Optimizing ODA Funding in Southeast Asia -- The Japan International Cooperation Agency's Community Empowerment Program (Indonesia)

The civil society environment has changed dramatically in Indonesia since the fall of the Suharto regime in May 1998. At the same time, there have also been shifts in the philosophies and methodologies of donor agencies. Overseas development assistance (ODA) agencies are moving away from top-down and oftentimes top-heavy development programs to focus more attention on participatory mechanisms and are demanding greater accountability and impact.

These changes in policy orientation are very much in evidence in the aid and technical assistance programs being implemented by Japan over the last several years. To ensure that development programs reflect actual needs, attention is now being directed towards country-specific planning and to working with organizations at the grassroots level, such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community groups.

The work of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has mirrored these developments, which have been reflected internally in agency restructuring and budgetary readjustments since the mid-1990s. Cost efficiency and achievement of measurable and pertinent results are new priorities for the agency, including for its work in Indonesia, a primary recipient of Japan's ODA.

As part of these policy changes, JICA has been implementing a new program that promotes partnering with NGOs to conduct technical assistance with local communities and grassroots organizations. The Community Empowerment Program (CEP) was first established in Latin America and Southwest Asia in 1997. It was formally inaugurated in Indonesia in 1999, following the country's intense economic crisis and the political upheavals surrounding the resignation of President Suharto.

In Indonesia, CEP replaced an earlier JICA program that worked with local NGOs to channel emergency assistance provided by the Japanese government during the height of the Asian economic crisis, which first began to affect Indonesia in late 1997. As Indonesia's economic and political situation has stabilized, however, JICA has moved away from this kind of "social safety net" program. CEP is designed with broader goals and a wider mandate than what was intended during the crisis period of 1997-98.

Since CEP's inception in Indonesia, it has been partnering with local NGOs in South Sulawesi and East Nusa Tenggara. It will expand its geographic breadth to the rest of Indonesia in 2001-02.

Two CEP partners are Alfa Omega Foundation and Women in Transition (Womintra). Both NGOs are headquartered in Kupang, West Timor, the provincial capital of East Nusa Tenggara. These two NGOs are using CEP support to develop village-based self-help groups that will empower local communities through capacity building and enhancement of economic growth. With this focus on community strengthening and poverty reduction, CEP's director, Mr. Motoyuki Nishida, also hopes to generate recognition of NGO program planning and results by relevant government development agencies in Indonesia, and to create more synergy between civil society programs and government planning initiatives.

Since the program only began in Indonesia in 1999, its final impact cannot yet be forecast. But its structure is providing a new way for local NGOs to access ODA funds that can then be directed towards the real needs of local communities. CEP's emphasis on direct assistance to local communities means that the NGOs or civil society resource organizations (CSROs) that conduct the programs are primarily the conduits rather than the direct recipients of the ODA funds and technical assistance. CEP does not therefore necessarily help its partners make any direct gains in sustainability. But NGOs and CSROs can use the support offered by CEP to energize their organizations and improve overall capacity for the long term.

CEP encapsulates a new model for JICA programming that supports the positive benefits of working with NGOs. It helps promote a process that makes people more responsible for their own development, instead of entrusting their destinies to often-unwieldy bureaucracies or ineffective government policies. The program responds to current global thinking on development assistance and to the Japanese government's own efforts to redirect ODA policies to a more grassroots level.

Download the Complete Case Study (130k PDF)