A Global Fund for Security Sector Reform?

by Mark Downes · June 12, 2015.

By Mark Downes and Thammy Evans 

The post-Millennium Development Goals agenda is central to development discussions in the coming months, and it is worth considering what can be done differently to help achieve the security, justice and governance aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals[1]? How should the international community change its approach, its instruments or funding mechanisms to facilitate more effective support for sustainable development, peace and security?

We can’t claim credit for the idea of a ‘Global Fund for Security, Justice and Good Governance’, which was raised during a question and answers session at a recent conference in Berlin. The idea put forward the suggestion of whether there should be a “Global Fund” to support SSR along the lines of similar funds that have been effective in combating HIV/Aids, Malaria and TB. Whether donors would be open to such an idea is not clear, but it is worthy of consideration and would turn on its head our approach to supporting SSR by reinforcing locally owned, designed and implemented reforms.

So let us look at what a “Global Fund” would mean, and how it would challenge our current approach to support security and justice sector reforms. Under the funding model of The Global Fund for HIV/Aids, Malaria and TB, local implementers can apply for funding to support country or community level initiatives. The fund is flexible and it can align to national strategies and  budgeting cycles. This alignment firstly helps to reinforce the fundamental approach that should be characteristic of any security and justice sector reform programming, namely local ownership. Secondly, the alignment helps ensure a strategic use of funds by helping to generate demand-driven rather than supply-driven (or even worse capability-driven) programming. It also aims to bring together a partnership between the government, civil society, the private sector and the people affected by these diseases, and so it encourages participatory approaches.

These are all strong arguments in favour of a ‘Global Fund for Security, Justice and Good Governance’, as it underlines and reinforces many of the good donor principles and approaches that have been advocated for years. Further desired characteristics of good SSR programming could be factored into the fund by requiring that programmes balance effectiveness with accountability (or those who receive funding would sign up to a set of principles on security sector management), and that programmes consider the holistic, political and technical nature of security and justice sector reform. In this way, locally driven programmes could strive to reach the parts that donor-driven programmes repeatedly fail to reach – often due to their domestic agenda over-riding their development intentions.

So, could this work in the SSR, security and justice and governance field? In short, the answer is yes, and it could lead to some surprising results. One of the key challenges faced by the SSR community relates to the level of national ownership and what that means. So by establishing a fund that national and community actors can apply for would facilitate more national dialogue on security, justice and good governance. It would mean that government and communities would define their own objectives, establish their own implementation units, build their own capacity and would be responsible for the results. It may also help in areas where the host government itself is less keen on reforms, by empowering communities or civil society who could also apply for funding and implement programmes.

Figure 1: The capacity-accountability gap - as assistance funding increases, the ability of post-conflict societies to absorb that assistance is often marked by a growing gap. (© Alexander Mayer-Reikh and Serge Rumin)

A second key challenge faced by the SSR community—even when national political ownership is high—is the perceived 'absence of local capacity'[2] with which donors can work and on which donors can build more progressive and longer term programmes. Financing locally-driven programmes could foment local capacity and help to fill an often increasing capacity gap (see Figure 1). Donor funding for post-conflict transitions often reduces at the time when the capacity and absorption capacity is coming on-line to be able to manage funding more effectively. This is where the Global Fund could come in to fill a gap and ensure continuity and sustainability of initial gains. Where there is a need to access experience, capacity or expertise, the Global Fund could act as an interface to support access to external capacity (south-south or otherwise). Further to this immediate effect, in due course, a Global Fund for Security, Justice and Good Governance could turn a capacity gap into a potential capacity surfeit and start to create a pull on bilateral donor development aid to help it focus on supporting areas which traditionally have been seen as high risk for potentially low or very long-term returns on investment.

A third challenge encountered in donor-funded reform programming is the difficulty in funding small programmes. Bilateral donor funding often favours large programmes that can be delivered quickly according to the donor’s financial (and sometimes electoral) cycle. However, many evaluations of reform programming indicate that smaller programmes, which can be more easily adjusted, built on and replicated or rolled out to other areas (with appropriate modifications to meet the local environment), are a good way to manage the risks of reform and to avoid the potentially negative consequences of large wastes of money on the wrong programme, training and building the wrong capacity at the wrong time, only for equipment and skills to end up in the wrong hands.

The fourth benefit of such a fund, which is a clear lesson from the Global Fund for HIV/Aids, Malaria and TB, is that it could have a gravitational pull, creating a forum to bring together donors and technical partners to plan with government partners, to identify funding and capacity gaps, to work on more joint planning and programming. Equally it could facilitate outcome level/ joint monitoring and evaluation. In short, such a fund could become an instrument to facilitate greater coherence across the international community, and harmonisation of national actors. 

By helping to address these four challenges (national, ownership, local capacity, risk management through small programme funding, collaboration momentum), a global fund could have a multiplier effect on many levels. This could turn the way security and justice reform is currently supported and perceived on its head. No more would it be viewed as an externally driven process. It would enable better lessons to be developed, and a wider dialogue on what an effective and accountable security and justice sector would mean for individuals, and the economy. The post-2015 agenda aims to challenge how we support sustainable development, and a Global Fund for Security, Justice and Good Governance could be a step towards practicing what we preach.

[1] Primarily Goal 16 'Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels', but also aspects of Goals 2 (food security), 5 (gender equality), 10 (reduce inequality), and 11 (safer human settlements).
[2] Similar to a supposed 'lack political will', there is rarely a lack of capacity - rather, it is that political will and local capacity are focused elsewhere, and in the case of capacity might therefore be developped for purposes other than democratically accountable security and justice sector reform.