- Focus areas of our work
- How we work
- Countries we work in
- Examples and results
- The organisation
Building local democracy
ActionAid Denmark supports building local democracy programmes that empower poor people so that they do not get a raw deal. This takes place through awareness-raising, organisation and by promoting greater accountability in local governments.
When the school is not built
Poor people’s schooling may suffer due to lack of influence. In north-western Uganda, a group of inhabitants know this from experience. For months, they would pass by the building site, where Mundrugoro Primary School was to be erected. However, the building work was going nowhere, until the NGO network Kocisonet – supported by MS – helped them prepare an official complaint.
In the struggle against poverty, it makes a big difference how the local authorities work and how resources are distributed, for instance in health, education, water and roads. In many places, municipal self-government remains in the early stages of development, and it is far from taken for granted that civil servants and politicians feel obliged to be accountable to citizens. Budgets and plans need to become more transparent, and in many countries, power is so centralised that funds fail to reach the local level, even when government legislation provides funding for municipal self-government.
Popular budgets in Honduras
The mayor of Opalaca in Honduras had no plans to consult with citizens on local development priorities. That changed with the help of a partner organisation ADROH supported by MS. After a participatory process, the citizens decided to prioritise improved coffee production and better roads. Working with government, citizen groups established “popular budgets”.
“In effect popular budgets mean that we’re consulted about what the municipality’s money is spent on”, says Carlos Lorenzo from Opalaca.
The poor are hit the hardest
It is the poor and marginalised who are hit the hardest, if they fail to get services to which they are entitled. Poor people cannot afford to seek private assistance. If the system lets them down, in practice they are barred from, for example, education, health, water and sanitation. Conversely, the poor are the first to perceive an immediate improvement, when local authorities provide required services.
This is why MS has decided to focus on building local democracy programmes and to ensuring influence for the poor and marginalised. We do this because political influence in the local political arena is a crucial precondition for changing one’s own living conditions and overcoming poverty.
How MS supports building local democracy
In all countries where MS supports long-term development, we work alongside local partner organisations to build local democracy. This is a political process which both requires citizens to seek influence and local governments to be attentive to local voices. Accordingly, we work with civic education and awareness-raising, and to promote greater transparency and accountability in the work of local authorities.
Civic education and organisational strengthening
We support civic education, providing information on the rights and services to which people are entitled. We assist in the training of citizens’ groups and organisations, in order to improve their ability to analyse their situation, make sense of budgets, organise themselves, champion their own cause, and make sure the municipality is complying with its obligations in relation to existing national and local legislation. We also work to strengthen an organisation's capacity for strategic planning and its ability to mobilise and create change through action.
Transparency and accountability of local governments
Through our partner organisations, we work for a transparent and accountable political culture based on values such as justice, equality, respect, with space for civil-society participation. Moreover we work to enhance the knowledge of the poor and marginalised to shift the power relations in terms of municipal budgets, priorities and services. We do not directly support local authorities or deliver services, but focus on capacity building of civil society organisations.
Participation and political awareness-raising
Local democracy is about participation and political awareness-raising, about dignity and vigilance, about believing in one’s own abilities and values. It is about poor people gathering courage and strength to challenge those in power, to contest discrimination and political exclusion, and changing existing hierarchies through joint action. Moreover, active participation and challenges from citizens’ groups are important to keep the local authorities on track, ensuring that laws and rights are enforced and embedded in practice. Local democracy benefits from a dynamic civil society, and just as importantly, from such citizen groups working alongside the local government to solve problems and perform tasks.
Learn moreGovernance and Democracy - Thematic Programme Concept Paper (pdf)
Building Local Democracy - Thematic Programme Concept Paper (pdf)