Accelerating SPARK during COVID-19

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SPARK (Strengthening Public Accountability for Results and Knowledge) is an ambitious and innovative global program to arm marginalized groups and activists with the tools necessary to engage in budget processes and affect transformational change in their lives. In Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa, we are partnering with large, powerful civic organizations and social movements and equipping them with the tools necessary to engage government on the fiscal reasons underlying the service delivery gaps faced by their communities.

As governments around the world acted swiftly to shift public resources to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, our SPARK partners reacted quickly to protect spending allocations for critical sectors as well as advocate for expanded COVID-19-related relief for vulnerable populations whose lives and livelihoods were devastated by the pandemic.

Download the brochure for a deep dive into our work during COVID-19.

SPARK’s COVID-19 responses and pivots consisted of opportunistic and strategic interventions focused on data gathering, advocacy and collective action to ensure that communities we are working with were not left behind by COVID-19 fiscal policies.

Indonesia: Employing New Tools to Unlock Participation and Services

With the government expanding and fast-tracking access to existing social protection schemes due to COVID-19, the Indonesian People’s Struggle Union (SPRI) scaled up their efforts to generate COVID-19 impact and eligibility data from low income households in Jakarta. Unable to gather in person, SPRI used a new phone app to collect data and engage policymakers at the provincial and national levels about the insufficient allocations and list of beneficiaries for these programs. SPRI also established 35 community information centers to collect and lodge complaints from citizens excluded from social assistance.

Nigeria: Taking Control of Shifting Narratives around Food Security

Unable to mobilize its powerful base in person, the Small-Scale Women Farmers Organization of Nigeria (SWOFON) began working with local media to shape narratives around the relationship between agriculture, economic recovery and food security. The media has now become powerful partners to amplify the needs of women farmers that has led the government to include SWOFON members in various COVID-19 relief packages.

Getting Results

  • 3,000 households previously excluded from social protection programs added to the list of beneficiaries
  • 4,000 SPRI members received COVID-19 food aid packages
  • SPRI filed 445 community complaint reports about zero credit food allowances leading to the government discovering and fixing the same problem for 26,425 beneficiaries.
  • The government expanded COVID-19 food assistance until December 2020, allocating an additional US $4 million
  • The Government acknowledged systemic problems in the social assistance programs – asked SPRI and other civic groups for feedback and recommendations
  • Indonesia’s Anti-Corruption Commission and the Ombudsman are actively supporting SPRI’s efforts to monitor the government response to the social audit results. They are helping to follow up with government on SPRI’s recommendations.
  • SWOFON helped prevent a massive cut in the revised 2020 agriculture budget; contributed to the creation of new budget lines on issues of interest to women farmers; and a special fund to write off interest on agriculture loans impacted by COVID-19
  • Hundreds of SWOFON members received COVID-19 relief packages
    • In the Federal Capital Territory, each SWOFON Cooperative Society in the Federal Capital Territory received 2 bags of fertilizers each
    • In Jigawa State, the Governor’s wife gave 20 cartons of water pumps to SWOFON to support dry irrigation farming during COVID-19
    • In Kaduna state, 20 farmer kits for maize farmers distributed and 5 tons of rice seeds for rice farmers.
  • States allocated subsidized fertilizers, improved seeds, and gender inclusive farming equipment to SWOFON members

Senegal: Elevating the Needs of People with Disabilities

In Senegal, SPARK works with the National Federation of People with Disabilities (FSAPH) — 800,000 members — to help people with disabilities (PWDs) access government entitlements, while further mainstreaming the needs of PWDs in national budget policies. At the onset of the pandemic, PWDs were excluded from not only the list of beneficiaries for COVID-19 relief, but also the decision-making spaces for pandemic response. FSAPH representatives pushed to join a governmental body overseeing COVID-19 funds management, while stepping up efforts to generate evidence on potential beneficiaries. SPARK also sustained an increased presence in the media and leveraged support from allies in the national assembly.

South Africa: Channeling the Health Crisis to Mobilize the Masses

In the face of the growing COVID-19 crisis in crowded informal settlements in South Africa, IBP and our partners mobilized hundreds of residents from over 200 informal settlements to hold government accountable for improved water and sanitation services. The Asivikelane (“Let’s protect one another” in Zulu) campaign tracks the status of water taps, toilets, refuse removal and other related services through quick response surveys to bring problem areas to the attention of relevant city agencies.

Getting Results

  • 55,000 PWDs were included in COVID-19 relief packages (including food aid and utility payments)
  • FSAPH women members were awarded food and health packages by the Ministry of Women and Family Affairs
  • PWDs who are artists can now benefit from the “culture fund” dedicated to support people working in the cultural sector
  • The President ordered an evaluation of the Social Guidance Act, which was intended to promote affirmative action for PWDs, but continues to be poorly implemented
  • Water improved in 30 settlements for 400,000 people
  • Sanitation improved in 36 settlements for 500,000 people
  • Refuse removal improved in 18 settlements for 250,000 people
  • Weekly meetings with municipalities about results
  • Support from Auditor General, National Treasury & Department of Human Settlements

What we've learned during the crisis

The COVID-19 crisis has validated SPARK’s approach to working with large, broad-based civic organizations and social movements which are able to exert positive pressure on governments in ways that other, more professionalized civil society or technical specialists cannot. It is with this in mind that SPARK aims to channel the political influence of these organizations and movements to achieve broader reforms in budget processes and outcomes.

In most SPARK countries, COVID-19 has brought about increased alignment between governments’ incentives and our focus issues, leading to more more responsiveness to communities’ priorities and faster service delivery improvements. This will likely benefit our partners long after the pandemic ends, as they’re credible and valuable partners to government on matters related to service delivery in vulnerable communities.

We are now seeing regular and significant responses from governments to the priorities of the communities where SPARK is working. Examples of this include government inviting representatives into official monitoring structures (National Federation of People with Disabilities in Senegal), using agency reports to hold officials accountable in government meetings (the Asivikelane campaign in South Africa) and soliciting formal input into policy dialogues (Small-Scale Women Farmers Organization of Nigeria, Indonesia Traditional Fisherfolks Union and Peasant Famers Association of Ghana).

We realized how important it is to partner with media to advance efforts to influence and shape narratives around key constituencies and service delivery. COVID-19 pushed our partners into using multiple communication and engagement channels and to partner more actively with investigative journalists. Additionally, using different types of media has helped break down barriers to public participation – in some cases dislodging norms and hierarchies around interacting with government officials.

During the COVID-19 crisis, some of our very grassroots, volunteer-based partners representing highly marginalized groups were overwhelmed by more immediate needs in the communities they serve and had to put its SPARK strategies on hold to provide emergency food, shelter, transportation and other basic necessities to save lives. How quickly a partner is able to refocus on the SPARK strategy will depend on the level of professionalization in its networks.