As five countries – Benin, Mauritania, DRC, Myanmar, and Guinea – made new commitments to FP2020 last week in Addis, one plea was made multiple times on the last day of the International Conference on Family Planning: don’t neglect civil society.

It’s the governments that make headlines, and there’s no question that they need international support to follow through on their family planning action plans and strategies. But civil society organizations (CSOs) at district, state and national level need and deserve the same. Too often forgotten or overlooked, CSOs are our best shot at ensuring that governments deliver.

Too often forgotten or overlooked, CSOs are our best shot at ensuring that governments deliver.

Fulfilling FP2020’s goals demands an inclusive approach. Governments, donors and the private sector need a vibrant, engaged and coordinated civil society to help deliver on rights, equity, quality and choice. Not to mention good governance, increased accountability and a more informed citizenry.

Strengthening civil society (or re-building it, as the case may be) is not something that can be accomplished at a three-day conference. It requires advocacy, research and communications assistance. It flourishes when developing country expertise is nurtured and when sharing among these countries is prioritized. It involves coalition-building with youth and women’s groups to cultivate broad societal support for family planning among parliamentarians, journalists, and traditional and religious leaders.

All of these things take time – and money. Fortunately, some donors – bilateral agencies and private foundations – recognize this and are in the early stages of ponying up big money in support of civil society. For example, the Danes, Dutch and the Packard Foundation are in the process of establishing a CSO Fund. The British, too, are set to launch an accountability fund for civil society in early 2014. These multi-year investment funds for civil society action on family planning are excellent news and well-timed. They hold potential for not only supporting CSO advocacy, but for strengthening institutional effectiveness for the long haul.

Community health workers in Zambia make a home visit.

Community health workers in Zambia make a home visit.

Another and complementary approach is the Opportunity Fund. It functions as a rapid response funding mechanism to help CSOs seize near-term, high-impact advocacy opportunities. Managed by PAI, the Fund is part of the Advance Family Planning initiative.  And it is all about identifying and achieving the policy and funding ‘quick wins’ for family planning, with FP2020 and Ouagadougou Partnership as our guides. Support for staff time – the core expense of advocacy – is embedded in the Fund’s approach. Our most recent award was to Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia (PPAZ) for advocacy to increase the family planning budget and allow community health workers to provide injectable contraception. PPAZ’s advocacy objectives are fully aligned with the government’s new 8-year family planning strategy—a direct result of last year’s London Summit.

Thankfully, as more countries from Mauritania to Myanmar commit to making family planning a development priority, more resources are coming online for civil society than ever before – resources for both the immediate and longer term needs of CSOs. PAI is heartened by this emerging trend and we reiterate our pledge to support and strengthen indigenous civil society advocacy in the coming years.