Decentralized cooperation reaches all-time high

Publication of the Decentralised Cooperation Report 2023, a work by ECOPER for the Basque Agency for Development Cooperation.

Decentralised Official Development Assistance (DODA) will grow by 14% in 2021, exceeding its historic ceiling of 3 billion dollars. These data are included in the Decentralised Cooperation Report 2023, along with other characteristics of international cooperation by local and regional governments and an in-depth analysis of their relations with civil society. This is the second in a series of reports promoted by the Basque Government to improve knowledge and evaluation of decentralised cooperation.

Decentralised Cooperation Report 2023

The report is structured as follows. Section 1 presents the theoretical-normative frameworks on the participation of subnational governments and CSOs in development cooperation and poses a series of questions on the interest of collaborations between both actors for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Section 2, as in the previous report, presents the results of the quantitative analysis of DODA with the latest data published by the OECD in 2023, relating to 2021. In this report, the quantitative analysis contains a second level of analysis referring only to ODA channeled through CSOs.

Section 3 describes the cases representing different forms of collaboration between subnational governments and CSOs in development cooperation.

The report concludes with a series of conclusions from both analyses, which are detailed below:

  • Decentralised aid continues to grow in absolute and relative terms. The latest published figures for 2021 show a 14% growth and a surpassing of its historical ceiling of USD 3 billion.
  • Of this amount, only 22% is aid that is actually transferred to other countries and only 2.5% is aid that is implemented through direct cooperation agreements between subnational governments.
  • Most of international decentralised aid is channeled through NGOs. Despite this, the international normative framework on development cooperation has not considered this phenomenon. Since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, a narrative on the relevance of decentralised cooperation related to the technical capacities of subnational governments has become widespread, while a much more political narrative on the importance of civil society in development has been reinforced. Nevertheless, the two narratives follow separate paths.
  • Subnational governments are aware of and reinforce the political role of organised civil society in the development of Southern countries, as contended by the UN, the OECD, and the EU. In fact, in addition to entrusting them with the majority of their international aid, the main sub-sector in which they frame this collaboration is ‘civil society and governance’. Moreover, a distinctive feature of most of the cases that have been studied is the objective of strengthening Northern CSOs and their social base, as well as the links between Northern and Southern CSOs.
  • There are few subnational donors that use the core funding modality to strengthen civil society in the North and South, in line with OECD recommendations. However, some project funding schemes incorporate similar approaches to core funding programmes.
  • Donors that are committed to their own cooperation frameworks and look to NGO partners for technical expertise for specific geographies and intervention sectors, also take advantage of the added value of CSOs to incorporate the human rights-based approach into the local policies they support and to establish lasting links between partnerships.
  • Another featured characteristic of decentralised cooperation is its capillarity. Due to its proximity to citizens, it can support numerous and diverse citizens’ organisations spread throughout the territory better than centralised cooperation. This results in international cooperation becoming more deeply rooted in society, the promotion of global citizenship, and the connection between the local and the global. Furthermore, decentralised cooperation devotes ten times more aid to global education than centralised cooperation.
  • In short, decentralised cooperation can be described as cosmopolitan cooperation. It is pertinent to incorporate a new, more political narrative on decentralised cooperation into the international normative framework. This narrative should value its proximity to citizens, its alliance with the NGO sector, and its capillarity to promote the active employment of global citizenship.