb to such preventable and treatable conditions such as pneumonia and diarrhea, which account for nearly one in five deaths in children under the age of five.
Inadequate nutrition during childhood can lead to impaired growth, cognitive impairment, and increased risk of mortality. A lack of to basic healthcare causes needless death and suffering for so many young children who need a healthy head start in life.
An Opportunity to Help
When refugees are displaced from their homes, it’s often the children who suffer the most.
Save the Children is working around the clock to ensure refugee children and their families are supported in their basic human needs.
We work nonstop supporting refugee girls and boys, helping them survive, and thrive. Whether in camps, on the move or in host communities, our caring staff help refugee children from Syria, South Sudan, Burundi and other countries marred by violence and persecution.
1. Justino, Patricia. “Barriers to Education in Conflict-Affected Countries and Policy Opportunities.”↩
2. UNICEF. Preparing for the Future of Children and Youth in Syria and the Region through Education: London One Year On: Brussels Conference Education Report. (April 2017) p.5.↩
3. University of Jordan. National Child Labour Survey 2016 of Jordan. (Amman: 2016)↩
4. UNICEF. Preparing for the Future of Children and Youth in Syria and the Region through Education: London One Year On, Brussels Conference Education Report, April 2017, p. 5.”↩
5. Whole of Syria Protection Sector. 2018 Protection Needs Overview V2. (2017)↩
6. 2018 End of Childhood Index (Amman: 2016)↩
7. 2018 End of Childhood Index (Amman: 2016)↩
To escape violence, hunger and harm, refugee children leave everything behind. Too often, that means they lose their education as well. Refugee children urgently need access to safe places to learn, grow and play.
On World Refugee Day, and on every day, Save the Children is working around the clock to ensure refugee children and their families are supported in their basic human needs. We work nonstop supporting refugee girls and boys, helping them survive and thrive.
In our second annual End of Childhood Index, we take a hard look at the events that rob children of their childhoods and prevent them from reaching their full potential, including being out of school.
Refugee children are 5 times more likely to be out of school than non-refugee children.1 Girls living in countries affected by conflict are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys.2 Without education, displaced children face bleak futures. Especially in times of crisis, education can offer a child stability, protection and the chance to gain critical knowledge and skills. Schools can also serve as social spaces that bring together family and community members, and create bonds of trust, healing and support. Failing to provide education for displaced children can be hugely damaging, not only for children but also for their families and societies, perpetuating cycles of poverty and conflict.
YOUR SUPPORT CAN MAKE THE DIFFERENCE. MAKE A DONATION TODAY TO SUPPORT OUR RELIEF EFFORTS FOR REFUGEE CHILDREN.
1. 2018 End of Childhood Index ↩
2. Nicolai, Susan, et al. Education Cannot Wait: Proposing a Fund for Education in Emergencies. (ODI: London: 2016) 122 UNESCO. Education for All Global ↩
By Erin Lauer
Since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, Save the Children has been responding to disasters all across the United States — from small local floods to the most destructive hurricanes and tornadoes in recent history, and everything in between. Despite the many differences in those storms, we have seen one commonality across communities in every corner of the country: far too often, emergency managers don’t always know where child care programs are located. Our smallest and most vulnerable children are sometimes hiding in plain sight, with early childhood programs in a wide variety of locations, including churches, schools, strip malls, hospitals and downtown office buildings.
In 2015, we launched a partnership with the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Earth Institute to solve that. Funded by a grant from global healthcare company GSK, we’ve worked with two pilot communities — Putnam County, New York, and Washington County, Arkansas, to raise the visibility and inclusion of child-serving institutions like summer camps, public, private and charter schools, foster care agencies and, of course, early childhood programs, in community-wide emergency planning. This work has culminated in the launch of the Resilient Children Resilient Communities (RCRC) Toolbox, a set of resources designed to help communities plan for and better protect their youngest residents.
One of the tools I’m most excited about helps local emergency managers design a disaster preparedness exercise focused on exploring the unique needs of children during a disaster and the variety of agencies and organizations required to address those needs. Exercises like this are a critical tool for emergency management, as they test plans and procedures and show communities what areas might need more attention.
Earlier this year, as part of a larger community exercise, we worked with two child care programs in Washington County, Arkansas, to test the evacuation and shelter in place procedures they established with a full-scale exercise. One child care program evacuated a classroom of 12 students, put them on a school bus, and received them at another early childhood center over a mile away. For local leaders, it was a chance to see how these child care programs implement their plans, and what support first responders and other partners can offer to keep children safe. For the 12 boys and girls, however, it was a fun field trip to meet some new friends and play with some new toys. In fact, as they were leaving the evacuation location, one of the little girls asked “when are we going to have the fire drill Ms. Jennifer told us about?,” not realizing that their field trip had, in fact, been the drill. For one boy, the most exciting part of the whole thing was the chance to have a different snack at snack time!
Through resources like the RCRC toolbox and the Get Ready Get Safe initiative, Save the Children is determined to share the best information and resources, so that every community is ready to protect its children when disaster strikes.
Erin Lauer is a Community Preparedness Manager with Save the Children’s U.S. Programs.
By Carolyn Miles, President & CEO, Save the Children
Tax season is over this year in the United States, but efforts on taxes are only gaining speed and attention in many developing nations.
USAID Administrator Mark Green has highlighted this as key to helping countries on their “Journey to Self-Reliance.” USAID aims to invest more aid to help developing countries reform their tax policy and administration – referred to as domestic resource mobilization (DRM) – as a way to finance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to gradually transition countries so that they no longer need our development assistance, and they remain strong partners to our country.
But the success of US investments in DRM ultimately depend upon trust – specifically, the trust that people in a country have in their government. Will governments fairly collect taxes and will they spend tax revenues in ways that are equitable and help reduce poverty? In this regard, paying taxes is at the heart of the citizen-state compact. When citizens pay taxes they expect to receive quality health and education services, security, and basic infrastructure from their government in return. Citizens want their governments to be accountable for how their tax money is spent.
To guide USAID in assisting partner governments to foster this citizen-state compact and mobilize domestic public revenues for equitable and sustainable development, the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) created “Principles of Public Sector Domestic Resource Mobilization in Developing Countries.” The principles are as follows:
• Ensure DRM investments are pro-poor, sensitive to gender, and support inclusive economic growth. More tax funding will not magically reduce poverty;
• Align with country priorities. Support an overall country plan to strengthen its DRM systems, and to invest funds in the development priorities of partner countries. For all international assistance – country ownership is key;
• Take a holistic approach to DRM, including by building a transparent and inclusive process for setting national DRM policies, strengthening judicial and audit institutions, and reducing tax evasion and avoidance;
• Engage citizens and other development stakeholders in DRM activities. DRM programs should be highly participatory and democratic by helping to finance broader engagement of citizens and other development stakeholders in DRM activities; and
• Transparently assess progress. The US government should support accountability of tax systems to their own citizens working with partner governments to develop benchmarks for monitoring and evaluating equitable DRM and sharing them publically in their countries.
Save the Children knows firsthand from our work in communities in places like Kenya how difficult it can be for civil society and citizens to engage in dialogue with their governments around tax policy. Such discussions are often technical and not transparent; civil society organizations often lack the resources and capacity to engage. But tax reform will not lead to more accountable governance without civil society and citizens at the table; so it’s vital that aid for DRM support not only the government’s activities, but also support civil society’s ability to engage in the process.
MFAN has created these principles not only to ensure that the US government’s DRM strategy is a catalyst for inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction, but to ensure that it also includes the voices of vulnerable and marginalized populations so that reform reduces inequality and improves governance.
As experts have noted, DRM that produces meaningful improvements for marginalized and vulnerable populations is unlikely to occur without their voices being included. Donor nations like the United States can play an important role to ensure that these voices are integrated into national DRM dialogue and that equity and fairness become the centerpiece of tax policy and administration reforms.
Save the Children in Mali
Abdoulaye is a passionate teacher, engaged father and proud sponsorship graduate in Mali. He became a sponsored child when he was 10 years old and his sponsor’s letters inspired him to work hard in school. “If I had not participated in the sponsorship program, I would not have gone to school and my life would be different than today,” he says. He still keeps a picture of his Save the Children sponsor, which reminds him of how his life has changed for the better.
Before sponsorship entered his community, Abdoulaye sporadically attended school, mainly because his parents didn’t understand the value of an education. Children in his community were sick with intestinal worms and anemia, which also prevented them from going to class. When sponsorship moved into Abdoulaye’s community, his parents learned how essential a quality education was to a child’s future success. Abdoulaye started attending school regularly where he received school supplies and deworming treatments, which helped start him on a path to success.
Now, Abdoulaye is a teacher, passing on his love of learning to the children in his classroom. As a father, Abdoulaye dreams for his own children to have bright futures filled with opportunity. Thanks to sponsorship, Abdoulaye is a very active father in his children’s lives, helping them with their schooling and encouraging them to do their best. Abdoulaye is working hard to make sure they get a good education, and is saving money so that he can go back to school and work in the education ministry.
Thanks to support from our child sponsors, Abdoulaye saw first-hand the value of an education. By working for the education ministry, he will soon be able to enact even more change for the children of Mali.
Su Yadanar Kyaw
Senior Coordinator, Sponsorship Operations
Save the Children in Myanmar
June 14, 2018
Every year in August, on a day locally called War Kaung, we celebrate the annual wrist tying ceremony in Myanmar. This is a celebration on the day of the full moon, as many of our traditional festivals are, in the fifth month of the Buddhist Burmese calendar, and meant to be a day of loving, kindness, friendship and forgiveness.
It is a very special festival for all Kayin people, an ethnic group which lives mostly in the south and southeastern part of our country, and is a celebration rooted in animistic beliefs. During this festival, young people receive white wrist ties from their elders, which is believed to drive away all obstacles and evil spirits they may face, and bring good luck, health and strength to their body and soul.
“This year, I will go to the Kyauk Ka Latt pagoda with my granddaughter Lay Pyay. She will receive blessings and get her wrist tie. It is meant to protect her from harm and bad luck and ensure to bring back all good luck.” Daw Aye One, member of the sponsorship supported Early Learners committee in her community and grandmother of 4-year-old Lay Pyay, tells us. In her role as a committee member, Daw Aye One helps raise awareness in her community about the importance of early education for children Lay Pyay’s age, encouraging them to send their own children and grandchildren to classes. She also helps oversee the classroom, assisting teachers and making sure the environment is clean and safe for the young students.
On the day of the festival, everyone in the community wore their best colorful, uniquely patterned traditional costumes and woven longyi, a type of cylindrically shaped clothe worn around the waist in Myanmar. “It is the time everyone comes back home. But my daughter is not coming back from the Thailand border this year,” Daw Aye One says sadly. In Hpa An, it is very common for parents to travel to nearby Thailand in search of work, and stay for long periods of time, leaving young children and homes in the care of elderly grandparents in order to send money home from time to time. Lay Pyay’s mother has supported her family in this way by working at a factory over the Thailand border for nearly the past 10 years. Both she and her husband return to the village just once or twice a year to see their family.
“We need to put a new roof on and rebuild some parts of our house to prevent this year’s rains, so she needs to earn a lot of money. She promised that she will be back for Lay Pyay’s birthday, which is after 3 months.” she says hopefully.
The annual ceremony starts with lively local music and dance. An elderly couple leads this ceremony and starts by chanting prayers and calling upon the guardian spirits to bless the younger generation.
Seven materials – a glass of clean water, white thread, rice balls, sticky rice, bananas, paw wee flowers and sugarcane are essential for this event. Each one of these materials symbolizes a value, for instance paw wee flowers, which locally grow in any season, even in bad weather, are a symbol for the ability of the community to settle and grow in any place, and the strength and harmony of living together in a multicultural village such as this.
After the prayers, elder village and family members like grandparents recite the blessings while the seven ingredients are placed on top of the participants’ hands, while tying the piece of white string around the wrist and wishing them good luck and spiritual strength.
People of other ethnic backgrounds like Pa’o, Mon and Bamar also enjoy this festival with the Kayin peoples. “I am Pa’O and I am proud to celebrate this special ceremony of Kayin people. You can see people from different ethnicities coming together and giving best wishes to each other. A beautiful tradition to be part of.” Daw Aye One says.
How do you celebrate special occasions with your family? Is it similar to the wrist tying ceremony in Myanmar in some ways? Consider sharing a family tradition with your sponsored child in your next letter!
Interested in joining our community of sponsors? Click here to learn more.
By Sara Neumann; Photo by Ellery Lamm
When you shine a light on where poverty in America has the strongest grip on children’s lives, it’s most often in our wide open spaces.
From the hills and hollers of Appalachia in the east, to the Deep South, all the way to California’s distressed Central Valley and beyond, children are more likely to experience childhood ender events related to poverty.
Rural child poverty1 in the United States is a subject that is rarely discussed in today’s national conversation, but given the findings of the new research in Save the Children’s 2018 End of Childhood Report – and Index, it should be.
How is Rural Child Poverty in the U.S. Defined?
According to this first-of-its-kind analysis of rural child poverty rates across America, rural child poverty is much more pervasive than one might think.
Poverty affects more than one billion children worldwide, including millions in the U.S. And while most Americans think child poverty is only an urban issue, child poverty rates are higher in rural areas. Nearly 1 in 4 rural children grow up in poverty.
What Percent of Children Live Below the Poverty Line?
In 2016, 23.5% of America’s children in rural areas were impoverished as compared to 18.8 % in urban areas. On the county level, between 2012 and 2016, 41 counties in the United States had child poverty rates of 50% or higher, 93 % of which (38 out of 41) were rural.2
6.1 million live in the South; 3.2 million live in the West; 2.7 million live in the Midwest; 2.0 million live in the Northeast
Certain geographic areas of America, including the Mississippi Delta, the Southwest, Central Valley and Appalachia, have the highest rates of persistent child poverty and are mostly rural. The vast majority of poor, rural African American children live in the South, where child poverty rates are historically the highest. Native American children, whose poverty is concentrated in the Southwest and Northern Plains, and Alaskan native children have the second highest rural poverty rate at 39.3%. One-third of rural Hispanic children are poor; their poverty is concentrated in the South and West. Poor rural white children, in comparison, tend to be spread across Appalachia.3
4.9 million are aged 0-5; 4.9 million are 6 to 11; 4.2 million are 12 to 17
Across rural America, children ages 0 to 5 have a poverty rate of 27%. This is compared to 24% of children ages 6 to 11 living in poverty and 20% of children ages 12 to 17. Young children in rural areas also face 1.5 times the rate of deep poverty as their non-rural peers, 13% versus 9%. Deep poverty means a child’s family has an income below half of the federal poverty line. This is especially concerning because deep, pervasive poverty often leads to long-lasting developmental and health problems, further perpetuating the cycle.4
8.1 million are children of single mothers; 4.5 million live in married couple families; 2.1 million are children of single fathers
Scarcity of jobs, geographic isolation and lack of transportation often pose greater earnings challenges for rural parents than urban parents.5 Rural parents also tend to have less education and a higher incidence of underemployment, which places their children at higher risk for poverty. In rural America, half of all children living with single mothers are impoverished (51.5%) as compared to 11.9% of rural children in married-couple families. This means that children of single mothers in rural areas are four times as likely to live in poverty as their peers with both parents at home.
890,000 are children with disabilities
Nationally, 29% of disabled children are poor, compared to 19% of non-disabled children. In rural areas, poverty rates among disabled children climb to 35%. In other words, over one-third of disabled children in rural areas are growing up poor.6
The impact of child poverty unfolds over the course of a lifetime
Research has linked child poverty in rural areas to low levels of well-being during both childhood and adulthood, encompassing poor educational, economic, behavioral and health outcomes.
Since 1932, Save the Children has been on the ground providing support to the most isolated and underserved children in rural America. From our earliest days in Appalachia – helping children and families hardest-hit by the Great Depression – to today, our U.S. team goes where others cannot.
To learn more about how Save the Children helps America’s hardest-to-reach children, and how you can help children in America, visit us at www.savethechildren.org/usa.
1. In the United States, being in poverty is officially defined as having an income below a federally determined poverty threshold. Poverty thresholds were developed in the 1960s and are adjusted annually to account for inflation. They represent the federal government’s estimate of the point below which a family of a given size has cash income insufficient to meet basic needs. The thresholds form the basis for calculating the “incidence of poverty,” which is typically reported as a headcount or as a percentage of the population. ↩
2. United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Rural Poverty & Well-Being. April 19, 2018.↩
3. Farrigan, Tracey. Child Poverty. United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Accessed April 3, 2018.↩
4. United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Rural Poverty & Well-Being. April 19, 2018.↩
5. McGranahan, David. Rural Child Poverty Chart Gallery. May 20, 2018. ↩
6. Save the Children’s analysis of data from U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2016. These estimates were derived from American Fact Finder table B18130.↩
Written by Andrew Wainer, Director of Policy Research at Save the Children
Global momentum on tax and development is escalating this year with the February Global Conference of the Platform for Collaboration on Tax, discussions on tax policy to reduce inequality at the World Bank Spring Meetings in April, and the upcoming tax capacity building conference hosted by Sweden.
These dialogues often emphasize the role of governments and multilateral institutions in harnessing tax systems to finance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While governments play a central role in taxation, Save the Children is focusing on the role of citizens in shaping their own tax systems in the developing world, specifically through our work with civil society at the sub-national level in Kenya.
Traditionally, donor countries haven’t prioritized investments in civil society. As we’ve revealed in a previous post, only 3% ($6 million) of the total $191 million in DRM support provided by all donors in 2015 was channeled directly to civil society or citizen groups.
This is much less than the 12% ($21 billion) of the total $174 billion in foreign assistance that was disbursed to local civil society or NGOs across all sectors. And it is even lower compared to the percentage of foreign assistance channeled to citizens and civil society in other large development sectors including:
- Basic education (16%)
- Basic health (21%)
- Government and Civil Society (23%)
Expert Consensus on Citizen Engagement
At the conceptual level, there is broad expert agreement on the importance of mobilizing political will to make domestic resource mobilization (DRM) inclusive and accountable. Privileged interests are unlikely to change through a purely technocratic approach to DRM.
As Maya Forstater of the Center for Global Development states in the Tax and Development: New Frontiers of Research and Action brief, “The main enabler [to increasing DRM] is political commitment strong enough to overcome vested interests among taxpayers, politicians, and tax administrators themselves.”
That’s where citizen engagement can play a key role – supported by donors when and where it’s appropriate.
In the journal Public Administration and Development, economist Odd-Helge Fjeldstad states, “Donors should complement the traditional ‘technical’ approach to tax reform with measures that encourage constructive engagement between governments and citizens over tax issues.”
This isn’t always reflected in DRM technical assistance.
As Fjeldstad states, “Although donors and tax practitioners seem to acknowledge the importance of these issues, they have yet to be translated into a clear-cut governance-focused tax reform agenda in practice.”
This is partly due to the lack of empirical research on the impact of civil society on DRM. But while this research base is nascent, there are examples of citizen engagement being a driving force behind effective DRM.
Cases from the field
Chile has one of the most effective tax systems in Latin America, due in part to the broad societal engagement that occurred during its transition from dictatorship to democracy during the 1990s.
In the report, Taxation and State Building: Towards a Governance Focused Tax Reform Agenda, Wilson Prichard states that while this in part due to technocratic reform, “Many dramatic improvements in the Chilean tax system can be traced to…when representatives from across the political spectrum came together [to establish]…an inclusive fiscal pact.”
There are also examples in Africa of how citizen engagement played a decisive role in tax policy.
In Ghana during the mid-1990s, a government proposal to introduce a value added tax (VAT) without public consultation was met by massive public protest and, “The government was forced to quickly repeal the tax…The protests were sufficiently large and unexpected to fundamentally shake government confidence, leading it to significantly expand the inclusiveness of its governing style.” Prichard states that the protests, “Succeeded in bringing together political elites, businesses and small taxpayers in making shared demands on government.”
Citizens and civil society can also enhance tax administration in smaller, less dramatic ways, for example by collaborating with revenue authorities to collect taxes. In Guinea, market traders’ associations’ helped to monitor and enforce payment of market taxes in return for government investments in improved market facilities. This community monitoring approach, “contributed to dramatic improvements in both revenue yields and public service delivery.”
In spite of these examples that societal engagement enhances DRM efforts, more evidence is needed.
Fortunately, the role of civil society in DRM is generating increasing dialogue among analysts and advocates. In Stockholm, tax for development discussions will include a focus on the role that civil society plays in tax capacity building.
For our part, as Save the Children launches its tax policy citizen engagement project in Kenya, we aim to be both a consumer and producer of evidence on how citizens can shape DRM in the developing world to better serve the needs of societies’ most vulnerable citizens.