Character Development: The role of aid in building character for civic engagement and national development

07/2021 | Ato Kwamina Nkum

Ghana has enjoyed and continues to make progress in strengthening constitutional and multi-party democratic governance under the Fourth Republic. This is evidenced by the relatively seamless transfer of power through successive national elections since 1992. The liberalized political landscape has contributed to improvement in the quality of public discourse, civic engagement and the demand for accountability from duty bearers. In recent years, Ghana has also enjoyed economic growth that saw the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) bump Ghana’s status up to a lower middle-income economy. Ghana has also seen an increase in vibrant civic and civil society engagement over the years. 

Presently however, notwithstanding the positive contexts, challenges persist. There is an increase in citizens’ apathy fuelled by toxic partisan political discourse, and limited spaces for state-citizen dialogue within weak state governance structures. National integrity and societal morals appear to be declining due to widespread corruption. Corruption continues to be a brake on economic development, as it wastes and misallocates valuable and limited resources, while burdening the poor, and exacerbating inequality.  According to the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (CPI 2020) Ghana scored 43, against a clean score of 100, and ranks 75th out of 180 countries.  

The weak capacities of critical actors in society to exert influence in building good national character has undermined efforts at change. For example, historically, faith leaders and institutions have been an influential moral voice on national affairs and continue to assert a civic role in that regard. However, their influence is complicated by the increasing doctrinal focus on material wealth, with reported cases of misconduct against faith leaders and organizations. Additionally, civil society’s role has been undermined by weak capacity to represent their constituents, citizens’ issues, poor legitimacy and integrity to hold government accountable. 

Efforts to build a new generation of citizens with value-based and attitudes of integrity are not only important, but are also urgent to combat character decay in various segments of Ghanaian society. The blame doesn’t fall on one particular cohort of leaders though. New dynamic and factors have contributed to the continued character and moral decay that is permeating Ghanaian society. 

There have been efforts in the past through civil society actors to make gains toward building a cadre of leadership in the civil society arena who lead differently. Reference can be made to the STAR-Ghana Foundation Civil Society Leadership Programme.  Another example is the work done by Caritas Ghana in working with faith leaders and their constituents on the role of faith leaders in building national cohesion and curbing election violence, among others. This blog proposes that there is an opportunity to build on these examples. 

There is an opportunity for aid to be targeted at building character of various segments of leaders and citizens as the missing puzzle in ensuring sustainable development.

The role of continued aid support to various segments of civil society will be to support reformation of national character to combat the fading sense of national identity and limited commitment to the values of integrity and self-discipline.

Furthermore, aid can be used to support civil society’s role as watchdog and partner to government, in keeping government accountable and honest with the public coffers. Aid support can be used to promote active citizenship engagement and sustained civic action for improved governance and inclusive development.  Aid support can be used to catalyse the influence of stakeholders, such as civil society, youth groups, faith leaders, parliamentarians and other leaders on moral discourse to assert a civic role towards re-engineering societal behaviour that are fundamental to civility and nation building.

The way forward in addressing these challenges is to have a systematic, multi-level, multi-faceted and multi-generational character development process that interlinks various communities of leaders towards the co-creation of a critical mass of new character to influence human development in the Ghanaian society.


The Role of Aid in Civil Society: Partnership for Development

Based on the above submission, the questions that remain are: how does aid support the realization of these laudable outcomes given that the current structure and administration of aid objectives relies on the donor community/organisations? What needs to change to ensure that Ghanaian NGOs and the communities drive decisions on how to spend/distribute aid funds/projects?

Often times, aid or donor support comes with pre-determined conditions and parameters.  While this may be necessary to meet the goals of foreign donor accountability systems and reporting back to tax payers of foreign nations, it stifles the receiving organisations contribution to determining the practicality and implementation mechanisms in third world nations.

This blog proposes the use of adaptive programming as a way to use aid effectively. For instance, if an INGO gives funding to a CSO in Ghana to work on governance and election monitoring, the CSO counterpart must be invited to support the crafting the overall objective and outcomes indicators in ways that ensure that the CSO can achieve these objectives in the project period. Furthermore, suppose the funding is given to the CSO without funding for institutional and financial sustainability of the organisation, how then can the INGO expect the local partner to strive towards achieving the project goals? 

Core or institutional funding must be agreed on in partnership with the local organisations towards institutional sustainability of the local NGOs, and to ensure that the project results are scaled and adopted by similar CSOs. The transition of STAR-Ghana Programme to STAR-Ghana Foundation is an example of an international INGO programme (through Christian Aid UK) that helped birth a local Ghanaian owned organisation following the achievement and realisation of the programme’s overall objectives. 

In summary, the solution to more inclusive local CSO involvement and empowerment in the use of aid support is a partnership approach where local CSOs/NGOs are consulted and supported to partner with aid organisations and first world nations to re-craft aid support towards targeted needs and meeting the peculiar needs and addressing the atypical nature of third world systems. This way, the local partners can use aid support to address root causes of issues that plague the country and the communities they serve.

This calls for adaptive programming where outcomes and results can be adaptive to primary and secondary categories and are co-created with the receiving or third world organisations as partners, rather than being dictated to. This way, the aid organisation can achieve the aims and overall goals they may be targeting and aligning with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), while the receiving organisations also achieve the results they aim for using the aid support. This adaptive programming and partnership approach will help target issues like character development that is at the root cause of the issues facing Ghana and other third world nations, even though they may not be directly reflected in SDGs or first world national aid formats/overall goals.  

In this regard, the Ghanaian NGOs/CSOs need to exert their influence in working with INGOs and other donor organisations in targeting the aid to meet the needs of their beneficiaries and constituents. This conversation about shifting power within the aid sector may go beyond CSO/NGO level to governmental or state level. Nonetheless, where possible, aid agencies and their partner organisations need to co-create a logical framework where technical results and secondary results are achieved for the benefit of both partners. 


Photo Credit (Ato Kwamina Nkum): Photo 1: Building Capacity of Civil Society Leaders. Photo 2: Leading Self and Leading Others for Effectiveness. Photo 3: Rewarding Performance.

About this article

This blog was written as part of the “From where I stand: Unpacking ‘local’ in aid” series. Through this series, CDA aims to listen to people most affected by aid as they explore and amplify their leadership experiences, stories, and lessons for the aid sector. 

For recent blogs in this series check-out:

And many more to come soon! If you are interested in contributing to the series please contact Nanako Tamaru at [email protected]. We would love to hear from you and include your perspective.  

About the author

Sarah Cechvala

Ato Kwamina Nkum works with Nkum Associates as an Organization Development Consultant with several years experience in facilitating organizational change towards increased effectiveness using systems thinking and other organization development methodologies. He has co-facilitated OD interventions, multi-stakeholder dialogue, strategic planning, implementation design and training workshops for clients in Ghana and internationally for the public, private and non- government organizations including: Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA), GIZ-AAESCC project, Kumasi Institute of Technology and Environment (KITE), Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), Ghana Irrigation Development Agency (GIDA), Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA), Multimedia Limited Group, African Union Commission (AUC), ECOWAS EWD, Arielle (Milan), University of Budapest (Budapest), Open Streets Cape Town and many others.

Mr. Ato Kwamina Nkum worked with the National Training Laboratory Institute consulting department, where he specialised in client-interface and programme implementation and management. From 2009 to 2010, he facilitated the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, OPPTS/OPPT Division, Washington DC, through a workforce retention study, resulting in a workforce planning and implementation plan.

Mr. Ato Kwamina Nkum holds a practitioner certificate from the internationally recognized International Gestalt Organisation and Leadership Development Programme (iGOLD) and a Master’s degree in Organization Development from American University/National Training Laboratory (AU/NTL) Program in Washington, DC, one of the most renowned organization development training programmes in the world. He also has a BA (Hons.) degree in Psychology from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.