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Interview with Ms. Ada Civitani, Head of the Education Unit in ACRA

click for larger image [Photo RDFS/D. Martínez]

"Adding value to complementary resources at different levels is the key in building global partnerships from grass roots to the institutional level. Both NGOs and UN agencies are committed in this challenge."

In this interview Ms. Ada Civitani, Head of the Education Unit of the Association of Rural Cooperation in Africa and Latin America (Associazione di Cooperazione Rurale in Africa e America Latina - ACRA) and focal point for a consortium of Italian NGOs for the collaboration with FAO within the partnership initiative of Education for Rural People, talks about the contribution of NGOs to ERP while giving insights on how to strengthen collaboration between NGOs and UN agencies.

FAO and UNESCO are joining efforts in a flagship initiative within the Education for All (EFA) initiative with a focus on Education for Rural People (ERP). The flagship initiative is a call for collaborative action to increase the coordination of efforts targeting the educational needs of rural people. The partnership is open to members committed to working separately and together to promote and facilitate quality basic Education for rural people.

What activities are being carried out by ACRA within the Education for Rural People Initiative?

Given ACRA's strong commitment in education and capacity building activities in rural communities in Africa and Latin America, this NGO decided to join the ERP Initiative upon its launching along with a group of Italian NGOs which were contacted by FAO. The first contact between ACRA and FAO took place during the drafting of an FAO study "Compendium of experiences of Italian NGOs in Education for Rural People (October 2002)." ACRA made available basic information regarding its projects in the ERP sector. We also represented the Association of Italian NGOs at the "Aid agencies workshop on Education for Rural People," organized by FAO with the technical collaboration of UNESCO and UNESCO IIEP, (Rome, Italy 12-13 December 2002). This workshop was the starting point for ACRA's active commitment within the ERP Initiative. Working as the focal point for the Association of the Italian NGOs we aim at: strengthening an operational network among Italian NGOs involved in the ERP partnership and encouraging other NGOs to join the FAO led initiative.

As a focal point, ACRA facilitated the participation of Italian NGOs in several international meetings such as a meeting of the ERP Initiative organized by FAO in April 2003 and the International Meeting on Global Partnerships for Sustainable Development held in FAO in March 2004. At the ERP international level, ACRA has been actively networking through Europe. The result of this work has been the launching of a project promoted by a group of Italian, French and British NGOs, lead by ACRA, in close collaboration with FAO and UNESCO/IIEP, also involving a network of partner NGOs from Bolivia, Chile, Chad, Senegal and Tanzania [read article published in the March 2004 update]. This project aims at contributing to the ERP international advocacy campaign through a two-year initiative, co-financed by the European Commission. The project has a two-fold objective: to strengthen the ERP Initiative through the participation of the European civil society and to enhance the impact of partners' work through networking. The main actors and target groups are: European NGOs members of CONCORD (the European coordination mechanism of European Union's NGOs. It groups National Associations and Platforms of NGOs as well as NGOs Networks and Families), aid and development agencies as well as institutions at local, national and European level, European secondary schools and universities, Civil Society Organisations working in education, rural development, poverty reduction and food security, consumer organizations, media operators and internet users.

Taking into account the work being carried out with FAO and UNESCO, what suggestions can you give to enhance cooperation between NGO/CSO and UN agencies?

Adding value to complementary resources at different levels is the key in building global partnerships from grass roots to the institutional level. Both NGOs and UN agencies are committed in this challenge. UN agencies can provide a worldwide network and offer a scientific background; they can easily reach high visibility and help mobilise resources through a top-down approach at the international policy level. On the other hand, NGOs can offer grass root experiences and provide linkages with networks that work within the civil societies in both northern and southern countries. They have access to specific resources for implementing actions; they also play a key role in building consensus for a bottom-up approach at national policy level.

When it comes to fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals, both UN agencies and NGOs share common objectives and strategies. This is also the case of the ERP Initiative. Certainly, NGOs and UN agencies have specific approaches and different priorities and methodologies, according to their different contexts of work. A mutual dialogue, resources for capacity building and specific spaces for participation and networking are constantly needed to join efforts and combine policies with field work at both global and local levels. Big theories and small practices are needed for an effective impact on people's quality of life in each part of the world. This is something not only possible but needed for and useful. The ERP partnership wants to contribute to make it happen.

The National Thematic Groups of the UN System Network on Rural Development and Food Security as multistakeholder groups that work at country levels on food security and rural development issues could also become a part of this campaign by contacting ACRA, through me, as project coordinator or Ms. Lavinia Gasperini at FAO. I will be glad to share with each group the background of the project and find the best way to work together.

What strategies have been designed for the advocacy and networking activities foreseen in the project, both at local and international levels?

During the ERP Capacity Building Workshop held at FAO Headquarters in November 2004, in which the project supporting the ERP international advocacy campaign was officially launched, all partners began sharing a common background on ERP issues and strategies, exchanging their own experiences and identifying a common baseline for networking. Within each country involved, a partner NGO will be committed in implementing a common advocacy strategy at three levels:
  1. spreading awareness and building capacities on ERP issues at grass root level, from schools, to local communities and institutions.
  2. advocating on ERP issues at national level, encouraging networking with institutions, donors and UN Agencies to embed ERP strategies in development cooperation policies and to promote ERP cooperation projects in developing countries.
  3. promoting ERP decentralised cooperation programmes, as a space of meeting and networking, starting from needs, interests and resources of all the actors involved (both in northern and Southern countries)
Some general recommendations were shared to guarantee the largest impact of the action as well as its sustainability.

Building grass root networks

A participatory approach will be used to facilitate the effective accountability of each target group within a network in which the diversity of actors (geographical, thematic and cultural) will be considered as a quality indicator. The participating NGOs will appoint ERP focal points, to facilitate the coordination of the available resources at grass root level within countries, regions and or communities. Within the European Countries involved in the campaign, teachers and students of secondary schools, in particular Agricultural training centers, will be involved in pilot ERP workshops focusing on the interdependence of access to and quality of education for rural people and rural development, highlighting the importance of building capacities for a sustainable development of rural communities, according to people's needs. In Bolivia, Chile, Chad, Senegal and Tanzania, an action research will be carried out, focusing on ERP strategies which can be implemented at local/regional level through NGO development cooperation programmes, involving rural communities, local civil society, Institutions and UN Agencies. Click here to read more.

From grass root networking to global partnerships

This grass root level of networking, implemented by each partner NGO through its own network, in close collaboration with FAO and UNESCO, will be constantly linked to the global FAO led ERP Initiative. Click here to read more.


To combine this bottom-up with a top-down approach, special attention will be given in the creation of links between local and national level networking: existing civil society thematic networks and platforms will be involved in participating in meetings and sharing communication actions at national level, to build a civil society global consensus on ERP issues and strategies. Click here to read more.


An effective internal and external communication strategy will be maintained. Learning on ERP core messages - such as an educational video and flyers for schools, municipalities and NGOs - will be produced in collaboration with FAO and UNESCO, according to target's needs and languages. A mapping of media resources for communication will be carried-out in each country involved. A virtual space will be provided to guarantee an operational support to facilitate an effective collaboration among the international networks of NGOs, schools, local actors and Institutions. The outcomes of the project will be available on the ERP-FAO website http://www.fao.org/sd/erp

Please click here to read the interview to Lavinia Gasperini published in the August update of the UN system Network website.

To read the documents of the "Capacity Building Workshop on ERP" held at FAO from 15-17 November, 2004 please click here.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this interview do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the UN System Network on Rural Development and Food Security nor of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.