Reflections from the #ShiftThePower Global Summit: What can funders do differently?

25 Jan 2024

This piece originally appeared on the Rights CoLab website


For the first time in four years, activists from the #ShiftThePower movement gathered together in Bogotá this past December for a Global Summit. The aim was to inject new energy into the movement through deepening connections and relationships, forging a stronger and more unified action agenda for change.

Many from the Re-Imagining the INGO (RINGO) team and wider RINGO community were present as allies to help influence funders and INGOs alike to ensure they actively and rapidly shift power and resources to national and local civil societies. RINGO hosted a Funder Action Pod meeting in the week following the Summit to share key takeaways and some initial thoughts on what this milestone convening might mean for the funding community going forward.


What was the #ShiftThePower Global Summit?

From 5 – 7 December 2023, more than seven hundred activists, local civil society organizations (CSOs), INGOs, funders, researchers and other allies from across the world met in Bogotá under the banner of #ShiftThePower. The GFCF is the convenor and steward of the movement, previously hosting similar (albeit smaller) events in Johannesburg (2016) and London (2019).

The funders present in Bogotá were a significant minority and were there to listen and learn. The power balance at this Summit from the start was not business as usual. The organization of the event embodied locally-led development in practice: the narrative was led fully by local and national people, who are doing the work on the ground, and who led the work at the Summit, too.

“Of course, as funders, we always try to be in touch with those we fund. But in Bogotá it was them setting the agenda, them uniting, them making clear that they will continue their amazing work with or without us. It was a humbling but necessary experience for funders.” – Patrick Steiner-Hirth, Robert Bosch Stiftung GmbH

Another funder said: “The Summit was a hopeful, respectful and creative space. It didn’t seem like this same old thing. It felt different [to other conferences] and helped us all to see things differently.”

Over the three days, a peer-based space formed using movement building approaches rather than the usual panel style. Funders and activists took an equal footing in breakout sessions. We heard from long-standing activists in the #ShiftThePower movement about what solidarity looked like and why it needed to be in the foreground of thinking and action in global development.


What did we learn?

The movement for #ShiftThePower is no longer on the fringes. It is large and established and continues to build momentum. This is particularly visible at the local level, where the energy is most felt. This was clearly indicated by the strong turnout of 700+ people at the event in Bogotá, many from small, local CSOs.

But whilst there was a contingent of funders present, they’re not, for the most part, in the same place as the communities they serve. In spite of commitments made by funders in 2016 to deepen localization and shift power, resources have not necessarily followed the energy of those at the local level. Participants felt that funders and INGOs continue to try to be in the driver’s seat for change, rather than supporting what local communities already know they need. A well-informed funder or INGO strategy does not necessarily equal solidarity.

Meanwhile, measurement approaches are also still top-down, dominated by old-style metrics. These are underpinned by ongoing power imbalances between those with the financial resources and those without. Conversely, we learned that community resourcing can demonstrate how accountability models are radically transformed when invested alongside those of external funders.

Amongst the many challenges presented, there was a strong call for funders to help respect the idea of local assets that exist, to help build them, and to not overlook them or undermine and displace them through funder-led strategies.

Perhaps unsurprising for this contingent, it was agreed that community Foundations and community philanthropy more broadly demonstrate how local resources can not only have a huge impact in and of themselves, but can also lever significant additional resources to supplement community resources.

With funders in listening mode, it was a challenging experience in some ways, but this also led to some surprising reactions: One discussant referred to it as: “the pleasure of discomfort.”


What were some of the main opportunities arising from the Summit for funders?

1. Spaces, time, coordination. Connections and coordination between initiatives that are driving for change in the system could be improved and deepened. There is a continuing need for safe and open spaces for quality reflection and conversations. In addition, time for well-being and care need to be considered, as this is part of systems change overall.

  • ACTION: Funders should look to invest in funding spaces : convenings, conversations, reflection and learning – so that activists, leaders and communities can do their best thinking and planning. Build in well-being and care as part of this.

2. Solidarity for funders means listening and following. The traditional and linear processes of funding and monitoring are outdated and not a good fit for locally led change.

  • ACTION : Funders should listen to communities and activists on what they are doing, what change looks and feels like, and wait to be invited in to accompany change processes. This means investing funds as requested by the community, not expecting locally-led activities to squeeze and morph to fit with funder intentions. Shift to genuine partnership.
  • ACTION: Role model the accountability you have to communities and activists.

3. Be part of the movement with your peers, and simplify processes. Funders come in very different shapes and sizes and with varied priorities and focal areas. There is a need for strong collaboration on the funding side in order to reduce duplication and the bureaucratic burden.

  • ACTION: Make sure you are joining up with one another as funders: sharing data, info, forms, processes, so that CSOs aren’t all pulled in different directions and away from the work you want to support


About the RINGO Funder Action Pod

The RINGO Funder Action Pod, co-convened with the Council on Foundations, is made up of funders who want to help and invest in ‘reimagining’ the system of international cooperation and philanthropy, and to find better ways of demonstrating solidarity and partnership internationally. The group convenes every two months and focuses its time on an area of innovation and provocation that has emerged from the RINGO Project or from elsewhere in the sector. It also looks at new areas of collaboration and influence between funding sectors, such as private philanthropy and bilateral funders. Interested in joining this community? Contact

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