Traditional, top-down governance systems are increasingly challenged by more collective, consensus-oriented approaches. This means that we’re seeing more non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working actively in consortium with local governments or launching community engagement projects themselves to increase civic participation.
This uptick in organizational involvement has resulted in the creation of several frameworks for non-governmental community engagement, including UNICEF’s guide on quality standards for community engagement and the World Bank’s strategic framework for citizen engagement. We know that effective community engagement efforts take everyone to succeed, and in some cases NGO involvement can help increase participation if community members trust or feel more connected with these non-governmental actors.
The unique value-add of organizations
Often, non-governmental organizations are able to engage and collaborate with different stakeholders across sectors, serve as a more neutral party to bring together community members, and can help with monitoring and evaluating projects to improve future efforts. And while NGOs and local governments often run engagement activities across the same themes, like housing or mobility, NGOs’ operating procedures and perceived neutrality enable them to:
- Utilize existing community trust to collect data and build an evidence base.
- Serve as trusted leaders to create buy-in for projects run by either government or organizations.
- Make the case for policies and programs that local governments can build onto.
- Shift the narrative on community engagement to pave the way for more positive associations and increase participation.
What it looks like in practice
Here are 3 examples of the ways that we’ve worked together with non-governmental organizations to create social impact across the world:
1. Amnesty International Australia
Amnesty Australia’s “Write the Future” platform was launched to rethink the organization’s structure, processes, and sustainability with a focus on their people-powered model. With a goal of identifying the human rights impact they wanted to have in the future, they set out to engage their community through a strategy consultation to identify a bold and inspiring vision for their mission. “The strategy that we end up with at the end of this consultation process will only be as good as the energy, investment, and engagement that has gone into it – so we absolutely want to hear from you! Your voice is critical, and you are the heart of our movement,” said Sam Klintworth, National Director of Amnesty International Australia, on the platform’s welcome video. While the initiative was paused by the pandemic, COVID-19 enabled them to think more creatively about growing digital activism, and they relaunched with hybrid engagement methods including the platform, webinars, and smaller regional events to define the future of activism, build the power of activists and supporters, and provide a space for staff to also voice their priorities and needs.
2. UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean
To mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean launched their community engagement platform to get community input as they analyzed the region’s progress on the advancement of the rights of girls and adolescents. Over 3,000 young people registered on the platform and engaged in conversations on topics like ‘What if?’, a section meant to inspire girls to share their hopes, dreams, and wishes for the future. Some of the topics that the girls of Latin America and the Caribbean identified as priorities included an end to violence and discrimination, climate justice, sexual education, and representation. Their comments, votes, and voices will be used to inform decisions at a regional, national, and institutional level. For more information about the ongoing process and results of the project, visit UNICEF’s official project page (available in English and Spanish).
3. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Belgium
Breaking complex issues down into actionable steps that anyone can take is the key to social change. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Belgium understood that when they launched their community engagement platform to encourage everyone to think of themselves as changemakers. Their platform focused on one specific initiative – the WWF Youth Awards – which gives every young person or group of young people between the age of 16-25 the opportunity to present a changemaker project on the topics of climate and biodiversity. The six projects with the most votes will win prizes ranging from coaching to a monetary award to encourage young people’s activism on climate issues.
There are so many opportunities for non-governmental organizations to encourage community engagement. By working together, across public and private organizations, we can exponentially increase the social impact of civic participation.