ZEP2030 Cebu Convergence: A Journey to Mobilize Cities and Municipalities to End Extreme Poverty



ZEP2030’s journey to go all-in-local by expanding their work through area-based convergences had its early start in Cebu. Cebu is one of the most densely populated and highly urbanized provinces located in the Central Visayas region where pockets of poverty persist despite the decreasing poverty rates in the province in the last six years.

Cebu is also home to long-established coalitions of civil society organizations (CSO) working on different development programs and agenda in partnership with the government. The province has deep ties with the ZEP2030 network and seemed like the ideal choice to pilot the establishment of a ZEP2030 local convergence, a locally led coalition that will consolidate efforts of different CSOs to implement poverty alleviation programs and services for the most vulnerable and marginalized sectors.

“CSOs, overall, have a good standing in Cebu and are recognized by the government through their membership in local development councils and other local development bodies,” said Lenbi Laborte, Executive Director of the Central Visayas Network of NGOs (CENVISNET).

Through the combined networks and partnerships of CENVISNET, the Association of Foundations (AF) and the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), the ZEP2030 Cebu Convergence was born in August 2019, at first, consisting of 12 local CSOs which later grew to 19. These groups responded to the call to harmonize and solidify efforts to focus on helping the poorest families in target localities, which is Goal 1 of the SDGs. Their mission was clear: to lift Filipino families out of extreme poverty.


Stepping up as the local convenor

When the plan to expand ZEP2030 in Cebu was first introduced, CENVISNET knew they could help make it happen. After all, some of the organizations that signed up to be part of ZEP2030 are already members through their partnerships with Kaabag sa Sugbo Foundation. CENVISNET, a region-wide coalition of different CSO networks in Central Visayas also has members in Negros Oriental through Negros Oriental Network, and in Bohol through the Bohol Association of NGOs or BANGON. Bohol is also in the process of establishing its own ZEP2030 local convergence.

“There is mutual trust and confidence among the CSOs and that made the process of convening easier,” said Laborte. As the secretariat and local convenor of the ZEP2030 Cebu Convergence, it fell on CENVISNET to mobilize their members to meet, plan and jointly implement their programs and services. They spent the next four months after their initial meeting recruiting new members, paying courtesy visits to LGUs and finding their bearings as one ZEP2030 Cebu Convergence.


Start where you are

To cover the whole of Cebu in their pilot year would have been a massive undertaking. Thus, what started at the provincial level was scaled back to focus on five pilot localities, namely Cebu City, Mandaue City, Lapu-lapu City, Toledo City and the Municipality of Cordova. By starting where they are, convergence members can leverage their own networks and resources to immediately jumpstart their work in the communities. Local organizations like FORGE and IMPACT work mainly in Cebu City, Mandaue City and Toledo City. De La Salle University covers Toledo City since that is where their campus is located. A2D Project has been implementing projects in Cordova as did the Coalition for Better Education in Lapu-lapu City.

After settling on the priority sites, the staff from FORGE were trained on how to administer the ZEP2030 Poverty Probability Index (PPI), a tool that assesses the conditions of extremely poor families in a particular community. FORGE first conducted the PPI in Mandaue City and Cebu City with the initial data collected in 2020. However, data collection has since been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.


A multi-stakeholder approach  

Despite the unexpected setback, the ZEP2030 Cebu Convergence continued to meet albeit sporadically until the end of 2020 and has managed to bring in new members from the academe, faith-based organizations and innovation start-ups like Virtualahan. How did they do it? CENVISNET asked each member to invite other organizations to every meeting until their initial membership increased to 19 CSOs.

With the multi-stakeholder and loose nature of the coalition, however, divergent voices and viewpoints were inevitable. “There is an existing CSO development agenda for Cebu but to help us ground our work under ZEP2030, we tried to align our programs with ZEP2030’s seven thematic areas with the underlying theme of social justice,” said Laborte.

Critical to coalition-building is getting the support of the government. Even though the members of the convergence were actively involved in their respective local development councils, they also met some resistance from the provincial government. Undeterred, ZEP2030 Cebu is seizing the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to convince LGUs on the importance of working with CSOs to beef up social protection programs and to be seen as the government’s ally in providing basic services to the poor.

For Laborte, ZEP2030 has been significant in providing avenues of discussions to help them recommend actions to multi-sectoral advisory groups such as the Cebu City Inter-Agency Task Force in aid of decision-making.


Convergence work in the new normal

Understandably, progress on key activities, including the conduct of the PPI and the Family and Community Visioning (FCV) has been slow due to limited mobility and strict requirements for mass gatherings. But through a partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the Philippines, the Cebu Convergence found a way to reach poor communities and assess their conditions during the pandemic by helping roll out the COVID Pulse PH chatbot survey in selected ZEP2030 communities in Cebu.

COVID Pulse PH, a rapid survey deployed using chatbot in Facebook Messenger, is an innovative way of getting data from the poor in the new normal. Results from the survey gave insights on how poor families are coping in the pandemic and provided recommendations on the types of programs, services and resources vulnerable people need to recover.

Another initiative by the ZEP2030 Cebu Convergence is an information dissemination campaign where members and youth volunteers helped distribute informational materials on mental health and well-being as part of their COVID-19 relief packs.


Sustaining the coalition

Even with these small wins, Laborte admitted that much work is needed to get the convergence right back on track. He believes that what can help sustain the active membership and collective contribution of the members is to add some structure, regular activities and learning sessions to better engage with members and other new partners.

“The reality is, it is difficult to sustain the operations of the convergence, especially given the limited resources. Thus, we need to maximize our resource mobilization efforts and also ensure that the actions taken by our members are complementary to what we are doing,” said Laborte.


Looking back and looking ahead

There are new things on the horizon for the Cebu Convergence, including an emerging partnership with the municipality of Camotes Island through the A2D Project. They plan to conduct the PPI and FCV workshop with A2D once community restrictions have been lifted in Camotes. The convergence is also looking to expand its operations to Talisay City, and CENVISNET is optimistic that they can influence Negros Oriental to join the growing list of ZEP2030 convergences in Central Visayas.

Reflecting back on the lessons of the past two years, Laborte said it is important to believe in what you are doing and to trust the people you are doing it with. He added that pandemic or not, the only way through is to keep implementing and moving ahead. He plans to reconvene the Cebu Convergence in the second half of 2021 for a strategic planning session in the hopes that setting new directions for the group will help propel their work forward in the years to come.