June 9, 2021
We recently talked to Yolaina Vargas Pritchard (YVP) and Angela Zamaere Smith (AZS) about power shift and how it can be actually practiced by INGOs. Yolaina Vargas Pritchard is sector change and funding advisor at Bond, and Angela Zamaere Smith serves as programs and partnerships director at All We Can, and co-chair of one of BOND’s streams of work under the umbrella topic of Supporting Locally-led Development.
With over 400 members, BOND is a network for UK civil society organizations and charities working in international development, which engages in advocacy and helps the sector learn from each other through peer learning and communities of practice around issues such as locally led development.
With a primary focus on Sub-Saharan Africa and India, All We Can is an international development and relief NGO, which is a member of BOND and has been promoting a partnership approach to development and ‘doing development differently’ since 2015 by ensuring that work is led by community priorities through local partners.
GS: How is BOND engaging in the global debate around power shift?
YVP: While the global conversation centered on power shift has been around for some time now, and Bond has engaged on this topic of power imbalance during the past few years, we have made a deliberate decision to invest resources in purposefully convening the sector and our members over the past year on this topic from different angles. Recently, we published a guide on decolonizing the language we use which you can find here.
During the last year, Bond has engaged 17 members and three advisors -including from the START network and the Shift the Power movement- to go through a 6-month Lab-style project where we identified the 3 key barriers to change in the UK development sector: 1) donor policy and practice which exacerbates power inequalities 2) governance structures and organizational models which promotes accountability to donors and trustees over the communities the organisations serve and 3) lack of trust in emergent development actors and approaches. We also went through a design process to identify what we need to do as UK INGOs to actually shift power. These efforts are looking not only at who makes decisions but also at how we are accountable about commitments made. In doing so, we have developed three work streams: a) sector commitments on locally led development by acknowledging previous history; 2) adapting donors’ policy and practice on funding and partnerships and c) promoting learning for locally led development.
AZS: The third work stream, which I co-chair, seeks to go beyond existing commitments made by INGOs now and in the past, to examine what locally led development actually looks like in practice. For this, we will need a common understanding of what an organization that is led by local priorities looks like and its main characteristics, so we can support one another on this journey to becoming one.
We will capture case studies of organisations that have made the shift so that others can emulate how they got there, but also use this as evidence that this way of working is effective and impactful and, of course, sustainable.
While some INGOs are embarking on it, mostly by co-creating or co-designing projects, they tend to face barriers from their boards of trustees [to becoming fully led by priorities and solutions developed by communities], who might find it a bit risky. This relates to the issue of trust. There is also a disconnect between how INGOs work with partners in the context of specific programs and the manner in which the sector actually communicates to the general public about it, as it is usually portrayed as though INGOs are working directly with communities, which oftentimes is not the case. This work stream will adopt an action learning approach to critically look at our practices and business models, the questions and challenges we face and how we can make the transition.
Further, one of the reasons for the working group in targeting donors is due to the recognition that the way that we are funded does not always help us to work in a way that supports locally led development. The engagement with donors also seeks to revise the metrics for success. For locally led development, the agenda must be set up by local communities, which is the opposite of having the agenda being set up elsewhere. That is, have local communities be the drivers of their own transformations, while NGOs become catalysts and enablers during the process.
GS: If you had to evaluate this work in five years, what would be possible indicators/ metrics of success in advancing locally-led development? How can members of this group be accountable to commitments agreed?
AZS: We are still at an early stage, but we hope to address these issues as one of the very first things in our work. For now, we identified the three work streams and the co-chairs and invited other members to join during BOND’s recent annual conference. Maybe, we can have a follow up conversation in a few months and discuss it then.
YVP: While it is still early to identify the indicators or metrics for success at this point in time, we hope to create them with our members and actors who are critical of the system in which we operate. For instance, in our first work stream, we expect to develop sector commitments -in terms of operational and organizational changes- and for our members to be accountable to these, to each other and the local organisations they work with.
AZ: For the third work stream, we hope to be able to capture case studies that can provide some evidence while also undertaking some pilots. While for the first stream, if we manage to get all BOND members on board with the commitments and roadmap, I am sure that we can claim that we were successful.
GS: To what extent is accountability being addressed as part of these efforts? Whose accountability is demanded and to whom and how?
YVP: Accountability is at the center of our conversation on locally led development. It involves questions such as who makes decisions within our organizations, and to whom and how we can be meaningfully accountable.
In this regard, we are keen that Accountable Now, which is a Bond member and a partner of the Global Standard for CSO Accountability, has joined as co-chair and brings its expertise. We are now looking at the concrete mechanisms that we need to put in place to address questions such whose accountability is demanded and how. This is a critical next step as we move forwards on this agenda for shifting power asymmetries.
GS: How is BOND engaging with external stakeholders from the Global South to re-examine INGOs own practices around locally-led development?
AZS: This raises the question about the role of our local civil society counterparts in the various countries where we work, and for BOND members to agree whether and how we want to bring them on board at some point and hold us to account about the commitments of shifting power to them, or whether we are paying lip service to this topic. We still need to have this conversation with members of the working group and how best to do it.
The working group will be looking at how we learn from local counterparts but also how they feed in the work we do. By having these other voices, hopefully, it will keep us ourselves accountable.
YVP: If there is anyone interested in contributing to the discussions of these working groups, especially in relation to developing sector commitments and supporting practice for locally-led development, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org