The program that gave birth and supported education civil society movements worldwide

In the 2000s, the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) decided to replicate its successful model of bringing civil society organisations together. But this time it was at the national, regional, and global level, gradually giving rise to the Civil Society Education Fund, funded with US$70.3 million by the Global Partnership for Education.

The CSEF was anchored in the belief that alliances and coalitions have the power to bring about change. For 10 years, the CSEF was a unique and ambitious global programme that supported citizen engagement in education sector policy, planning, budgeting and monitoring.

It has also helped civil society organisations come together to build diverse national coalitions – and hold their governments to account for commitments to education. GCE went from supporting 44 coalitions in 2009 to 63 coalitions worldwide by 2019.

The early years: GCE and the World Education Forum 2000

The history of the CSEF is not complete without credit to the movers and shakers of civil society who convened in 1999 to organize civil society in education. These included representatives from international NGOs, particularly ActionAid, Oxfam International, Education International and the Global March Against Child Labour, who came together to form the Global Campaign for Education (GCE).

GCE was quickly recognised as the legitimate representative of the 300 NGOs that assembled in Dakar in the build-up to the World Education Forum in 2000 and “became the de facto representative of the NGO position” in the Education for All – Fast Track Initiative (EFA-FTI, former name of GPE) and other external policy spaces.

The work of GCE focused on establishing national education networks, with an aim to secure global education financing commitments, reconfirm the status and importance of teachers for achieving Education For All (EFA) goals and protect children’s rights.

2002-2010: The Commonwealth Education Fund (CEF) and the Real World Strategies project

Early features of the CSEF can be traced back to The Commonwealth Education Fund (CEF). As an education advocacy project funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) and jointly managed by ActionAid, Oxfam GB and Save the Children UK, it sought to strengthen broad-based and democratically-run national education coalitions to influence national-level policy and get all excluded children, particularly girls, into public school.

In parallel, in 2005, GCE, the Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education (ASPBAE) and the African Campaign Network for Education for All (ANCEFA) presented the Real World Strategies project (RWS II) to the Netherlands government. This was a 3 year-long campaign, in 52 countries across 3 continents, which focused on increasing civil society participation in social dialogue. It brought ordinary citizens to the decisions table to hold their governments accountable to the Dakar Framework for Action.

Both programmes started to develop the main features of the future CSEF: strengthening global, regional and national networks and unifying education actors in coalitions to get education issues on top of governments’ national priorities.

2009 – 2012: Phase I – The birth and initial roll-out of CSEF

In 2008, aid efficiency discussions were high on the agenda. EFA-FTI had promised ‘No countries seriously committed to Education for All will be thwarted in their achievement of this goal by a lack of resources.’

To find funding for national coalitions to engage in policy dialogue around EFA, GCE submitted a proposal to the Education Programme Development Fund (EPDF) Committee of the Education for All – Fast Track Initiative to support national education coalitions (NECs) in 45 partner countries across Asia and the Pacific, Africa and Latin America. These broad-based alliances of civil society would include local and national NGOs, teacher unions, parents’ groups, community-based organisations, faith groups and many others who came together with the common interest of advancing education for all in their country.

The CSEF US$17.6 million project was approved for two years in December 2008 by the EPDF Committee of the Education for All Fast Track Initiative. The Global Campaign for Education was the hosting agency, and a three-person Secretariat was recruited to oversee the three regional Civil Society Education Funds to be established in Africa, Asia and Latin America. These regional funds aimed at supporting national civil society coalitions in 51 countries, enabling them to assume an active role in the FTI and other education policy processes. The architecture of the CSEF established a system of checks-and-balances between the international donors, the hosting agency and the national coalitions. Among other measures, the establishment of an independent funding committee in each region to deliberate on the quality of projects and funding allocation responded to this rationale. In addition, three financial management agencies were identified (Oxfam GB in Africa, Education International in Asia, ActionAid in Latin America) to ensure sound financial management.

The CSEF needed to be flexible enough to adapt to the variety of local realities in the target countries, and the trajectory, capacities and strategies of the coalitions that were engaging with the programme.

CSEF I proved to be a unique experience for CSOs committed to education advocacy at multiple levels. The reach of funds enabled GCE and its partners to strengthen the capacities of 45 national coalitions, an extraordinary achievement in just three years, despite serious external constraints. According to the CSEF Independent Evaluation report, the CSEF ‘…has been able to articulate, capacitate and empower a range of civil society networks advocating quality education all around the world…’

2013-2015: CSEF Phase II – A full-fledged programme with ambitious goals

Four important recommendations[1] were made by the independent evaluation of CSEF I, which would indicate clear guidelines for the design of CSEF II, the follow up programme submitted to GPE. They were articulated around four needs:

  • a more explicit organisational gender approach;
  • more agile tools so that monitoring and evaluation become a tool for internal learning, reflection and acceleration of positive change, instead of being seen as a burden;
  • to take advantage of being a global network to play a more active support at promoting cross-fertilisation of experiences and South-South collaboration;
  • a supervisory entity that wants and can play the supervising role in a proactive manner.

With these recommendations in mind, a revamped CSEF II started at the beginning of 2013 with the three-tier character (global, regional, and national structure) of the programme remaining unchanged. The total grant amount for CSEF II was $19.5 million from April 2013 to the end of 2015, which funded and supported 51 national civil society coalitions. Its objectives were “to contribute to the achievement of national education goals and Education for All by ensuring the effective participation of civil society organisations and citizens in education debates and sector planning and review.” [2] A decision was made to have a Supervising Entity (SE) external to the World Bank structures for Phase II, and therefore, UNESCO was approached at the end of 2012.

CSEF II was also supported by the German BACKUP Initiative – Education in Africa for activities in Africa, and the government of Spain (AECID) for non-GPE partner countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The AECID funds were managed directly by the Latin American Campaign for the Right to Education (CLADE), as part of a unified CSEF programme in the region.

The 2015 independent evaluation of CSEF stated that:

“The CSEF programme has demonstrated a considerable level of effectiveness in strengthening civil society participation in education sector policy development, implementation and monitoring, and coalitions are increasingly recognised by their respective governments for their credibility, demonstrated capacity, and effectiveness in contributing to evidence-based advocacy.”

Data collected and analysed point to the finding that supporting research with capacity building and financial resources is one of the major contributions of the CSEF programme. Supporting coalitions to undertake or to support research has been a key tool that has provided coalitions with a way to bring substantive contributions into the policy arena.”

2015-2019: CSEF Phase III – The last installment

In the course of 2015, GCE went through a rigorous assessment process in order to obtain eligibility status as grant manager for a new CSEF III programme. The CSEF III phase was approved by GPE in October 2015 for initially three years from 2016 to 2018 for an amount of $28.8 million. The programme was later agreed to be extended until the end of 2019 as a transitional period until GPE’s new Education Out Loud became operational. With the approved extension period, the total funding for phase 3 came to $33.2 million.

The approval included a revised results framework with agreed indicators inbuilt into an online MEL platform which was implemented in 2016 and a dedicated internal audit facility built into the GCE management architecture. One major change was the clear obligation for all CSEF grantees to link their work to GPE Strategic Objectives which included the full SDG4 agenda. The CSEF programme as a whole was set up to reinforce the proposed objectives of GPE’s Strategic Plan, especially Strategic Objective 3 on effective and inclusive policy dialogue, Strategic Objective 2 on strengthening planning and policy implementation, and GPE Strategic Objective 4 which emphasizes on partnership building.

Through the programme, coalitions were supported to carry out advocacy-oriented research and public awareness campaigning, and to share knowledge and learning within and across regions, in order to coordinate messaging, learn best practices and improve political competencies relating to GPE and SDG 4 processes.

The CSEF III programme was further expanded to support diverse civil society coalitions across 63 countries with specific objectives to be better informed, and effectively engage in education-related policy planning, budget formulation, monitoring and review as well as high-level policy debates at community, local and national levels.

As the project just ended, a full external evaluation is currently being carried out.

Moving forward

The CSEF programme, brain child of the Global Campaign for Education, has come a long way and sustainably changed civil society’s education advocacy work at national, regional and global levels.

Some of the high-level outcomes of CSEF (to be confirmed in the final evaluation) are:

  • Coalitions built their capacity and have strengthened their skills and capacities for (technical) advocacy work.
  • They have a broader understanding of SDG 4 and have increased their skills in budget tracking and monitoring.
  • Coalitions and their members have strengthened their ability to attract funds, diversify their resource mobilisation and to be financially sustainable by promoting national civil society support funds.
  • CSEF has helped coalitions improve and increase internal communications across members and regions, such as with WhatsApp or telegram chat, to disseminate information or provide feedback from state/regional members through platforms (events) for sharing across thematic and regional groups
  • The diversity and inclusiveness of coalitions were strengthened through the addition of new members such as youth groups, women’s groups, groups representing regional areas, and groups representing marginalised and minority groups.
  • Coalitions have earned greater recognition by governments as an important civil society stakeholder in policy and lawmaking processes; including via formal links with parliament and portfolio committees.
  • Some 90% of coalitions participate in and can influence local education groups or other consultative national bodies.
  • The coalitions’ advocacy activities exhort policy makers to prioritise global objectives and commit additional funding for education in the public agenda in response to civil society advocacy.
  • Examples of policy changes include: ECD curriculum, framework for girls’ inclusion in education, contract teacher management, right for basic free education, gender responsive curriculum, teacher professional development, prohibition of corporal punishment, and recognition of minority languages.
  • Coalitions engage in actions around education in emergencies and are engaged with planning, coordinating and monitoring education services in emergencies.
  • Coalitions have used and disseminated research that identifies education research and analysis to gaps to raise awareness of key issues and inform decision making.
  • Coalitions engage in campaigns around child safety and corporal punishment, role of private actors in education provision, language of instruction.
  • Coalitions successfully raise awareness on equity and inclusion issues, increase empowerment of marginalised groups (girls, out-of-school children, pastoralist children, people with disabilities, illiterate adults).
  • Coalitions have increased their research capacities, reputation for and capacity in high quality research. They have strengthened engagement with academia and partnerships with academic institutions.

In line with GCE’s views and the GPE’s initial efforts to enable civil society as a key partner in policy decision-making almost ten years ago, GPE’s new advocacy support tool, Education Out Loud, will introduce a fresh and revised approach to civil society funding. The new framework of Education Out Loud allows for more actors to form alliances and partner at all levels, which is an encouraging step to increase the vibrancy of civil society, and a welcome initiative to overcome the many challenges to achieving SDG 4 by 2030.

The CSEF programme has come to an end, but its legacy will remain. The impacts of more than 10 years of support from GPE and other donors to the CSEF programme will continue to present themselves in the professionalism and perseverance of national and regional coalitions. The CSEF contributed towards creating a strong and unified global education movement, continuing the fight together for the right to education for all.

[1] All four recommendations quoted verbatim from CSEF Evaluation Report November 2012, pp 96-101

[2] Programme document, May 2013


Wolfgang Leumer, Head of the CSEF Program, GCE

Leave a Reply