On human capital, money and the vital role of social accountability

Jeff Thindwa, Program Manager, GPSA

The GPSA Global Partners Forum held in Washington DC in November was a great opportunity to reflect on a fundamental question for the international development community: how can social accountability help countries invest more and better in human capital? The focus was on public finance, where social accountability practices can strengthen transparency and accountability of budgets and improve spending. 

The launch of the Human Capital Index by the World Bank Group during the Annual Meetings in Bali last October provided the impetus for debating that important question. The fact is, the Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA) and major civil society organizations have for many years been supporting important efforts across a range of human capital themes --such as education, health, and social protection-- to secure greater and better investments in human capital. 

At the GPSA Partners Forum 2018, for example, we learned how citizens are working together with Nepal’s Office of the Auditor General to strengthen performance audit of key sectors, thus improving the delivery of essential services.

We also learned, from Vivek Ramkumar of the International Budget Partnership, about research showing that the best way to manage public funds is to make its processes transparent and open to robust oversight. Citizen engagement and public participation are therefore important in the budget process as evidence points to real impact on the allocation of public money. Citizen feedback can guide governments to allocate their limited financial resources in areas of highest need while citizen monitoring of fund flows can help ensure that public funds are spent more efficiently.

Research also shows that although there have been improvements in fiscal transparency, much more needs to be done in terms of citizen participation related to public budgets, including closer scrutiny of budget execution.  


Powerful coalitions

In this context, powerful coalitions between citizens, civil society, and governments can bring transformative, sustainable change and fiscal transparency for better allocation of public funds to advance human capital goals in developing countries. And the GPSA, housed at the World Bank, is well equipped to support these coalitions strategically especially in integrating social accountability. 

Moreover, our projects on education, health, and social protection already represent a majority of the GPSA’s project portfolio, which positions the program to build on the lessons learned to support human capital priorities. Indeed, there is much scope for integrating this in our preparations for the next round of GSPA calls for proposals.

An important contribution of the GPSA is through learning. The GPSA’s knowledge platform, which has over 4000 members from more than 50 countries, is recognized as an effective mechanism for facilitating learning amongst local, national, regional and global actors.  

The GPSA Partners Forum is itself a major learning and networking event. This annual three-day gathering of representatives from civil society, academia, governments, private sector and multilateral agencies takes stock of social accountability practices, reflects on the determinants of success and failure. It aims to foster better understanding of the new opportunities, challenges and frontier topics for social accountability around the world. 

Furthermore, the GPSA partners use a “collaborative social accountability” approach, through which citizens and civil society organizations collaborate with public authorities to solve governance problems - especially those that constrain the effectiveness of service delivery to citizens – all in a framework of accountability relationships.

Another important pillar of the GPSA is its partnership with the World Bank’s Global Practices’ sector teams to improve accountability and performance of operations across a variety of sectors.  We are now exploring ways of working more closely with the Human Capital Project so that we can better support critical and potentially greater investments in education, health, and social protection. This new partnership with the HCP could also enable social accountability approaches to support country engagements to advance the human capital goals.

Finally, it is important to remember that an enduring strength of the GPSA is its vast network of more than 300 partners from around the world. We are cognizant that reaching the ambitious human capital goals, or any other development goals, cannot be the effort of any single actor, but together we can succeed.

The positive and constructive atmosphere at the GPSA Partners Forum 2018 is a great signal of the willingness and interest of social accountability actors to advance the human capital goals.  So, we can count on and trust our alliance to be more united and stronger than ever to advance the human capital agenda. 

The 2018 Forum was the first step in the right direction to build civil society and public support for the human capital project, while engaging governments and advocating more and better investments in human capital. 

The Partners Forum was also a resounding affirmation of the vital role of social accountability in public finance - an area of increasing importance for helping countries meet their development goals.