Shifting the Power to the South
Oxfam Novib recently launched the book ‘Beating the Drum: Stories of Influencing Networks’. It explores the efforts of nine networks around the world to influence decision makers on a variety of issues (including land rights, SRHR, public health, and animal welfare). To make a deep-dive into some of the topics of the book, Oxfam Novib hosts a series of webinars. The third webinar, which took place on 26 November 2020, was on the topic of ‘Shifting the Power to the South’. This webinar was co-hosted with Simavi.
Reflections from Beating the Drum
Although power relationships were not explicitly included in one of the three learning questions, the influencing networks in Beating the Drum all share pertinent insights into dynamics related to power.
One recurring theme is the power following from differences in resources. Especially since funds are often disseminated through Northern-based or international organizations, this adds to a power imbalance between the North and the South. Being aware of power differentials and conducting regular power analyses are helpful in mitigating imbalances. Also, clear governance structures that are representative of the diversity in the network can help balance out power dilemmas. Balancing power remains to be challenging and requires continuous efforts. Therefore, dealing adequately with power dilemmas, for instance by setting-up transparent governance systems, is more important than striving for full equality in all aspects.
Differences in positions and capacities naturally lead to differences in power, see also the blog on mutual capacity strengthening in influencing networks. To balance this out, network members at all levels need to work together and commit to knowledge and information sharing. It is also important to continuously reflect on who is deciding on what is defined as knowledge and capacity.
Perspectives from the North - Simavi
Loan Liem and Sara Ahrari joined the webinar on behalf of Simavi, and shared the work on shifting power from the North to the South.
Simavi is active in different SRHR and WASH alliances and their work is characterized by paying particular attention to transferring Power to the ‘South’. ‘Power’ means capacity, ownership and decision making. In the Unite for Body Right program (2011-15) that was implemented by a Dutch SRHR alliance, consisting of five ‘Northern’ partners and several local organizations, Simavi started to strengthen the local SRHR alliance in India. Simavi introduced an Alliance model, that has a ’shared ambition’ at its heart. Jointly, the seven India alliance members identified their organizational strengths and needs, discussed how they could capacitate each other, and where they synergize, and what was needed from Simavi or partners outside the alliance. Simavi allocated a joint fund for building the alliance and together local partners decided on the budget plan. To explore commitment of the alliance members, different funding scenarios were explored long before the program ended, including scenario zero, with no funding from the North. Discussions also included questions around why and how alliance members would work together, as well as deeper explorations on commitments, including investments and contributions of the individual Indian partner organizations to building the alliance.
Perspectives from the South – SRHR Alliance India
Murari Choudhury, Executive Director from the organization NEEDS, represented the Indian SRHR alliance, that started in 2011 with six member organizations. In 2020, the alliance is one of the largest Civil Society Organization (CSO) networks in India, with membership of 164 grassroots level CSOs. Murari reflected that from the start of the collaboration, Simavi contributed that partners worked together in alliance with a different mindset. He experienced a transformation process towards vested decision-making with sufficient space among the local partners and support in linking with various other stakeholders for perspective building. Important components were 1) the establishment of the governing board with rotating leadership; 2) setting rules for decision making and mechanisms to ensure positive interpersonal relationships; 3) having a common goal among all partners that were equally credible and well-known in the space in SRHR; 4) the focus on resource mobilization to support member organizations. All these components contributed to the growth of the alliance with grassroots CSOs. Main challenges in the alliance are the continuous engagement of grassroots CSOs, to realize shared decision making, and to deal with competition for the same funding as an alliance and as individual organizations.
Perspectives from the North - Simavi / SRHR Alliance
Simavi introduced the GUSO programme, that is implemented by the Northern SRHR alliance with local alliances in 7 countries. The first outcome of the programme aims to build sustainable country alliances on SRHR. A period of 4,5 years (2016-2020) was planned for transfer of ownership, including decisions on funding. Related key activities include:
- Each country alliance had to develop a proposal and the quality was rated by members from other countries. Better rating was associated with increase of funding.
- In-country, partners were in the position to decide how to divide their country programme budget among the organisations based on an agreed mechanism.
- The alliance building model was introduced to discuss the sustainability of the alliance and to identify top priorities for building and improving the alliance itself.
- A joint budget for each alliance was provided, and each country could itself decide how to use it.
As a consequence, the Northern alliance and its members had to be very flexible and creative to provide the requested support on top priorities, since it could not have been planned for in advance.
Perspectives from the South – Kenya and Ghana SRHR Alliance
Johnston Kuya presented the experience of the Kenyan SRHR alliance that was part of the GUSO programme. Supported by the Northern organizations, the Kenyan SRHR alliance developed their own shared vision and related implementation strategy. It went through a process on how to divide resources among the partners by relating the budget to a combined self- and peer organizational capacity assessment. Hence, the Kenyan SRHR alliance operates based on the agreed relative strengths of its individual members. In their experience, the co-creation between the North and the South has been very powerful. The facilitative and participatory approach drew on the knowledge and experience of all partners involved, and yet challenged the Southern partners to develop an ambitious strategy. Johnston reflected that Kenya and the other country alliances appreciated guidance from the North on the appropriate direction to going forward, including facilitating a discussion on an exit strategy. A power dilemma exists, still, resulting from the massive flow of funding coming from the North to the South. That holds uncomfortable power dynamics even if you put in different governance structures at all level. The North, and especially donors, need to find ways to de-risk the shift in power.
Kenneth Danuo presented the experience of the Ghanaian SRHR alliance. For the first time, seven competing organisations came together to develop a proposal for funding and shared a lump sum of money for implementating the GUSO programme. Over time, the leaders of the member organisations of the Alliance demonstrated collective responsibility and ownership and felt a stronger need to clarify their collective ambition, increase visibility and recognition for their work, and strengthen resource mobilization. The alliance experienced some push and pull factors in relation to the North and also within the alliance itself. For instance, at some point the North questioned the process of budget and roles allocations within the alliance. They asked the Ghanaian Alliance to go back to the drawing table and rework arrangements. Within the alliance itself it also was a long process to get agreement on how funds would be divided among the members. Suddenly every member claimed capacity to implement all strategies necessary for the program.
Lessons learned: 1) The bottom-up approach created ownership and sustainability. It does require high levels of commitments from all members; 2) Working in an Alliance means achieving more for members and target beneficiaries; 3) Trust issues should be carefully balanced with high level of transparency and accountability; 4) Continuous capacity enhancement on request from the South by the North is appreciated. The Ghanaian SRHR alliance is now registered and nationally recognized within the SRHR space.
Perspectives from the South – Bangladesh WASH Alliance
Zobair Hasan (DORP Bangladesh) presented lessons from transferring ownership in the Watershed WASH consortium.
‘Watershed-Empowering Citizens’, a five-year partnership involving 4 Northern partners, aims to build the capacity of CSOs in Bangladesh with a focus on WASH related advocacy. Simavi led the joint-process of developing a Theory of Change (ToC) for the consortium, in which partners were engaged in proposing activities. Some challenges and lessons learned include that different roles and priorities of partners can result in discussion and disagreement. This was solved by finding compromises that can actually work in the Bangladeshi context and for the benefit of the project. Furthermore, in the process of implementation partners were given the opportunity to take the lead. However, they could still become stronger in making use of the opportunities: e.g. taking the lead, demanding initiative, speaking up. The interplay between power dynamics, confidence and culture forms an important barrier in effective communication and collaboration. Western style of reporting and dialogue does not necessarily match with Bangladeshi conventions. These can make open and equal communication and mutual understanding difficult. It is a process that demands work and self-reflection of all parties involved.
Lessons from the break-out groups
Participants went into smaller groups to have in-depth discussions with the presenters. A few discussion points that were shared include:
- Current financial resource allocation processes can be a bureaucratic burden. Often funds are disseminated to Northern CSOs, which then disseminate these funds to Southern partners. Power comes with money, which creates questions around how standards are being set and who decides on these standards when. Can we change demands from ‘within the system’ towards more trust-based mutual accountability?
- Involving grassroots organizations in a network is a way to have more local involvement. It makes the network more rooted in local realities. Grassroot organizations should participate in discussions around shifting power from the North to the South. This highlights the need for Southern leadership and a transparent operationalizing process.
- Discussions on resource mobilization within and across alliances need to take place to ensure the sustainability of Southern alliances and networks. Local leadership supports legitimacy of the network, but also plays an important role in ensuring sustainability of the network.
- We need to start thinking differently about power relationships. There is not just the North-South divide: power imbalances exist within countries as well (e.g. between international CSOs, local CSOs, private sector actors, and government actors).
- It is important to reflect on who is deciding which norm to use. Often the North considers “to the point”, “brief” and “short” the standard for format for communication, while in countries like Bangladesh often the more elaborated conversation is used. Decisions on what norms to use in this case directly affects what lessons (and whose) are shared during global conferences.
A big thanks to Simavi for co-hosting this webinar together with Oxfam Novib. We would like to thank all the presenters and participants for this interesting session. If you’d like to watch the recording of this webinar, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.