Written by Jean Scrimgeour and Giulia Sergi

In 2013, during the Russian G20 Presidency and 14 years after the establishment of the G20, the Civil 20 (C20) became an official engagement group of the G20. Since then, the C20 has taken on a more prominent role within the G20 process by providing expertise on focus issues; working to hold G20 governments accountable; and providing the space for non-traditional actors to engage in the G20 process. These roles were cemented in a C20 Principles document agreed upon in 2019 during the Japanese Presidency.  

These principles enshrine transparency, collaboration, independence, internationalism, inclusiveness, and respect for human rights and gender equality as central pillars of the engagement group’s practice. They also seek to strengthen the continuity and regular scheduling of C20 activities and aim to ensure the sustainability and ongoing impact of civil society engagement with the G20. However, there is more to be done to ensure that these principles and processes become the norm and are adequately put into practice. 

Over the last two years, Accountability Lab has been the international Co-Chair of the C20 Anti-Corruption Working Group (ACWG) and a Steering Committee Member of the C20. While there are many successes to show for the work that the C20 has done during this time, we also feel that there are several improvements that need to be made to fully realise the principles that were negotiated in 2019: 

1. SUSTAINABILITY

Adequate financial resources: the ability of the C20 to fully engage with the G20 (provide expertise on issues being discussed by the G20 as well as being able to explain complex issues to a wider civil society audience) is heavily reliant on the availability of financial resources. C20 members volunteer their time but, hosting the website (and accompanying resources), discussion platforms, coordination and attendance of events and meetings as well as communications materials are a financial burden that civil society is infrequently able to carry themselves. Principle 3 notes the importance of the independence of the C20 and there is a risk that financial support from the host country could raise questions of co-option however dedicated joint donor funds for the C20 process- perhaps administered through an independent standing mechanism across Presidencies- is essential. 

Adequate technical and human resources: Every year, the host country sets up a website to share information and resources. While some information is carried over from year to year, key information such as group membership, meeting minutes, additional blogs and documentation (outside of the final submissions to the G20) are frequently lost and need to be consolidated again, year on year. For example, currently, there is no hub for blogs/ stories/news written/created by ‘non-official’ sources in relation to the C20 (i.e. blog written by Open Contracting Partnership and Development Gateway on Beneficial Ownership Transparency)

In addition, as noted in Principle 4, there needs to be more formal collaboration with other engagement groups, in particular, the B20, Y20, T20 and W20 to address issues of common interest. A standing, central website which covers this collaboration will ensure that the most important messages are shared and amplified across priority areas and the various working groups could more easily find points of synergy. 

2. CONTINUITY

Explaining the C20: The C20 Principles highlight the role that civil society has to play in explaining complex issues, helping citizens understand what government policies mean and how they will impact their everyday lives. We would like to propose that the C20 also take on the role of explaining to the public, and to the broader G20 community what the C20 does, how it works, and how civil society can contribute, in ways that will ultimately improve the G20 process. This could be in the form of visual pieces such as infographics, and a social media campaign with multi-media materials.  We could also put together a set of vlogs explaining what we do and some of the successes that we have had supporting the G20 process.

Ensuring global participation in the C20: The first C20 Principle highlights the global character of the C20 as ‘a global space for civil society organizations from all over the world – from international NGOs to grassroots local groups – aiming to influence the G20. Any local, regional or international organization (whether from G20 or non-G20 countries) wishing to discuss major issues in the global agenda and wanting to have an impact on the G20 is welcome to participate in the C20.’ Along with the means to collate and share expertise and resources over the years, the C20 needs to ensure that individuals with specific expertise on G20 focus issues are consulted and are a part of the discussions. The consultation process with CSOs needs to be collaborative, and inclusive, irrespective of their role, political relevance and geographical representation. Moreover, the list of these CSOs can be curated and managed over time to ensure the C20 can provide the best inputs possible. Quote this Woman is an excellent example of a platform to curated specialist knowledge in ways that can feed into ongoing initiatives. The T20 Africa Standing Group is another example of this kind of body that exists beyond a singular host country and set of priorities. 

G20 Commitment to engaging the C20: This commitment must extend to including C20 in all meetings – even just as observers (not just for a few minutes at the beginning or end to present ideas). There should be a formal space for the development of joint working group(s) between country Points of Contact (POC’s) and CSO’s to discuss priorities, share recommendations, and receive feedback before the working group meetings so that G20 members are not surprised by recommendations and are able to digest and take suggestions to government counterparts for concurrence prior to meetings.  

In addition to participation in the ongoing G20 meetings, there should also be a sufficient number of invitations for civil society participation in the G20 Summit, with meaningful opportunities for pre- and post-engagement where appropriate.

3. TRANSPARENCY

Participation and leadership of C20: the chairs of the C20 working groups remain the prerogative of the host country (as noted in Section B of the principles). However, we would argue that in order for the process to be inclusive (Principle 6) and predictable (Principle 8) the selection of the C20 working groups’ leadership should be formalised and less opaque. Currently, there is a perception that the process is largely based on proximity and connections to the C20 hosts rather than expertise or fairness. The consequence of this is the exclusion of the less connected and influential organisations that are unable to ‘lobby’ in the appropriate ways for the position. An important first step to address this challenge would be to maintain and build out the list of CSO participants by actively engaging new voices and encouraging participation from across the spectrum of organisations interested in engaging in the C20 process. This can in turn lead to the establishment of a working group to examine and suggest a more equitable and collaborative way to build the C20 leadership pipeline. 

More effective assessment of C20 influence: As a result of many of the challenges outlined above (lack of capacity, finances and lack of continuity from year to year), the impact of the C20 working groups are currently assessed in relation to outputs (participation in meetings, review of documents, contribution to the policy pack). These outputs carry-over from year to year, without interrogation about which interventions are most useful. Where the influence of specific working groups on the G20 is assessed, this is anecdotal. Developing a set of annual Key Performance Indicators for each working group- which feed into the broader overarching goals of the C20 beyond contributing to the G20 priorities for that particular year- would ensure accountability and could provide one element of a framework for assessing how C20 working group leads should be selected in future years. 

Tracking G20 commitments and promises: The opening section of the C20 Principles suggest that: ‘…civil society has an important role in challenging governments to achieve higher standards and holding them accountable to their own commitments, seeking positive outcomes for society as a whole and pushing for an effective allocation of resources to achieve those outcomes.’ Within the C20, while there is general consensus that civil society has a role to play in ensuring that the G20 is held to account for the commitments that it makes year on year, there is less commitment to a mechanism for doing this effectively. G20 working groups like the Anti-Corruption Working Group have important accountability mechanisms such as the Accountability Report- but this now focuses in-depth on a few specific issues under each Presidency. Other accountability efforts (FATF, OECD) also focus on certain areas of implementation. Accountability Lab developed a mechanism to track anti-corruption commitments which is open for public comment and contribution. Going forward it is key that this tool is collectively owned and supported by both the C20 and civil society more broadly beyond C20 countries to ensure real-time accountability to citizens over time.  

Co-Chairs of 2021 C20 Anti-Corruption Working Group

Jean Scrimgeour, [email protected] –  Jean is Accountability Lab’s Global Director of Operations & Growth

Giulia Sergi, [email protected] – Giulia is European Program Manager at Ashoka, a global NGO that supports the world’s leading social entrepreneurs and innovators (Ashoka Fellows).