Civil Society Dialogue

Civil society, including non governmental organisations (NGOs) and social partners, is an integral part of EU-India cooperation, both in the EU and in India, offering the possibility of adding real value, particularly with regard to achieving the MDGs, promoting sustainable development and managing globalisation. India has a dynamic civil society and NGO community with close links to partner civil society organisations in Europe, which provides an added dimension to building capacity in the country. EU seeks to strengthen civil society by facilitating stakeholders’ participation, strengthening capacity development processes, promoting social dialogue, facilitating citizens’ active engagement and networking of best practices.

More than 80 projects involving NGOs and civil society actors are ongoing for a combined amount of over €150 million in EU funding. It is important to highlight that most if not all projects work in partnership with various government programmes, schemes and institutions, at various levels, from centre to state, district, block, taluk and village levels. They actively engage with public schemes at lower administrative levels, in support of decentralised government entities.

Currently, EU’s engagement with civil society in India has the following priorities:

  • Education and Vocational Skills Training
  • Health 
  • Human Rights 
  • Livelihood 
  • Environment 
  • Local Authorities
  • Sustainable production and consumption (SWITCH Asia)

Education, specifically primary and vocational education: The EU has supported selected NGO action in education to ensure that they address the needs of the most excluded and marginalised communities and complement government programmes with specialised action. Through the Programme for Enrichment of School-level Education (PESLE), a consortium of NGOs, collaborating under the umbrella of the Aga Khan Foundation, was funded by the European Union in 1999 to the tune of €11 million. The project aimed to improve the quality of school-level education in selected states of India by mainstreaming innovative small-scale experiments carried out by Indian NGOs into the larger government and other systems, with a particular focus on marginalised and disadvantaged groups. In addition, funds totalling €8.2 million were made available, 2002 onwards, to NGOs in support of child rights, universalisation of education and elimination of child labour.

The involvement of the European Union with the skills development agenda, in India, was since 2007, working through two projects with European NGOs. Specifically for India, the European Union took the initiative in 2009, under the annual specific Call for Proposals among civil society actors in India, to focus on skills development, directed towards the most vulnerable and marginalised groups. This initiative should be seen in the perspectives of two commitments: i) the European Union priority of its development cooperation with India to focus on social sectors – here on education and ii) the Indian National Policy on Skills Development approved in March 2009.The EU's approach with this initiative was to be coherent with EU's policy as agreed with the Government of India, and more specifically link to the most recent policy on in the field. Nine projects were selected out of this Call for Proposal with a total grant amount (EU Contribution) of around 8.4 million Euros. These projects are covering as many as 21 states in the country. The key focus of all the 9 projects are to reach out to the most marginalised and vulnerable groups. These projects are focused particularly towards the unorganized sector and among school dropout and illiterate youth, to creating employable workforce and thereby decent employment for millions of youth for a young nation like India, by making best use of the exiting frameworks within the government as well as constantly advocating adaptation as per the need and for larger level policy changes.

Health, specifically the fight against HIV/AIDS: NGO-led projects in India have received €7.5 million since 2003 to fight HIV/AIDS. Implemented by international and local NGOs, these projects aimed at: reaching vulnerable youth, especially in tribal and rural communities; addressing the health and social needs of sexual minorities; preventing HIV/AIDS among child-bearing women in the north-east; ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health services to vulnerable women; promoting rights based action to improve youth and adolescent health; addressing exclusion of disabled people and people living with HIV/AIDS; and guaranteeing health rights and needs of tribal people in malaria, tuberculosis and HIV prone areas.

The EU has a strong commitment to tackle the exceptional challenge of a global AIDS pandemic through a long-term, strategic effort that would lay the foundation for sustainable progress in times to come. The EU Programme for Action to confront HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis through external action was initiated in 2007. It addresses HIV/AIDS as an objective in its own right as well as a cross-cutting priority through mainstreaming within national development plans and programmes while respecting fully the principles of ownership. Since the Global Fund against HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis was formed, of the total grants to India amounting to €1 billion the EU has contributed more than half.

Human Rights, specifically child rights and rights of the indigenous people: The EU’s approach to Human Rights is two pronged: mainstreaming human rights concerns into its policies and programmes; and financing specific projects to promote and protect human rights.

Since 2000, the EU has funded – to the tune of over €5 million – numerous projects in India, addressing issues of Rule of Law, torture and impunity, human rights education, trafficking and rights of minorities, indigenous peoples and other marginalised groups. The projects have covered a wide range of activities such as monitoring violation of human rights, providing legal aid and services, advocacy, awareness generation, empowerment and capacity building of local communities, human rights defenders and national institutions, and rehabilitation of victims of torture, trafficking and child labour, etc.

In 2007, the EU launched the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) which, with a total budget of €1.1 billion for 2007-2013, provides direct funding to civil society organisations and human rights defenders throughout the world. The projects for funding are selected through global and, in some cases, national level calls for proposals usually on an annual basis.

Livelihoods, specifically rural development: In India most people still live in rural areas - around 70% - and thus rely on agriculture-based livelihoods. The EU has over the years had been active with civil society organisations addressing the poverty alleviation in rural India. Although today such projects tend to emerge under the environment, skills development and climate change agenda, the EU still has a large portfolio of livelihood projects.

The project entitled 'Sustainable community based approaches to livelihood enhancement (SCALE)' co-financed by the EU to Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) is one of the largest and longest civil society projects addressing the rural poverty issues. Led by the Aga Khan Foundation, the project began in January 2002 with an eleven year programme budget of EUR 35.6 million, 25.5 million of which are financed by the EU. On the ground, SCALE supported activities in 1,160 villages in eleven districts of Gujarat and five districts of Madhya Pradesh, benefiting over half a million people (120,000 households) directly through field implementation. Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) is the main implementing partner of the field work in Gujarat and MP. The outreach component of the project is implemented through four nationally recognized NGOs.

Environment: Environment is one of the three pillars of sustainable development. Sustainable management of natural environment is important in the fight against poverty since the rural poor depend most on natural resources for their livelihood, are the most vulnerable to a degraded environment and to natural disasters and are the first to suffer from polluted air, water and soil.
The EU has a long standing political and legal commitment to address the environmental dimension in all its policies, including external relations. In addition to being a cross-cutting issue, the environment is a sector of intervention in its own right. Support for environment and the sustainable management of natural resources, as well as water and energy are key areas where civil society projects work in India.

Local Authorities: The first call targeting "Urban Local Bodies" in India was launched in 2011. The objective of the Call is to help small to medium-sized municipal corporations improve water, sanitation and waste management in their own localities. 5 projects have been launched in 2012 for a duration of 3 to 5 years each. Projects are to be located in 2 municipal corporations in Madhya Pradesh, one in Shimla (Himachal Pradesh), one in Pune (Maharastra) and one over 4 ULBs in 2 states – Rajasthan and Maharashtra.
This action is complemented by an initiative launched in 2010 aiming to strengthen cooperation between Local Authorities in Europe and Asian satellite cities. Two projects are running under this initiative.

A specific programme addresses the switch from unsustainable to sustainable patterns of development. The SWITCH ASIA programme was born out of this need. The programme focuses on sustainable consumption and production and directly contributes to sustainable growth and the fight against poverty. There are currently 6 ongoing projects in India.