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Empowering the Marginalized: Case Studies of Social Accountability Initiatives in Asia

By: Public Affairs Foundation, Karen Sirker, Sladjana Cosic

Recent years have witnessed growing concerns about issues of governance and accountability in developing countries. An emergent need exists for identifying and promoting approaches toward building accountability that rely on civic engagement. This volume demonstrates that compared with other regions, social accountability initiatives across South and Southeast Asia have a much greater element of community participation and involvement. Often, the collaboration between civil society groups and governments in many of these initiatives is striking and stands out in contrast to that in other regions.

Empowering the Marginalized reveals the power of demand-side approaches in enhancing governance through the concepts of citizens’ voice, accountability, and responsiveness. It seeks to provide lessons on the establishment of social accountability mechanisms, thereby empowering the marginalized, who represent a majority of society not only in Asian countries, but in most developing countries worldwide. Since most of the projects documented in the case studies are fairly recent, the studies offer valuable practical lessons on program design and operation, establishment of partnerships and networks, and project management.

This volume is a continuation of an earlier stocktaking of social accountability initiatives in Asia and the Pacific, from which 13 of the 54 initiatives were studied in an attempt to analyze different social accountability tools and mechanisms as applied in different contexts. A number of these case studies cover countries (such as Nepal, Pakistan, Korea, and Japan) where very little literature exists on social accountability initiatives.  The profiles of leadership and innovation from these case studies highlight how ordinary people can make a difference by asking the right questions at the right time in the right manner, or in other words, by making their voices heard, often backed by the evidence, information and communication strategies. Although far from being comprehensive, these cases reveal some cross-cutting concepts and applications that act as key enablers for social accountability, such as: responsiveness and voice; power of information; local ownership; political buy-in; and local capacity building. However, certain areas of concern need to be kept in perspective when exploring possibilities for replicating, adapting, and scaling up these tools, namely: fragility of civil society space; urban focus; challenges of adaptation and contextualization; and weak regional networking.