Introducing our new Inclusive Governance Strategy

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The Hewlett Foundation has provided support for Transparency, Participation, and Accountability (TPA) since it launched a Global Development Program in 2005. During the first decade, our grantmaking focused on promoting open government and advancing global transparency norms. Over the past five years, we shifted emphasis to promote the use of government information by the public. In late 2020, we launched a strategy refresh to define our priorities for the next five years, which included an evaluation of the last five years of our TPA work and an external scan of the broader landscape. Last August, we described in greater detail the lessons we learned from the evaluation and landscape scan, and how they informed our decision to narrow our focus to three main outcomes in six priority countries.

New goal and strategy name

We celebrate the significant progress achieved by partner organizations over the past 20 years to make government information more accessible and provide new mechanisms for residents to engage with their governments. Thanks to their work, residents in a growing list of countries can access budgets, expenditures, contracts, audit reports, and other information from their governments. For instance, the governments of Mexico, Brazil, Ghana, and Kenya have implemented midyear budget reviews and increased citizen input into the budget process to improve their scores on the Open Budget Survey. In Colombia, Nigeria, and the Dominican Republic, governments have reformed their procurement practices to make contracting more transparent, inclusive, and accountable. Member countries of the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative have committed to disclosing standardized information about the extractive sector, including gender-disaggregated data to better understand the different experiences of men and women.

However, while more information is available and citizens have new channels to seek responses from their governments, marginalized communities remain underserved. Even as governments become more open and participatory, they don’t necessarily become more inclusive and accountable. Paradoxically, as information has become more accessible and government officials more reachable, democratic institutions and human rights defenders are increasingly under attack. “In every region of the world,” begins a Freedom House report, “democracy is under attack by populist leaders and groups that reject pluralism and demand unchecked power to advance the particular interests of their supporters, usually at the expense of minorities and other perceived foes.”

In light of what we learned from our evaluation and the evolving political context, our refreshed strategy will focus on overcoming the elite capture of public resources. As the Ghanaian scholar E. Gyimah-Boadi writes, “…in many countries, what has been delivered is not democracy but a political system that looks democratic from the outside but operates on the basis of a very different logic. This has often been described in terms of the problem that corruption poses to effective government. In reality, corruption is a symptom rather than the cause of the problems facing many African democracies today … Democracy capture occurs when a few individuals or section of a supposedly democratic polity are able to systematically appropriate to themselves the institutions and processes as well as dividends of democratic governance.”

We developed a new strategic goal centered on empowering those whose voices have not been heard because of elite capture. Our new goal is: “To promote the efforts of underserved populations — especially women and youth — to exercise power so as to make government more responsive to their needs.” Two words, in particular, are essential to our new approach: “underserved” and “power.” By underserved, we mean people whose voices are not heard and whose needs are not being addressed by governments. And by power, we mean the ability of an interested community to mobilize, be heard by, and influence the actions of political decision-makers. In addition to a new goal, we decided to rename our strategy to “Inclusive Governance” to emphasize our goal and values over the tactics we may support.

We see four main challenges to overcome in solving the problem of elite capture:

  • Underserved populations lack power.
  • The media ecosystem has also been captured by elites.
  • Data and policy analysis often neglect underserved populations.
  • Underserved populations lack representation in decision-making bodies.

Strategic priorities

To advance our goal and address the challenges listed above, we will focus on three outcomes in four priority countries: Ghana, Kenya, Mexico, and Senegal. We chose these countries based on five factors, including:

  • The availability of government information and channels for citizen engagement.
  • Support for diversity, equity, and inclusion among grantees.
  • The presence of peer funders.
  • The independence of democratic institutions.
  • The number of existing Hewlett Foundation grantees.

In addition, we identified two countries where we will support new approaches and test new hypotheses: Burkina Faso and Tanzania.

By narrowing our geographic focus, we will invest more deeply in our priority countries to support organizations working toward three, mutually reinforcing outcomes:

  • Increase the resilience and resourcing of movements, coalitions, and membership organizations working to increase the power of underserved populations, especially women and youth.
  • Enable an independent media that both monitors government and reflects the perspectives of underserved populations.
  • Enable underserved populations to use government data and information to support their activities and aspirations.

Our first three outcomes directly address the first three obstacles described in the previous section. It is unclear whether we can or should tackle the fourth obstacle (lack of representation and inclusion in government). While we have not yet made this one of our primary objectives, we have begun making exploratory grants to organizations including Emerging Public Leaders, Aúna, and Accountability Lab to determine whether we should do so. Meanwhile, we will also investigate opportunities to collaborate with our colleagues from the Evidence-Informed Policymaking and Women’s Economic Empowerment teams to improve government responsiveness to the needs of underserved populations.

A fourth outcome aims to spread lessons from our country-level partners’ experiences. Where our efforts on the first three outcomes will be focused on our priority countries, our efforts to elevate what we learn about best practices, new innovations, and other insights (including missteps and mistakes) will be global in nature.

As depicted in the chart below, we believe that (i) investing deeply in select countries to advance greater power of underserved populations, especially women and youth, (ii) by resourcing and amplifying movements and coalitions, increasing their use of government information, and strengthening independent and pluralistic media, (iii) will increase government responsiveness to the needs and priorities of underserved populations in those countries, and (iv) generate ideas and practices that can be disseminated to influence positive change in other countries and regions.

Learning together

The pathways toward more inclusive and responsive governance will differ in each country depending on the social and political opportunities that open and close along the way. We are working with local consultants in each of our four priority countries to map the relevant opportunities and obstacles, and identify organizations and coalitions working toward the three country-level outcomes.

Over the past few months, we met with grantee partners in Ghana, Mexico, Senegal, and Kenya to solicit their input on how our new strategy reflects their work and ought to be adapted to their country’s context. For example, in one country we may choose to focus on a particular policy issue that spans multiple geographies while in another country we may choose to focus on multiple policy issues that affect a specific community.

What could this look like five years from now? How might underserved groups gain more power to challenge elite capture of public resources? We can offer three illustrative examples based on the work of grantee partners.

  • Women in all six priority countries are under-represented in government. Aúna is a nonpartisan platform to encourage women — especially indigenous women — to serve in government and run for office in Mexico. It was inspired by the mixed results of Mexico’s 2019 gender parity policy. While Senegal and Kenya passed gender parity laws in 2010 to attract more women to public office, they have not been fully implemented. There are few African organizations dedicated to supporting women interested in entering government. What if we were to support peer learning and solidarity between feminist and governance organizations to explore the opportunities and challenges to fully implement gender parity in politics? What if the media and think tanks had more resources to investigate and amplify the role that gender plays in government and politics?
  • In Kenya, Open Institute has documented the discrimination faced by women who attempt to enter the mining industry. In parallel, the Natural Resource Governance Institute studied policy frameworks that aim for greater gender diversity and equity in the extractives sector. For instance, Ghana’s 1993 Mineral Commission Act requires that at least two of its seven members are women, but there are few other safeguards to ensure the representation of women overseeing extractives initiatives. In Senegal, the group Women in Mining (WiM) used newly available gender data from the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative to advocate for the inclusion of women in local extractives sector policies and projects, along with exploring the feasibility of a Women in Mining Country Index. And across Latin America, a coalition of organizations studied how rural women were affected by largescale extractives projects during the COVID-19 pandemic. All of these initiatives contribute to a growing global movement for “feminist natural resource governance” and “gender justice in the extractives industries.”
  • Last year, Mexico’s National Institute for Women partnered with UN Women to launch the Global Alliance for Care Work“to confront the care burden that impedes women’s economic opportunity.” Could the alliance give greater visibility and resourcing to advocacy collectives of non-salaried workers, including domestic workers? For instance, in Accra, Dakar, and Mexico City, WIEGO is supporting informal workers to attain basic social protection and a guaranteed minimum wage. In Tanzania, Twaweza has partnered with Equality for Growth to raise public awareness about the rights of informal sector workers. In Kenya, the Institute for Social Accountability partnered with the Kenya National Alliance of Street Vendors and Informal Traders to advocate for more effective and accountable government support to the informal sector in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic through social safety net programs. In Mexico, the Simone de Beauvoir Leadership Institute works with non-salaried domestic workers to sign contracts with their employers and enroll in social protection programs. Imagine: until last year, it was improbable that governments across the world would ever establish a minimum corporate tax; looking ahead, would it be possible for the resulting revenue to be used to provide social protection and services to their most underserved populations, such as non-salaried workers?

in Accra, Dakar, and Mexico City, grantee partner WIEGO is supporting informal workers to attain basic social protection and a guaranteed minimum wage.

These are merely illustrative examples and we may prioritize different issues and/or communities based on the findings of local consultants. There is no shortage of underserved and oppressed communities whose work we will want to support, including marginalized ethnicities seeking access to citizenship, agricultural day laborers, communities forcibly removed from their land, victims of discrimination based on their sexuality or gender or ability, and rural women without access to clean water. Some communities face all of these issues at once. Working on multiple issues may facilitate uncommon coalitions of diverse actors to push for local change while focusing on a single issue may lead to national movements that unite systemic patterns of discrimination across multiple geographies.

We want to be intentional about how we track progress, learn, adapt, and hold ourselves accountable. To those ends, we’ve adopted a monitoring, evaluation, accountability, and learning (MEAL) approach described in greater detail in the full strategy document. To further develop our MEAL plan, we will hire an external consultant to help us prioritize among the many indicators we have identified; consult widely so that we co-create our MEAL plan; collect baseline data for prioritized indicators; and establish our aspirations for the change we (and our partners) hope to see over the next five years.

We don’t underestimate the challenging context we face. After all, this work was challenging even before the recent global rise in autocracy, populism, and misinformation. We renew our efforts to support governments that work in service of all people — especially of those who have experienced the most marginalization — and remain confident and grateful for the tireless work of our partners to bring about governance that is more inclusive, responsive, and accountable.

As always, please feel free to reach out to our team at and let us know your feedback and questions. We’d appreciate hearing what we can do better or differently.

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