November 30, 2021

DPO strengthening: Perspectives and experiences from Mozambique

- The main strengths of DPOs relates to their strong and wide membership base and their immediate social relevance to the community they serve, which is contributing to a continuous reinforcement of their legitimacy, and recognition by the community and the government as agents of positive change. This was the main statement made by Clodoaldo Castiano from The Mozambican Federation of Disabled Persons` Organizations (FAMOD) during a webinar on DPO-strengthening, arranged by The Atlas Alliance on October 19. The national umbrella DPO organization is Atlas` implementing partner in Mozambique.

DPOs tend to establish positive relationships with communities they operate in, and they are usually acknowledged by the community leadership and members as agents of positive change. Most DPOs in Mozambique have a strong and wide constituency base, which is also contributing to a continuous reinforcement of their legitimacy. DPOs have immediate social relevance to the members and the community they serve, which they tend to value the preservation of. The most common strategies DPOs use, within the remit of their mandate, is to provide a type of service that responds directly or indirectly to the most pressing needs of their members in communities. Moreover, DPOs usually maintain a good relationship with the government, both at national and local level, and most manage not to be co-opted by government.

Still, many DPOs have not managed to understand the human right model of disability entrenched in the CRPD to the point where it informs their programs, strategies, and overall operations. In some cases, some DPOs even endorse interventions that are not aligned with the human rights model of disability. Moreover, the DPOs movement is still lagging in terms of diversity and democratization. A pronounced disproportional male leadership is a common trait among DPOs as well as limited democratic participation.

With regards to management capacity, most DPOs remain below standard, lacking internal organization policies and procedures as well as qualified staff and leadership. In terms of resilience, most DPOs fail to adapt to abrupt changes in the context they are operating. In Mozambique shocks such as the Covid-19 pandemic, cyclones, and the extremist attacks in northern Mozambique, have led several DPOs to close down or considerably reduce their intervention.

Due to the combination of the abovementioned and other factors, most DPOs are left without access to international development programs funding.

– In what way can the disability movement in your country be supported to grow stronger? What would be useful in your context to achieve sustained and meaningful interventions from the disability movement at regional and national level?

Long term support: DPOs usually benefit from short term funding of technical support schemes, which does not extend to meet the necessary needs for capacity development. However, exceptional cases of DPOs benefitting from long term support have yielded remarkable results.

Training young people with disabilities: The movement of persons with disabilities is still dominated by middle and old aged persons. Young people`s voices have not been heard in the movement. Along with adequate training and support, young people with their energy and creativity, are likely to become an important catalyst force for the movement of persons with disabilities.

Leveraging the national umbrella DPO as a coordination and support mechanism: The umbrella DPO is recognized as a legitimate actor among DPOs, on which they rely and expect to receive support. Plus, the umbrella DPO is very much aware of the day-to-day work and constrains of DPOs in Mozambique. This relationship places the umbrella DPO in a unique position to build the capacity of its member organizations trough a continuous and sustainable process. Therefore, umbrella DPOs should benefit from financial and technical support to take that role.

Better policies and monitoring on national vs. international NGOs collaborations: Mozambique has for a long time been the host for international NGOs operating in the disability area. As DPOs claim their own space as active participants in development programs, some of these INGOs have been engaging in negative practices. These practices include bringing DPOs into imbalanced partnerships taking advantage of their lack of experience and need for funding; replacing DPOs in dialogues with the government and other actors; deceitfully use DPOs members in programs without any previous agreement with the organization leadership; fuel rivalries and division among DPOs.  Therefore, policies are needed to clarify the role of INGOs and establish basic principles for their relationships with DPOs.

–  What is the best way other actors can support this effort?

Acknowledgment of DPOs role. Most disability projects rely on DPOs and their members engagement. However, the role of the DPOs in keeping the relationship with its members alive as well as maintaining the dialogue with the government, regardless of funding or not, is rarely recognized in development projects. This should be changed. A specific practical way is to make sure that this is included in the proposed commitment for the GDS, namely, reserving capacity funding in projects that rely on DPOs engagement. Similar mechanisms should be put in place.