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Boosting Accessibility in the Pacific Islands

SONGDO,
If you had a problem but did not know where to go or whom to contact for a solution, how frustrated would you be? For example, if you lost electricity at night, you would probably want to call the utility company to find out what is going on and when power will be restored? But to do so, you would need to know the name of the utility company and its phone number. Unless this information had been made available to you or was easily accessible, it is unlikely you would be able to make that call as you fumbled around in the light of a candle or your smartphone!

Likewise, if someone was harmed because of a GCF funded project, they would not know where to go for a remedy unless they knew about the GCF’s Independent Redress Mechanism (IRM). The IRM would not be able to do its job unless people who have been harmed by GCF projects know about it. Even if they know about the IRM, their grievance or problem will remain unresolved, if their right to bring it to the IRM is limited. The ability to easily come through the IRM’s door (accessibility) is, therefore, a critical for ensuring problems and grievances are brought to the IRM. Professor John Ruggie[1] made it very clear that non-state-based redress mechanisms need to be accessible. Being accessible means being known to all stakeholder groups for whom they are intended, and providing adequate assistance for those who may face challenges to bring their grievances to the mechanism.

However, while the goal is clear, the path to achieving it remains less obvious. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) has funded 128 projects, and the number is growing. These projects are spread across four regions in the world - Eastern Europe, Latin America & the Caribbean, Africa and Asia-Pacific.


In the past, the way grievance mechanisms conducted their outreach activities was by means of organizing face-to-face events. Those events required significant amounts of preparation and funds, and while they usually provided for good quality interactions, they were also limited in scope, not to mention the air pollution linked to air travel.

With the arrival of Covid-19 the IRM seized the opportunity to shift its work to virtual platforms; but, as it often happens, this is easier said than done. This blog briefly looks at how the IRM planned and conducted its first outreach event:
 
Targeting the region where to conduct the outreach was the first decision that needed to be made. To that end, the IRM's communication team looked at the GCF's portfolio of projects and assessed which regions need to be prioritized. By using a variety of criteria such as the environmental and social risk categories, the level of disbursement of funds, and the size of projects, one region that topped the list were the Pacific Islands.

Once the region had been selected, the IRM engaged with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) who helped spread the word about the event. These CSOs have deep knowledge and experience in engaging with International grievance mechanisms. As such, they participated in the ensuing dialogues and made a meaningful and useful presentation.

The CSOs that made two of these presentations were the NGO Forum for ADB, represented by Rayyan Hassan, and Accountability Counsel, represented by Anirudha Nagar. They both shared experiences in filing complaints before grievance mechanisms and offered a realistic perspective on the opportunities and challenges of using grievance mechanisms. They also recognized that the Independent Redress Mechanism, though in some respects similar to other grievance mechanisms also had some promising and innovative features such as the possibility of self-initiating investigations and the ability to cover the costs of the meaningful participation of complainants in IRM cases.

In the end, the presence of CSOs with experience in the field of accountability helped nurture an open and transparent relationship with the IRM, which the IRM values very much. This is so, even when there might not be complete agreement between the IRM and CSOs. Participants also intervened by asking questions showing, in some cases, a deep understanding of accountability issues. These questions, among other, raised issues relating to eligibility, the definition and implementation of remedial action plans, as well as questions about the impacts derived from GCF projects across multiple countries.


The “world café” session, which has now become customary in many events, was made possible by using the breakout rooms feature of the virtual platform the IRM used. In the “world café” three topics were discussed – gender, retaliation risks and accessibility. Participants were automatically taken to separate virtual rooms and later reconvened to debrief in the main virtual room. Regarding the lessons learned, it was very positive that the virtual meeting, in comparison to in-person meetings, enabled us to connect with more people from a larger number of countries, at almost zero cost and without participants having to dedicate time to travelling.

Challenges remained in building personal connections with and among participants, which proved to be more difficult than expected. Replacing a coffee break or lunch type of conversation is something that the IRM communications team still needs to think on. Another important lesson we learned is that participants can access these meetings simply by obtaining the access link, making it challenging to control who is attending the meeting, which is a critical issue given the sensitive nature of these meetings. The IRM’s first virtual outreach event in the Pacific region had 23 CSO participants from 8 countries. These countries were Fiji, Philippines, Australia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Marshall Islands, and Tonga. Seventy-five per cent of these participants, in the first-ever IRM virtual workshop, reported high satisfaction with the event. As for their preference between in-person and online events, 56.3% of the participants suggested that the outreach in the Pacific Island region should combine online and in-person events; 10.1% reported full satisfaction with outreach being implemented only through online events, and 20.2% preferred in-person events.

As indicated above, the IRM faces different challenges in opening up its accessibility. It is clear that in-person events can provide for a more satisfying personal experience; however, the IRM also needs to adjust the pace of its outreach efforts to the GCF's pace of disbursement, and to that end, new approaches to outreach need to be explored. The expectation is that with time and repetition, everyone – including the IRM team – will develop their expertise and comfort in organizing and participating in virtual outreach events. They will become one of the essential resources for making the IRM more accessible to everyone who needs to approach it with a grievance.
 
[1]UN Special Representative on business and human rights, John Ruggie