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Summary of pre-Summit weaving conversations: We can’t wait for reform – take action now

06 Jun 2024

 

One of the themes cutting across the different weaving conversations held in the run up to the #ShiftThePower Global Summit in Bogotá was this: civil society organizations (CSOs) need to be proactive in addressing the multiple challenges they face – many of which are to do with common donor practices and power imbalances.

Panelists and participants in the different conversations shared their experiences – and there were many moments of rueful recognition, as donor practices and other challenges related to power injustices came up that many had faced or were facing. (And there’s no need to list all those here!)

There was never a sense of powerlessness, though – despite there being many aspects of the international development “system” being beyond people’s control to change.

Below are some of the suggestions made by panelists and participants. These are actions and approaches that CSOs can unilaterally take, without waiting for donors and INGOs to #ShiftThePower, to live up to their promises, or for the sector to transform. There were many hours of useful dialogue, so this is not a complete list. If there is a proactive approach for CSOs missing from this list, please let us know in the comment box at the bottom of this page!

 

Actions CSOs can take

Build alliances and networks – or join existing ones. Alliances with other CSOs and stakeholders can amplify voices and build collective power. CSOs are often part of informal networks, or thematic ones relating to their area of work, but can benefit from building or joining broader networks (including national networks or regional ones) that cut across development sector ”issue silos.” These alliances and networks can give CSOs a stronger platform for advocacy and enable them to feedback on harmful donor practices, and push for meaningful change.

 

Develop alternative funding models, diversify. Developing alternative funding models and diversifying funding sources can help to reduce dependence on any one donor or funding stream. This can provide greater stability, autonomy and flexibility for CSOs and enable them to pursue their own priorities and agendas. Several CSOs mentioned developing investments, starting social enterprises and commercial ventures to generate income to pay for things that donors don’t often want to pay for – such as organizational development, and properly qualified staff. Community contributions and in-kind support are important here, and a number of CSOs are looking to develop alternative accounting systems which can recognize and count diverse kinds of (local) contributions.

 

Build better, deeper relationships with donors and funders. This is a big one and not necessarily easy to do. Suggestions included:

  • Seeking opportunities to invite donors to visit communities they are supporting to learn what works and what doesn’t.
  • Building donor trust through demonstrating high standards of transparency and accountability.
  • Developing the organization’s reputation through activities such as conference and webinar appearances, thought leadership articles and lessons learned analyses.
  • Developing a strong, clear vision and mission for the organization, and being able to articulate this to donors and funders.
  • Building up a track record through work with small grants to later be more competitive in securing larger grants.
  • Being proactive in seeking out feedback and learning from donors and funders, on both grant applications and also project delivery, and use this to improve.

 

Ensuring legitimacy with, and accountability to, your communities. Prioritizing transparency and accountability can help CSOs to build trust and credibility with communities – as well as with donors and other stakeholders.  Use participatory and inclusive approaches to decision-making, reporting back to communities regularly on progress and impact, and being responsive to feedback and concerns from communities and other stakeholders. Ensure the organization is responding to community needs and not just donor priorities; CSOs should re-centre their work on community assets like local knowledge, networks, non-monetary support and solutions rather than solely focusing on external funding. Local resource mobilization is also important for CSO independence and legitimacy.

 

Collaborate, support each other, mentor others. Larger or more established organizations can help smaller ones (and unregistered ones) to access donor funding by acting as an intermediary or through mentoring. Established CSOs could, singly or in groups, offer mentoring to smaller CSOs and seek donor funding to pay for this work. Joint applications for grant funds from CSOs with thematic or geographic synergy can reduce the inevitable competition between CSOs for funds. Explore collective impact initiatives – where multiple organizations work together to address a specific issue or problem – and publicize the results.

 

Connect with global movements. By connecting local struggles to global movements for social, economic, and environmental justice, we can build momentum for broader systemic change. Summits like Bogotá are a way to do that, but organizations should look for ways to show mutual solidarity both within and between countries; collective action will help CSOs to play a bigger role in setting agendas and priorities, rather than having to react to “external” agendas.

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