Enhancing partnerships across the region: Australia Awards Fellowships

Enhancing partnerships across the region: Australia Awards Fellowships

HIV Australia | Vol. 12 No. 2 | July 2014

By James Malar

The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) International Program is working to enhance partnerships across Asia and the Pacific.

One way that this work is continuing is through a project that is engaging directly with HIV/AIDS and men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender (TG) organisations across the region as part of the Australia Awards Fellowships (AAF) program.

AFAO is partnering with the Asia Pacific Council of AIDS Service Organisations (APCASO) and the Asia Pacific Coalition On Male Sexual Health (APCOM) to bring together participants from HIV/AIDS and MSM and TG organisations in Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos PDR, Indonesia, Timor Leste, Philippines, Cook Islands, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu.

The program will see a total of 50 advocates and leaders from community organisations, representing 13 countries, each participating in one of two month-long training programs being held in Australia.

The training has been timed to coincide with the 2014 International AIDS Conference (IAC) and will continue after the conference in the form of a twelve-month mentoring and leadership program, facilitated by the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine (ASHM).

What are the Australia Awards Fellowships?

Administered by the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the AAF program aims to develop leadership, address priority regional development issues, and build partnerships and links between Australian organisations and partner organisations in Asia and the Pacific.

The program’s goal is to develop the skills and knowledge of current and aspiring leaders in priority areas to provide support in advancing key regional policy objectives and increase institutional capacity of partner countries.

AAF projects are designed to complement individual bilateral country programs by offering flexible learning opportunities that address current and emerging needs at the country, sub-regional and regional levels.

The AFAO AAF programs

The AFAO AAF initiative is split into two groups, involving 25 participants each. One program focuses on strengthening HIV/AIDS civil society policy and advocacy capacity in Asia and the Pacific, while the other aims to strengthen MSM and TG policy and advocacy capacity among regional and sub-regional networks in Asia and the Pacific.

These two programs, running in tandem, will provide representatives from Asia and the Pacific with opportunities to build skills and capacity in advocacy, leadership, legal frameworks, social research and policy development; and also give participants the unique opportunity to experience and participate in an international HIV conference (an opportunity that will no doubt ensure the voice of Asia and the Pacific will be strongly represented at AIDS 2014).

It is envisaged that the two programs will empower and equip HIV/AIDS and MSM and TG networks across Asia and the Pacific to continue to expand their influence and effectiveness over the coming years.

AFAO will be working in conjunction with ASHM, who will facilitate a twelve-month mentoring and leadership program for the AAF participants on several AAF programs.

The ASHM leadership and mentoring program will be particularly important in assisting this new network of community leaders to continue to develop, enhancing the HIV/AIDS and MSM and TG response for their local community and strengthening the community networks across the region. Details about the two AFAO AAF programs are below.

AAF Program 1: Strengthening HIV/AIDS civil society policy and advocacy capacity in Asia and the Pacific

This capacity development program aims to strengthen community-based capacity for advocacy to promote sustained investment for HIV responses, political commitments and investment in HIV responses for HIV based on relevant context and evidence.

This program particularly targets APCASO and its members, as they play a lead role in facilitating community systems strengthening around policy and advocacy for HIV responses in Asia and the Pacific.

As many countries in the region move into middle income status and the sustainability of funding is questioned due to withdrawal of international donors and uncertainty over domestic governments commitments, the role of civil society to conduct advocacy around HIV financing and hold governments accountable to their political commitments and to providing programs to address key populations is crucial.

This AAF program will provide advocacy and policy skills and knowledge on HIV financing to steer APCASO and representatives from its members in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos and Vietnam through challenging advocacy environments, to supported sustained funding for community-based HIV organisations and key populations, within the post-2015 landscape following expiration of the Millennium Development Goals.

The program will enable APCASO to gather updates from the International AIDS Conference, and learning to support human rights advocacy and strengthen policy analysis capacity for engagement in national, regional and global policy discussions.

Rodelyn (RD) Marte from APCASO says that the AFAO/APCASO AAF partnership presents a unique opportunity for APCASO and its members to focus on skills development, away from the day-today pressures of carrying out the work:

‘In the course of implementing our work, the daily pressure to implement many things well and on time often leaves little room and energy for much needed personal and organisational reflection and learning.

‘This is why the AAF is so valuable to APCASO fellows – it provides precious time, space and resources to dedicate just for learning.’

AAF Program 2: Strengthening MSM/TG policy and advocacy capacity among regional and sub-regional networks in Asia and the Pacific

It is well known that countries across Asia and the Pacific are experiencing escalating rates of HIV transmission among men who have sex with men and transgender people, particularly in large urban areas.

The 2008 Commission on AIDS in Asia, Multi City Initiative, and the HIV Strategic Assessment each call for urgent investment in MSM and TG prevention, treatment and care programs.

The Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM) works to respond to this huge gap in funding, research, and human rights protection for MSM and TG and is AFAO’s partner for this program.

The AAF will support APCOM members to respond with increased advocacy and leadership to the MSM and TG epidemics in Asia. Strengthened strategic planning and leadership skills, will contribute to APCOM and members capacity to function as peak advocacy bodies for MSM and TG in Asia and Pacific.

The AAF will also provide more focused learning on building specific skills in advocacy, human rights and social media focused on MSM and TG community issues.

The AAF will strengthen the skills of key MSM and TG advocates and networks in Asia and Pacific, to be able to engage more effectively and knowledgeably with national government, health service providers and other stakeholders. This will support the scale-up and accessibility of services for MSM and TG around HIV and health, as a priority DFAT issue.

The AAF will also support increased advocacy around human rights protections for MSM and TG communities.

Midnight Poonkasetwattana from APCOM emphasises the broad benefits he sees resulting from the AAF, particularly with regard to the way APCOM will be equipped to respond to challenges:

‘APCOM believes in working in partnerships to contribute to an effective response to HIV for key populations such as MSM and transgender people because an effective response is a well coordinated response. AFAO provides coordination and support to APCOM to jointly implement an AAF program aiming to strengthen civil society-led advocacy and leadership.

‘The AAF fits in with one of APCOM’s four Strategic Results – to build a cadre of advocates by investing in emerging leaders and community advocates.

‘This is crucial to be able to keep our rights-based and evidenced-based programming to be responsive to the current needs of the changing socialisation of our communities in a highly digitalised and globalised world, and also the challenges that we continue to face for our communities to be an equal partner in the response.’


International organisations, community organisations and governments have continually highlighted the importance of civil society and community engagement in achieving broader social and economic development outcomes for the HIV/AIDS response.

Given that Asia and the Pacific constitutes the world’s most populous region, and given significant economic and social changes in the region, AFAO commends DFAT and the Australian Government for their ongoing support of HIV/AIDS and MSM and TG community organisations across the region.

AFAO, APCASO and APCOM look forward to enhanced working relationships between all our member and partners as we move forward.

James Malar is the Engagement and Communications Advisor at AFAO International Program in Bangkok.