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38th UNAIDS PCB Meeting, Geneva

Thematic Session on the Role of Communities in Ending AIDS by 2030

Panel 1: Shaping the Debate

with Robin Montgomery, ICAD Executive Director

Question to Robin: What have been the strengths and the challenges of working in a broad coalition to advocate on domestic and global AIDS policy, and how can these diverse civil society groups be better supported in their advocacy?

Talking Points


  • An intriguing question. To help contextualize, I thought it would be interesting to quickly consult also with other coalition-based organizations on their thoughts and So, in my comments today, I am speaking on behalf of the International Council of AIDS Service Organizations (ICASO), STOPAIDS, UK, STOP AIDS Alliance, the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+), the Canadian Positive People Network (CPPN), and my organization, the Interagency Coalition on AIDS and Development (ICAD). I am confident that today’s speakers will also share their thoughts and insights on this question.
  • We are indeed seeing and hearing at global and country levels that a greater emphasis on community responses is a critical driver if we are to meet our global goals and targets that will lead to the end of AIDS by Strong civil society systems and engagement are also seen by UNAIDS and the Global Fund as critical to the successful implementation of their renewed strategies. It is widely touted as a “global public good” in the AIDS response (Lancet Commission; UNAIDS Strategy, 2016).
  • The role of civil society and community systems is also widely recognized to be critical to achieving gender and human rights agendas, particularly for the most marginalized such as key
  • Advocacy is core to our mandate as civil society. Although, funding for civil society to deliver community based services seldom also includes important funding for complimentary advocacy to address structural or policy barriers – barriers that might block the effective delivery of services, or access to services for those that need them most.
  • Civil society leaders are accountable to their constituencies, as are Member We will organize and advocate for what we know works – we know what works because we are ourselves members of communities accessing the services or because we are working closely in partnership with them. Civil society advocacy is critical for changing the global dialogue to be more inclusive of those most affected by, always pushing and striving for improvements in how we meet the needs expressed by the communities we serve, in demanding fairness, equality and equity; in advancing and protecting human rights, and in demanding the greater and meaningful inclusion of key populations.

Three KEY CHALLENGES and then I’ll talk about the STRENGTHS:

1. The first: Declining investments in key population networks and coalitions of civil society organizations:

  • Despite evidence indicating our value and cost-effectiveness of key population networks and civil society coalitions, we continue to witness an accelerated downward trend in financing for networks. It is increasingly difficult to identify and secure funding for coalition-based work, yet we all know that we can’t reach our collective end goal if we work in isolation from one another – particularly in a highly integrated global development architecture as evidenced by the SDGs. We will only reinforce the silos that we continue to work across and try to break down.
  • Even for those institutions that are interested and willing to fund advocacy work (of which there aren’t many)– they are often only interested to fund advocacy that is directly related to service Funders are often less interested in funding convening and uniting voices for common advocacy goals or for regional or global advocacy work for which impact that is more long term is more difficult to link to direct impact on people’s lives. Domestic coalitions also struggle because governments are often very reluctant to fund national coalitions that are convening organisations to do advocacy towards them – it takes an enlightened government to see the value in civil society holding them to account.

  • As I noted in the joint civil society intervention made yesterday during the session on Financing, UNAIDS modelling exercises suggest that investments in community mobilization should increase threefold to 3%, and social enablers (this includes, advocacy, political mobilizaitons, law and policy reform, human rights, public communication and stigma reduction) should reach 8% of total expenditure in low and middle-income countries by 2020.
  • Funders Concerned About AIDS did an analysis last year of 228 philanthropic funders and HIV funding for advocacy using 2014 Analysis shows that Philanthropic funders currently provide the majority of funding for HIV advocacy globally. Even though this is the case, the actual amount of funding is tiny. Total philanthropic resources for all HIV programming in LMICs account for just 2% ($620 million) of total resources for HIV. Of that 2%, only 11% ($87 million) was directed for advocacy.

  • And that tiny amount is not going up. It is actually going down. In a recent survey conducted by UNAIDS, 40% of organizations tasked with implementing community activities reported that their funding had decreased since 2013. Two thirds expected flat or declining funding in the future.
  • Human rights advocacy for legal and policy change is an essential pillar of community responses and is widely considered a social In another UNAIDS survey focusing more specifically on funding for HIV and human rights, even more drastic funding decreases were reported. Of the 123 organizations that responded, 59% reported that their funding for HIV and human rights work had decreased in the previous two years. It’s important to clarify, survey results found that organizations delivering legal services related to HIV were much less affected by funding cuts than organizations focusing on things like human rights advocacy, legislative reform or strategic litigation (ICASO, 2016).
  • The success of the Fast Track strategy and reaching the 90-90-90 targets depends on community and civil society, a community and civil society that may be invited to the table, but increasingly can no longer afford to be there.

2. Systemic and Political Challenges:

  • Broadly, in addition to declining investments in the work of networks and coalitions, there are two other significant challenges confronting our efforts – systemic challenges, and political challenges.
  • Systemic challenges: the work of coalitions/networks, including advocacy, does not fit nicely within a logical or a results-based framework; their indicators of success are not so easy to define Similar to other interventions that get at the root social drivers of the HIV epidemic – like stigma interventions, gender or legal and policy change – the impact of advocacy and other non-service delivery community actions – while incredibly important for pushing progress – are difficult, but not impossible to monitor and evaluate. It’s something that can’t be quantified by the number of trainings held, the number of participants trained, or the number of advocacy kits distributed. It’s complex. But it is possible. Robust systems exist that can help civil society organizations demonstrate clearly the changes they are advocating for, the process by which they propose to achieve those changes, and the indicators and monitoring tools that can be used to demonstrate progress and impact.
  • This is where community monitoring comes As indicated in a soon to be released report by ICASO, community monitoring is a vital part of robust community responses – particularly for those efforts that are harder to measure and which sit outside of the formal health system. Community monitoring is critical to accountability and watchdogging efforts. It is critical to data collection and knowledge production on the impact of community-level interventions. This piece needs to have greater space in funding requests (and in funding decisions) and is pivotal in building an evidence base for community responses.
  • There is increasing scientific evidence showing that community empowerment and advocacy programs can and have on many occasions resulted in reduced HIV incidence on a massive scale – often by addressing the structural and political barriers that prevent, for example, funding or access to services.
  • Political challenges: Limitations and restrictions on civil society manifest in different ways across countries and Whether it’s increased qualifications and demands for NGO registration, repressive legal frameworks, extensive and repetitive administrative audits, restricting access to diverse funding sources, or the de-funding of organizations for their mandates, for what they say and who they represent — we are witnessing a closing space for civil society engagement globally.
  • It is through advocacy and engaging with politicians and other decision-makers that communities can make their voices heard and hold duty bearers Otherwise it is easy for elite to avoid ever having to really hear directly from those who most need to be heard.
  • We applaud the approach of the Dutch government in their large scale funding of advocacy programs for HIV and their recognition that it is a very healthy process for donors to work closely with civil society – to both fund civil society efforts and to be challenged by the findings, priorities, and actions that result from this funded work.

3. There are many examples that I can draw on demonstrating the strengths in coalition based work – let’s loo k at the lessons from the HLM:

  • There was huge power in civil society organizations coming together to present combined messaging and priorities to member states at the HLM – it made it a lot clearer and easier for member states to know not only what civil society priorities were but that they were supported by hundreds of organizations.
  • It also allowed us to present a breadth of input across the whole document – drawing on topical expertise across the whole Political Declaration draft and also drawing from a broad pool of resource and capacity for writing press releases, arranging meetings, briefing speakers and meeting with member states.


In response to the question: how can these diverse civil society groups be better supported in their advocacy? We have five recommendations:

These are:

  1. Call on UNAIDS to support member states to develop mechanisms to fund community responses, particularly in terms of advocacy and monitoring;
  2. Call on UNAIDS (in cooperation with the GF and PEPFAR) to carry out resource-tracking of investments in community responses, including and particularly for advocacy and human rights work, to monitor quality and quantity of support and report to the PCB every two years;
  3. Call on UNAIDS to commission frequent and rigorous impact assessments for community responses and promote a sharing of experience between countries and regions;
  4. Call on UNAIDS to build its role at national level to support and collaborate with civil society to convene and unite civil society voices and to build bridges and communication channels with government and service providers;
  5. Call on Member States to increase their investment in innovative and game-changing funding mechanisms, such as the Robert Carr Networks Fund, which supports international networks that address the needs and human rights of inadequately served

Thank you.