Street-level democracy

January 6, 2023

Action research on ecosystem health. Digital spaces for posting information about the local environment. Door-to-door visits by civil society and local government officials together to understand local community concerns. If you had to sum up the work of The Coalition for Integrity and Social Accountability (CISA), you might call it street-level democracy.

CISA’s mission is to improve good governance, social accountability, and integrity in public life. The Cambodian organization fights against corruption through strengthening the capacity of citizens to raise awareness and engage in advocacy on issues of concern.

In 2021, CISA received grant funding from the Mekong Connections: Supporting Governance, Transparency, and Local Voices program, which is managed by the US-based NGO Pact Thailand as part of the Mekong-US Partnership (MUSP).

CISA’s project in Stung Treng, supported by Mekong Connections, promotes youth participation in health security by empowering young people to take part in local-level decision-making processes. Project activities are conducted through a youth network in Stung Treng province, Cambodia.

Healthy nature, healthy humans

“The young people participating in this project understand very well that, for humans to be healthy, nature must be healthy too,” said Khen Chheng Horn, project officer in Stung Treng. He explained that the youth participants are translating this knowledge into an innovative approach of feeding community views about into the process of developing local bylaws (deika) that protect the local Mekong environment. In Stung Treng, CISA works directly with 48 members of a local community youth network and another 240 young people aged 15 to 35 years from 16 different communes.

Through the project, participants have received training on how to conduct action research, carry out field data collection, and analyze and report their data. They have also set up a group on the digital platform Telegram to connect local residents and others interested in health security issues. Project activities have engaged around 5,480 families, including female-headed households.

“Through their participation, local communities and youth in particular have gained knowledge of their own civil rights. They learn that, as citizens, they have both the right and the obligation to observe and take part in the local government administration of their own community,” said CISA director Him Yun, who has campaigned against corruption for many years.

The group plans to build on their activities in Strung Treng province by advocating directly to the Mekong River Commission, ministry staff in Cambodia, and international NGOs about the project’s research findings and their bylaw proposals.

Participants at a two-day training event on good governance, at Borey Osvay, Stung Treng.

Benefits to youth and local communities

Community Youth Network (CYN) members in Stung Treng are raising awareness about the importance of waste management in some of the districts and municipalities along the Mekong River.

CYN member Sivon Youvy, from Os Svay district in Stung Treng, noted that local residents have been happy to join in the organized activities offered by the project.

Youth network members have also joined in monthly commune council meetings, where they have successfully raised issues with the councilors and proposed solutions to waste management issues. Some of their proposals are now reflected into deika (council by-laws).

“The CYN members have gone from ignoring public participation opportunities to becoming active in community development,” said Khen.

Besides this project, CISA works with other community groups in other parts of Cambodia. An urban-based project, WE Act, conducted in partnership with Pact Cambodia and funded by USAID, is empowering young women entrepreneurs to strengthen their skills, business linkages, and participation with relevant associations.

Water lilies have many ecosystem and livelihoods benefits, providing shelter for fish, landing places for beetles and frogs, and a source of income for local people who collect them for sale.

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