How international civil society can take steps towards building better now

We know that while some international actors have started to think about how they can #ShiftThePower during the Covid-19 crisis, a crucial step is oftentimes missed: directly asking local and national civil society organizations what changes they would actually like to see instead of making assumptions or putting international needs first. Keen to understand what the response would be if the question was asked, on 23rd and 27th April in cooperation with the GFCF, we brought together community philanthropy practitioners from around the world to surface initial reactions about what they would like to see international civil society – whether it be INGOs, donors or others – do differently (including right now!) in response to Covid-19.

We recorded our conversations on two Jamboards (pictured above), which can also be accessed here and here. Several commonalities emerged across the sessions, leading to a few key takeaways:

  • Takeaway 1: There was an overwhelming call for international actors to immediately introduce more flexible funding systems that allow communities real autonomy in meeting their needs during the Covid-19 response. This includes shifting away from project funding towards support for organizational development and sustainability.
  • Takeaway 2: Both groups highlighted the importance, now more than ever, of solidarity, empathy, dignity and trust, which requires a relinquishing of control from international actors (including INGOs) and a decentralization of power from HQs. For some, this means INGOs downsizing in order to shift focus to needs in the global South.
  • Takeaway 3: We must not forget to highlight or communicate what is already happening in local and national civil society spaces, and international actors have an important role to play in publicizing and advocating for this work across their own networks (including with their funders).

Participants suggested a few practical next steps, including:

  1. Creating spaces for honest, difficult discussions between international and local/national actors, especially to educate international donors about how to listen to experts from affected countries and how to be more reasonable with grant requirements.
  2. Publicizing current funding practices – both the bad and the good – to raise awareness of the best and worst ways of using international financial resources to respond to Covid-19.

We recognize that these conversations represent only a first, small step in articulating the “demands” of Southern civil society in relation to international actors. We also acknowledge the power and resources that already exist in the community philanthropy and civil society space – and several participants called for local and national organizations to work together and strategize to build power together. We therefore offer these reflections as a springboard for further action so that we can #BuildBetterNow.

The Jamboard links above will remain “live” so please feel free to revisit and edit the clusters or add new insights as they arise.

By: Alex Martins, on behalf of the Reimagining the INGO (RINGO) project

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Barbara Nost
Barbara Nost

Please let this jamboard be seen by INGOs and find ways of doing so. I have added on some more thoughts, and I could go on and on.