How donors support civil society as government accountability advocates: a review of strategies and implications for transition of donor funding in global health

Amy McDonough, Daniela C. Rodríguez

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: Global health donors are increasingly transitioning funding responsibility to host governments as aid budgets plateau or decline and countries meet development and disease burden goals. Civil society organizations (CSOs) can play a critical role as accountability mechanisms over their governments, but transitions raise questions about how donor-supported CSOs will fare following transition, especially in environments of limited political commitment. Decreases in funding may force CSOs to scale back activities, seek other funding, or rely on their governments for funding. Vulnerable populations most in need of support may lose critical advocates, compromising their access to lifesaving care and threatening the reversal of global health achievements. This review investigates donor strategies used in the past to support CSOs as accountability advocates across the international development sector by exploring what activities are supported, how support is provided and who receives support. It provides considerations for global health donors to better equip civil society as advocates during and following transition. Methods: A literature review of four databases of peer-reviewed literature, websites focused on civil society support and snowball searching identified 180 documents for review, after application of exclusion criteria, covering up to December 2019. Results were categorized and analyzed by who, what and how donors have supported civil society’s accountability role. Results: Donors support a variety of civil society actors, including individual organizations and networks, through capacity building, access to information, backing participation in policy dialogues, securing citizen engagement and targeting the broader policy context. Funding may be provided directly or through pooled, intermediary or bridge mechanisms. Key concerns identified include insufficient engagement of CSOs in defining support, limited donor flexibility, tensions in balancing organizational professionalization with community connections, and jeopardized CSO legitimacy and independence from relying on foreign funds. Conclusions: Given the urgency of global health donor transitions, the literature demonstrates that any donor support to CSO advocates should emphasize transition preparations from the start. Capacity building, institutionalizing mechanisms for civil society participation, planning for information needs, and flexible funding are priority mechanisms to ensure that vulnerable populations continue accessing lifesaving care and global health progress is not reversed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number110
JournalGlobalization and health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Accountability
  • Advocacy
  • Civil society
  • Donor transitions
  • Vulnerable populations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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