Disruption and resilience in the global South

How can civil society organisations best collaborate to bring about major change in an era of disruption? A vision supported by IIED was delivered at the 2017 Bond conference.

Article, 29 March 2017
IIED senior associate Halina Ward, centre, at the Bond session on disruption and resilience in the global South

IIED senior associate Halina Ward, centre, at the Bond session on disruption and resilience in the global South

Over the past two years, IIED has worked with a number of civil society leaders from Asia, African and Latin America to explore what disruption and unpredictable change means for their organisations and the contexts in which they operate, and also how they see themselves as disruptors – seeking to bring about major change for the better.

This vision prepared by IIED partners Namhla Mniki-Mangaliso, from African Monitor, and Nicole Leotaud, from the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute, is a checklist of principles for effective, equal and respectful collaboration. It draws on insights from discussions between Southern civil society leaders at IIED's disruptive change retreat in Bellagio in December 2016.

Transformed partnerships in the age of disruption

Our vision is premised on the simple idea that the world can only be transformed by the coming together of the like-minded, from all corners of the world, to work together and create a new global reality.  

If we are to believe that we all want the same thing – a better, more equitable, just and sustainable world – we must find a way to achieve this together. 

While we do not claim that this vision reflects perspectives from all leaders of Southern civil society organisations (CSOs), its key tenets draw from the perspectives of Southern CSO leaders who participated in a Bellagio dialogue on disruption in the South in December 2016. 

Our definition of transformed partnership is a mutually beneficial collaborative relationship where Southern CSOs collaborate with their partners (INGO, international agency, donor) to achieve clearly articulated common goals

We value and hold in high regard the leadership, impact, capacity for innovation and problem solving, tenacity and resilience that Southern CSOs bring to the development sector. We value and hold in high regard the scale, resources, knowledge, influence and profile that international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) and development partners bring to the development sector.

Our definition of transformed partnership is a mutually beneficial collaborative relationship where Southern CSOs collaborate with their partners (INGO, international agency, donor) to achieve clearly articulated common goals, and each partner equitably contributes to and benefits from the partnership. 

Key principles

Shared vision and values: the collaborating organisations agree to form a partnership because they share a common vision of what should be achieved and they have common objectives. They seek to build a partnership on the basis of their current and projected niche(s) and strength(s).

Specificity: partnership will only cover specific areas of cooperation and each partner organisation will retain the right to take independent and autonomous decisions on all matters outside of these specific areas. The partners are, however, encouraged to collaborate, both formally and informally, through communication and information sharing, mutual support and the constant exploration of opportunities for collaboration.

Ownership, equity and trust: collaborating organisations are owners and full participants in the arrangement, and the levels of their respective contributions to the partnerships should be equitable to their benefits from the partnership. All decisions regarding partnerships will be taken collectively and on the basis of consensus. All levels and structures within the partner organisations (governance boards, management, staff) will be fully informed and will be involved as appropriate.

Effective governance: mechanisms will be put in place to facilitate joint decision-making, and to avoid and resolve disputes. These mechanisms will be transparent and participatory to reinforce trust and ownership.

Value added and clear purpose: all partners are satisfied that partnership has a purpose and that they are adding: (a) to their capacity, especially because each collaborating organisation, is bringing a unique set of skills and experiences into the partnership and (b) to their funding opportunities, especially by giving them access to resources that would not otherwise be available to them individually.

Mutual learning and accountability: all partners value and respect each other’s contribution to the process, and willingly participate in learning and review processes in order to improve the impact of the partnership. Partners are equally accountable to each other. 

Criteria for assessing a potential partnership

  • Strategic relevance: will the proposed partnership be strategic for both parties to contribute to achieving their visions and missions?
  • Alignment of values: does each partner respect the other partner’s values? Are the values of each partner well aligned?
  • Complementary interests and capacities: does the partnership bring value to each partner, and does each partner bring something unique and complementary to the table? 
  • Transparency and accountability: does the partnership ensure a commitment to transparency and accountability while respecting organisational confidentiality requirements, as appropriate?
  • Responsible organisational practice: does each partner have a commitment to sound environmental practice and social equity in their organisational practice?
  • Participation: will decision-making processes in the partnership include mechanisms for each party to contribute effectively and will decisions be made jointly by consensus?  
  • Respectful of autonomy: will each partner respect the other party’s autonomy, independence and right to advocate for its own issues and priorities?
  • Reciprocity: will all partners contribute equitably to, and derive benefits from, the partnership?
  • Risk management: will the partnership put either party at any fiduciary or reputational risk that cannot be managed within the partnership arrangements?
  • Cost-effectiveness: will the value of the gains from the relationship be greater than the transaction costs, when assessed over the life of the partnership?

IIED organised a session at the recent Bond conference in Central London, attended by more than 200 people. Mniki-Mangaliso and Leotaud presented this vision statement, and shared reflections on how relations with Northern organisations (funders, networks, collaborators) can themselves be sources of negative disruption. 

A summary of the session is available in Storify format.