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Engaging Non States Actors in New Aid Modalities

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30 June 2011

Engaging non state actors in new aid modalities such as budget support would ensure better development outcomes, improved governance and domestic accountability, according to a new European Commission's guidance document.

In “Engaging Non-State Actors in New Aid Modalities” the EC calls for more strategic involvement with civil society in general budget support and in sector budget support operations (SPSP).

"We can gain a lot in terms of having better development outcomes in a sector if Non State Actors are on board," said Jean Bossuyt, from the European Centre for Development Policy Management and co-author of the document. "The second thing you can gain is to have a better governance of the sector in which you intervene. It means that things happen in a more transparent and accountable way in that sector.”

The term Non State Actors (NSA) generally includes civil society in all its diversity, but also economic and social partners such as trade unions, universities, chambers of commerce or religious organisations.

"The guidance document says: let's take these actors more seriously, let's work with them strategically and reinforce their capacity, not to do our aid projects, but to be a voice in their own country, in their own society," added Mr Bossuyt during an 11th May seminar on the topic in Brussels. To hear more, watch the video below:



“Engaging Non-State Actors in New Aid Modalities” is built around three main axes:

  • Strategic guidance: summarising the foundations of a strategic engagement with both NSAs and the state.
  • Operational guidance: Already EC practitioners have numerous guidelines for working with NSAs. Light touch operational guidance tries to fill the gaps for a more strategic engagement with NSAs.
  • Smart guidance: Finally, the document offers guidance on how to develop "smart partnerships" for such ambitious agendas.

Bringing together NSAs and new aid modalities is not an entirely new agenda for the EC. Though this is a relatively new field of action, the EC and its development partners have already explored multiple ways to engage more strategically with NSAs when they provide budget support.

In this guidance document, examples of innovative practices from EU Delegations in Ethiopia, Ghana, South Africa or Ecuador illustrate the challenges and potential of pushing for a more effective NSA participation in and beyond new aid modalities.

However, the document warns, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Each EU Delegation should develop its own approach.

"Each time what you see is that the European Commission deals in a different way within a particular environment with Non State Actors," explained Jan Vanheukelom, co-author of the guidance document.

The policy document also points out that if not used with care, engaging Non State Actors can do more harm than good.

"It is important that the Commission looks carefully at what is there - what type of actors do you have, what type of non state actors, what are their agenda, what are the roles that they fulfil – and certainly be careful about the tools that they use," Mr Vanheukelom added. "Money can atrophy, money can create corruption and division. The Commission has to be well aware of the risks involved in using the wrong methodologies and tools in a particular environment."

Sometimes, the document insists, engaging non state actors might not be the solution at all.

"There are countries which are so closed for civil society's participation that maybe you have to do other things," Jean Bossuyt warned. "But in countries where there is budget support, the message is very clear from the field: go for it!"

See also the leaflet "Engaging non state actors in new aid modalities"


Share your experience and ideas!

The guidance document is intended to be a living document. If you are interested in contributing your experience and ideas, visit the "Political economy in practice group" on




DISCLAIMER: This information is provided in the interests of knowledge sharing and capacity development and should not be interpreted as the official view of the European Commission, or any other organisation.

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