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Core Program Areas

Agriculture Education Emergencies Health HIV and AIDS Microfinance Peacebuilding Water and Sanitation

Cross-Cutting Areas

Capacity Strengthening Climate Change ICT4D IHD Monitoring and Evaluation Youth

Governance and Civil Society

Strengthening just institutions

In many of the countries where CRS operates, years of political violence and repression have left citizens distrustful of state authorities, public institutions, and each other. The lack of social cohesion manifests itself in government corruption and coercion that stymies civic engagement, protects unaccountable leaders, and discourages ordinary citizens. It is also exacerbated by conflict among socio-cultural groups, created or encouraged by political elites through the politics of division, alienation, and disempowerment.

The lack of social cohesion is both cause and effect of inequities in many forms: the denial or restriction of access to public services, information, and opportunities because of class, wealth, or identity—familial ties, gender, clan, ethnicity, religion, race. Systemic prejudice and discrimination breeds resignation and resentment. The exclusion of a part of society from civic life is a major barrier to good governance. It degrades the relational and communal bonds necessary for any sense of civic identity and sows the seeds of violent conflict.

Building a constituency for reform

CRS programs support efforts by civil society, private-sector, and Church actors to increase citizen demand for inclusion and good governance. Starting at the community level, CRS works from the bottom up to address the root causes of exclusion and inequity. But structural change and institutional reform require more than community organizing.

The bottom-up approach entails working across multiple technical sectors: agriculture, natural resource management, health, education, microfinance. In each, CRS programs appeal to citizens’ shared socioeconomic interests to engage them in civic initiatives that benefit not only them and their families but also their communities. Having had the experience of addressing individual and collective interests simultaneously, citizens are more apt and able to engage authorities on questions of equity and good governance. This approach reduces the risk to participants, especially in countries where repressive governments will not hesitate to clamp down on criticism and opposition.

One way to reach citizens is through community-based organizations. Whether informal self-help associations or legally registered entities, these serve as incubators for civic engagement. They raise public awareness and mobilize citizens in ways that contribute broadly to building democratic institutions. Community-based organizations with which CRS works include farmers associations, community-based natural resource management committees, health center management committees, parent-teacher associations, and savings and internal lending communities (SILC).

Moving outward from a strengthened core

Building a constituency for reform involves pushing outward to include key stakeholders and upward to engage decision-makers at higher levels. Key stakeholders include civil society organizations, which can provide capacity-building and technical assistance, and public institutions, such as elected local government councils. Decision-makers include local and central government ministry officials responsible for allocating resources to and/or delivering public services. Associations or umbrella groups can help aggregate a constituency for reform’s local-level initiatives and represent them in national-level policy-making arenas. Federations of PTAs, SILC networks, and diocesan or national justice and peace commissions and parliamentary liaison offices are examples of influential CRS partners that can advocate for the constituency’s interests at the highest levels.