Devin O’Shaughnessy, Director of Programmes
In some international development circles, the term “regional programme” carries with it a certain stigma.
“Expensive…too many international flights…no national impact…unsustainable” are just some of the criticisms lodged against regional programmes. Moreover, the tendency among most major donor agencies to devolve decision-making powers to embassy level leads to minimal demand for regional programmes, as what embassy wants to dilute their resources for the sake of other countries?
As a recipient of a global grant from FCO and DFID, WFD is in the privileged position to be able to design and deliver regional programmes that otherwise would be difficult to find funding for from the donor community. This has allowed us to deliver a series of unique programmes in the Western Balkans, Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and Africa that are driving significant political reforms in financial oversight, women’s rights, and parliamentary and political party effectiveness.
For over two decades, WFD has been facilitating exchanges between the UK and partner countries in order the share the best of the British experience in political party and parliamentary practice. In recent years, we came to realise that we could enhance our approach by supporting exchanges among our partners through regional programmes and not just between the UK and the rest of the world.
At first, our decision was based on the recognition that the UK’s systems and practices might not be as relevant to our beneficiaries as good practices from their own region, where history, language, political systems, and resources were often more similar than to the UK. However, over the years we have increasingly recognised that as relationships deepen among our partner parties and parliaments, a form of “positive peer pressure” begins to develop, whereby our partners compete to see who can make the most progress on its reform goals.
(Above: From top: Tha’era: Arab Women’s Network for Parity and Solidarity, Regional meeting on SDGs hosted with GOPAC in Asia, Network of Parliamentary Committees from the Western Balkans)
The UK’s Liberal Democrat Party, through its support to the Africa Liberal Network, was able to secure human rights commitments – including prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation – among more than 40 political parties across the continent, a result that would have been impossible working only at the national level. The Labour Party’s Women’s Academy for Africa (WAFA), a network of eleven Labour, Socialist, and Social Democratic parties from nine countries, is promoting gender equality, empowerment and political advancement of women in Africa, with more established members supporting newer parties through trust-based relationships and ideological connection. The Conservative Party, Green Party, and Scottish National Party are increasingly investing in this model as well.
Meanwhile, regional parliamentary programmes in the Western Balkans and MENA are bringing together members of parliament (MPs) with mutual interests in financial oversight and combatting violence against women, respectively. In 2015 WFD collaborated with the Serbian Parliament – with technical expertise from the Scottish Parliament – to establish the country’s first parliamentary budget office (PBO), which WFD hoped would inspire other parliaments in the region to consider establishing similar bodies. Soon after, WFD began working with the Montenegrin Parliament to establish a PBO, and WFD is now in similar discussions with the Kosovo Parliament.
WFD has supported the Arab Women MP Coalition Against Violence since its founding in 2014, helping establish chapters across MENA to advocate at both regional and national levels to combat violence against women and girls. With the support of FCO’s Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy, over 250 MPs from 11 Arab Parliaments have provided each other moral and technical support in developing national legislation, with notable improvements made in domestic legislation in Lebanon, and new draft laws on domestic violence in development in Tunisia, Iraq, and Morocco. The Coalition is also working closely with Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union (AIPU) to develop a regional convention on violence against women and girls; with WFD’s support, the Coalition was recently granted official observer status by the AIPU.
In short, we believe regional programmes can deliver results in ways that other programmes cannot, and that WFD and the UK parties will continue to explore the potential of regional programmes to catalyse widespread political and governance reform.