Enhancing the Giving Practices of Filipino Diaspora Groups through Social Accountability Mechanisms

Remittances for many developing countries have become increasingly critical for their economies, with remittances overtaking levels of overseas development assistance (ODA) and foreign direct investments (FDI). Many poor families in developing countries rely on remittances as their major source of incomes to provide for the education of children, for health and other basic needs and to act as insurance during times of emergencies. Despite the strong recognition of the importance of remittance in developing country economies, the role and links of remittances with development has yet to be seen, recognized and its impact felt.  Numerous initiatives of migrants’ or diaspora organizations supporting philanthropic and development activities in their home countries however tend to be small-scale and ‘unstrategic’ in terms of responding to community development needs and plans.  Collective remittances support immediate concerns such as for disasters, health, education and small infrastructure.  In terms of development assistance to home countries, the hometown associations (HTAs) have been active in raising resources as well as linking with groups back in their countries to help determine the types of projects to support.

In the Philippines, it is widely recognized and acknowledged that remittances have helped to smoothen income flows and to lower poverty levels. Remittances sent by Filipinos all over the world in the past several years have contributed to almost 10 percent of the Philippines’ annual gross domestic product (GDP).  In 2009, remittances reached $17 billion with the top-sending countries in the industrial countries in North America, Australia and Europe.

In December 2008, the total number of Filipinos living and working abroad was 8.187 million; 3.9 million were permanent immigrants while 3.6 million were temporary workers and the rest were undocumented workers. North America accounted for 3.5 million Filipinos, with 2.8 million residing in the USA.

While diaspora philanthropy in the Philippines has been growing and the literature on diaspora-giving increasing, little if any studies have been done on social accountability mechanisms to monitor the proper and efficient use of diaspora donations by recipient institutions, specifically local government units (LGUs).  And, if such mechanisms exist, are these sufficient or could they be improved to the satisfaction of overseas Filipino donors and final beneficiaries, and in the end, to better contribute to overall development objectives.

Social Accountability (SAc) is a process of constructive engagement between citizens and government, referring to actions by citizen groups to hold government accountable for their conduct and performance in delivering services, improving people’s welfare, and protecting peoples’ rights.  A strong assumption exists that social accountability mechanisms and tools would allow for improved monitoring of government actions and performance, possibly resulting in better delivery of basic services, improved welfare, and protection of people’s rights.  These could serve to encourage further giving among migrants and migrant groups, knowing that their contributions would be well-monitored and these donations would be maximized and put to best use.

This scoping study thus aimed to: provide a general overview on the links of remittances and local economic development in developing countries, particularly in the Philippines; study what mechanisms exist by which these donations are monitored and accounted for; and provide policy directions and general programme areas to integrate social accountability mechanisms and tools in diaspora donations to LGUs, as a means to maximize donations from overseas Filipinos to LGUs for local development.

The study basically involved a literature review of documents related to remittances and development initiatives, particularly those which showed the links of organizations of Filipino migrants or diaspora organizations to their hometowns, through their donations to the local government for local community development while including some other country experiences in other regions with successful experiences in mobilizing remittances for development.

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