Left to Right: Dumiso Gatsha, SDGs Goalkeeper and founder of Success Capital NGO & Degan Ali, Executive Director at Adeso
A growing movement of people is challenging the traditional top-down paradigm, ways of working and decision-making within international development aid and philanthropy. Known as “Shift the Power” or #ShiftThePower, this movement calls for new behaviours, mindsets and work approaches that shift power and resources, and promote more equitable and people-led development. It started at the 2016 Global Summit on Community Philanthropy and, since then, has mobilised numerous funders, researchers and activists who are taking individual and strategical collective steps to further this change.
The recent Pathways to Power Symposium, hosted by the Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF) on November 18-19 2019, brought together a diverse group of 110 people from around the world and from different parts of civil society and philanthropy, who are deeply engaged this movement. We spoke with two activists and close partners of the CIVICUS alliance who participated in the Symposium: Degan Ali, Executive Director at Adeso, an African NGO that is promoting a development that non-dependent on international aid; and Dumiso Gatsha, SDGs Goalkeeper and founder of Success Capital NGO, a youth-led organisation defending LGBTIQ+ rights in Botswana.
What are your main takeaways from the Pathways to Power Symposium?
Degan: The Symposium was really inspiring because it was a completely different dynamic and group of people than what I’m normally used to when attending events within the traditional humanitarian or development aid sector. I felt a lot of energy. The activism and the possibilities of creating a movement were extremely exciting. My main takeaways were that we still need to do better about having more propositional and tangible ideas of what the ecosystem we are trying to create will look like. I'm not sure if we were able to address that in the symposium in terms of what we are offering or suggesting to the bilateral donors, foundations, international non-profit organisations and local organisations on a practical level. What is our proposition? What are we offering in terms of what the ecosystem change looks like? What does the shift of power really look like for local communities? The challenge for us is to get more concrete and practical.
Dumiso: Power will inherently lie with those who have options to decide what is prioritised, relevant or needed in society, and exercising those options requires equity and resources. So the assumption that people can exercise their power without resources (money specifically) is skewed, as the only other time when people galvanise is when there is a glaring lack of resources and mass civic action that emanates from the lacking leads to change in those instances. During the event, I appreciated the unravelling of nuances of supremacy (racial, geographic, country economic status, etc.), the breadth and depth of discussions on systemic issues that might be impeding power within philanthropy. The fact that I could be in this space brings peace to younger me that never understood why or how creativity, multifaceted ideas and young people were never independently enabled to scale or strengthen their work.
Considering your work on the ground, context and identity, what do you think is missing in the conversation about shifting the power?
Degan: What has been missing, at least from the traditional aid conversation on localisation, are proper discussions of power and racism. I think there was an openness to discuss this subject in the “shift the power” conversations that I haven't seen in other events, and that is good. As I previously mentioned, I think the conversation is also missing the clear and tangible asks and solutions that we would like to bring to the table as a “shift the power” movement.
Dumiso: It's clear that those who are implementing partners and/or those who operate on the ground never get to be in such important spaces. Their feedback is often limited to evaluations, project reports and sometimes, needs assessments. These have power dynamics that might not make it economically and mentally safe to be objective or true to the experiences on the ground. What success and capacity look like to a community can be very different from what is predetermined in a monitoring and evaluation plan or an enabler's strategy. This became evident in a more diverse group at the subsequent workshop hosted by Accountable Now, called “Preparing for a power shift towards people and communities we work with and for.”
What concrete suggestions would you give to those support groups and individuals in philanthropy and development circles that are trying to embody new ways of deciding and doing in order to help build agency, resilience and sustainability of your community?
Degan: Philanthropists and bilateral donors in the development and humanitarian circles should be more willing to reflect on the power that they wield and to start questioning the internal systems and machinery that are trying to retain the status quo of power and resources being held by the hands of the few in the Global North. My challenge to them is what can you do in your own circles and your own spaces to challenge power imbalances and do things differently? This requires both humility and courage.
Once we as a movement have come up with tangible solutions, we should ask them what specific things they can do as an agency, as a foundation or as a bilateral, inside and outside their own institutions, to help us achieve that new ecosystem. We also must get them to understand that improving the ecosystem is not only about eliminating institutionalised racism and shifting power, it is also about improving the quality of the work and programs provided. I think improving the ecosystem in the end means that you get a value for money, efficiency in the system with the removal of so many intermediaries, and it means that you do better work that is more meaningful and has more impact for communities that we are claiming to want to serve. If we are serious about quality, this is the right thing to do.
Dumiso: The best thing you can do to solve some of the prevalent, inherent and recurring challenges is to employ those who live and are affected by the experiences on the ground – they have capacity, they are skilled and diverse. Otherwise they would never be able to navigate and respond to the opportunities and challenges within their contexts. Othering, inequality and injustices are common factors in many societies regardless of jurisdiction.
Encouraging collaborative interventions does so much more systematically. Being uniquely placed to link and bridge those who are underfunded and under-resourced can strengthen movements and overall civic action. When the tides rise, all boats rise.