IBON International’s Statement on the Swedish Government’s decision to terminate partnership with civil society

You are currently viewing IBON International’s Statement on the Swedish Government’s decision to terminate partnership with civil society
  • Post author:
  • Post category:Views

IBON International, a Southern civil society organisation, regrets the decision of the Swedish government to unilaterally terminate the partnership of its international development cooperation wing the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) with its strategic partner organisations (SPOs) at the end of this year. The decision not only affects the Swedish NGO community but also, critically, the Southern grassroots constituencies working with their Swedish counterparts. It represents a backpedalling of Sweden’s commitment to the principles of effective development cooperation and progressive internationalism.

On March 15, 2024 Sida announced the termination of multi-year partnerships with SPOs, involving billions of contracts for projects, majority of which support initiatives of thousands of organisations in middle and low-income countries that address pertinent development challenges such as poverty, economic and social inequalities, closing civic space, human rights, climate crisis, among many others. Instead, Sida, as part of its new official aid policy, will put in place a funding model by 2025 where non-Swedish CSOs can also compete for the same funding, but now based on the government’s new aid policy priority of promoting Swedish business and trade.

While we welcome the declared intention of directly partnering with developing country CSOs, how this decision has been opaquely and hastily undertaken is problematic, impeding Swedish CSOs and their Southern partners’ ability to prepare and strategise on the policy change. This also impacts the predictability of resources for Southern CSOs working with and advocating for grassroots communities. At the minimum, there should be a sufficient transition period where all concerned are adequately consulted and prepared.

Broadening funding access seems reasonable, but the competitive frame of partnership selection risks the fund being cornered by big international CSOs that have the resources and technical expertise to participate in cutthroat proposal bids and demonstrate capacity to manage multi-year projects. In many developing country contexts, the challenge is amplified by restrictive NGO laws. Swedish CSOs fill in this capacity gap by helping Southern CSOs access funds and implement projects in a manner that respects democratic ownership and promotes people-to-people solidarity. This nuance unfortunately is erased in Sweden’s new CSO engagement strategy.

The decision also puts into question Sweden’s commitment to the principle of democratic ownership of development priorities by developing countries. Tying development cooperation policy to the promotion of business interests further relegates us to an era where global North countries weaponise aid as a means to retain neocolonial grip over developing countries and exploit profit opportunities that benefit global North countries more. This is a path that Sweden should veer from as it reinforces the paternalistic relationship between donor and recipient countries and upends the framing of aid as historical commitment and reparations, not charity, for the South.

Lastly, the decision risks wasting, not only the resources, but also the efforts of SPOs’ implementing organisations, including IBON International’s and our project partners’. Many of us are in the middle of conducting activities that benefit grassroot communities, inspire local innovation and practices for sustainable consumption and production, and facilitate peoples’ participation in national and global governance institutions. Our constituencies – women, Indigenous Peoples, small and landless farmers’ advocates, workers, urban poor, and fisherfolk – are left uncertain if they will be able to continue their work and receive support for the local and regional campaigns and advocacy that they have already started.

We call on the Swedish government to rethink its new aid policy and civil society engagement strategy. As the standing co-chair of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, Sweden has the obligation to demonstrate its political leadership in upholding, promoting, and realising effective development cooperation principles.

We express our utmost solidarity to all Swedish CSOs in these uncertain times, and we are with you in fighting for our due space in governance as independent development actors. #