DEEEP and the Istanbul Principles

The Journey from IstanbulIn 2011, international civil society adopted the “Istanbul Principles on CSO Development Effectiveness“, as a reaction to the donor driven aid effectiveness agenda. For DEEEP, these principles “propose a radical reconsideration of NGO practices in order to stimulate a system shift towards a more just and sustainable world. This is quite a challenge for NGOs, busy with daily policy business, trapped in topical silos and steered by the aspiration of short term wins, when the inclusion of our momentary buzz words in an official policy paper becomes the success story of the year. Getting out of the business as usual and starting to address the essence of the Principles in our own organisational practice, such as moving from charity to justice, addressing systemic change or cross- sectoral partnerships, real participation and transparency is a major strategic shift for most CSOs, which still requires a lot of learning and questioning.

This quote is an extract from the recent publication “The Journey from Istanbul – Evidences on the implementation of the CSO DE Principles” by the global CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness.

We are proud that DEEEP has been chosen as one of 19 case studies from all over the world. Under the title “DEEEP: CONCORD Europe’s transformative action experiment on citizen’s emancipation for global justice” (page 43) you can read how we try to address each of the 8 principles. Tell us what you think!

 

DEEEP – a transformational action experiment

DEEEP4There was not much activity on this blog in the last, well, 11 months – my apologies to the faithful reader who comes here regularly (if you exist). This is because the DEEEP project took most of my energy since the beginning of the year. DEEEP? Read more about it in this short article, which was originally published in the Smart CSOs Blog on Theory and Practice. Enjoy – and come back! You won’t have to wait for another 11 months for updates – promise.

DEEEP4 – Advancing towards system change in in the development sector

The Smart CSOs Lab proposes a radical reconsideration of NGO practices in order to stimulate a system shift towards a more just and sustainable world. This is quite a challenge for NGOs, busy with daily policy business, trapped in topical silos and steered by the aspiration of short term wins, when the inclusion of our momentary buzz words in an official policy paper becomes the success story of the year.

Getting out of the business as usual and starting to pull the “key leverage points” such as systems thinking, cultural transformation and building a global movement is a major strategic shift for most CSOs. At CONCORD, the European Development NGO Confederation, the DEEEP4 Project was recently set up as an action experiment to try out some of the Smart CSOs thinking in practice, and hopefully to scale up its experience in the wider confederation.

DEEEP is an EC-funded, project-based support mechanism created by the confederation’s development education working group (the DARE Forum) 10 years ago. When DEEEP entered its fourth project phase, running from 2013 to 2015, many elements of Smart CSOs thinking where already considered during the drafting process, and more concretely implemented in the first months of the project, when the team and strategic orientation was set up. With our team of six and a range of stakeholders from CONCORD, we introduced Smart CSOs thinking in a two-days “DEEEP retreat”, the project’s official kick-off.

As result, the project’s stakeholders resolutely positioned DEEEP as a tool for social transformation: DEEEP’s vision is “systemic change through engaged global citizens”, and its mission “a renewed civil society based on values and citizen participation” – an ambition which goes far beyond previous project phases and the objectives of most development NGOs. The participatory vision process led to broad ownership of this radical repositioning of DEEEP, from a support mechanism for one CONCORD working group to a confederation-wide recognized tool to bring upon meaningful transformation within civil society and ultimately in the economic and political system. All work areas of DEEEP have integrated this transformative ambition in their respective strategies (for example to develop a “new advocacy”, to explore system change approaches through the research portfolio or to implement a resolutely emancipatory practice in the capacity development field).

The implementation of this vision results in activities which go far beyond a traditional charity approach to development education (reinforcing public support for development aid), and privileges actions with a more system oriented, cross-sectoral and long term citizen engagement with social change. For example, DEEEP facilitated the participation of CONCORD in the first ever European Citizens Summit, which united 230 participants from all sectors of civil society to explore a new vision and narrative for Europe, based on shared values such as solidarity and justice – a quite unusual business for a confederation whose main scope remains institutional policy work. A global conference in Johannesburg in November will explore ways to “Building a global citizens movement”.

Beyond the level of concrete activities, the positioning of DEEEP as a “transformational action experiment” results in a strong value base, which is shared by the team and the management, and which is the base line for all activities and decisions, also beyond the core business of development education. For example, ambitious internal “green policies” are being developed, and the HR policies follow a logic of empowerment rather then traditional line management. Instead of solely contracting a final project evaluation, a “critical friend” will accompany the project permanently to facilitate an emancipatory learning process. Regular team meetings and retreats allow staff to co-shape the projects development, and by applying a systems thinking approach, we try to critically assess all organizational practices and implement innovative and sustainable solutions regarding procurement, climate impact, staff policies, fundraising etc. The project tries to continuously cultivate seeds of new CSO practice through streamlined reflection and learning loops, which are rooted in the values and vision of truly emancipatory change.
Maybe the most positive experience of setting up DEEEP as transformatory action experiment is that interest and feedback from internal and external stakeholders is overwhelmingly positive: It seems that people are eager to see that things can be done differently by thinking bold on the vision and learning humbly at the same time. We would be happy to share our learning and learn from you, so please get in touch!

 

By Tobias Troll, DEEEP project manager (tobias.troll@concordeurope.org) – 15 July 2013

Overcoming Empowerment

Let’s hope, once empowered, the events will get out of poverty.

Empowerment is one of the buzzwords in the development discourse. From World Bank to NGOs, one would hardly find someone who is against the promise to empower the poor to develop themselves. Even more, empowerment as a catch-all term has even left the realm of poverty in order to empower anyone and everything: a DEEEP roundtable at the Rio+20 people’s summit promised to “empower future”, a meeting place in Brussels proposes to “empower events”.

Empowerment implies that someone receives power from someone else – it is not the result of an autonomous struggle against oppression or exploitation, or the negotiation of resources and power between equal parties. It is based on the merciful permission to exercise power to a certain degree, and not on an active conquest of power, which necessarily challenges the power of someone else.

It is no coincidence that Paulo Freire didn’t use this term and rather used the word emancipation for the role of education in relation to power:

“Problem-posing education, as a humanist and liberating praxis, posits as fundamental that the people subjected to domination must fight for their emancipation. To that end, it enables teachers and students to become Subjects of the educational process [..]. The world [..] becomes the object of that transforming action by men and women which results in their humanization. Problem-posing education does not and cannot serve the interests of the oppressor. [..] [O]nly a revolutionary society can carry out this education in systematic terms” (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed)

Moving from charity to justice in development should imply that we stop talking about empowerment and move to alternative terms, such as emancipation, which point to the quest and struggle for power rather than proposing a harmless, well-meaning and meaningless empowerment of everyone and everything.

(This text is a modified extract of a recent essay “The question of Power in educational Partnerships“, for which I owe some inspiration to the blog post „Time to move beyond Participation and Ownership?“ and personal exchange with its author.)

When NGDOs say “engaging with the public”, they mean getting their money through marketing & advertisement?

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UK civil society recently engaged in remarkable reflections on roles of NGOs in a changing environment (e.g. the Smart CSOs initiative), and particularly on the question of how to engage with the public on issues which go beyond the people’s immediate self-interest. The Common Cause process led to a number of excellent, yet challenging reports, of which “Finding Frames – new ways to engage the UK public in global poverty” is particularly interesting for the development sector (and thus for questions related to global learning).

When I learned that a team of researchers from Polis, the journalism think tank at the LSE, started a reflection on “the relationship between audiences’ knowledge and caring and action” in cooperation with a number of big NGOs such as Plan UK, Oxfam and Save the Children, I was eager to read the first report of this three years research project.

Unfortunately, the findings are disappointing. Based on a round table discussion with high level communication, campaign and advocacy people (no development education people where present – sic!), the reports findings are framed in a logic of marketing, growth and competition. It does not touch on a number of key questions:

  • How can NGOs actually get out of a logic of competion and organisational self-interest in order to serve a common cause towards a systemic transformation of society – together with the UK citizens?
  • How can NGOs overcome the illusion that development aid will actually lead to development, and engage in a honest debate with a ever critical public about this?
  • How can the public actually engage and act – also and especially through NGOs – instead of only giving money or signing petitions?

The paper refers repeatedly to the Finding Frames report, which asks these difficult questions, but the reflection remains strongly in the frames of aid (“getting money to people on the ground” – what about political work in UK and partner countries?), needs and service delivery (what about a human rights based approach to development?) and, when it comes to the UK audience, getting their money through sophisticated marketing and advertisement strategies. It seems that empowerment is a nice buzz word for the “field work” but does not apply to the engagement with the UK citizens. A reflection on how the citizens (here and there!) can be integrated in a meaningful role in the work of the NGOs (including the strategic reflections and decision making processes) is completely missing.

Nevertheless, it is interesting reading, which shows that there’s still a lot of work to do within civil society organisations in order to overcome aid based, salvationist thinking, and to have a real debate on the transformative role (and duty!) of NGOs to work together with citizens to change things here and there.

You can download the report here:

Who Cares? Challenges and Opportunities in Communicating Distant Suffering.

Deconstructing Development Education

What is Development Education? How does it relate to “development” and education, and what is its purpose?

The first assignment in the “Principles and Practices of Development Education” module in the DE Master at the Institute of Education/University of London was to “explore understandings of development and development education”. For me, the result was a short essay, in which I try to deconstruct development education by having a closer look at its elements: development and education. After outlining various approaches to development, in particular the thinking of Amartya Sen (Development as Freedom) and Ananta Kumar Giri, who introduced a reflective and self-critical element to Sen’s concept (Development as shared human responsibility), I attempt an excursion in the thinking of French adult educationalist Marcel Lesne. I try to link the sketched thinking on development and eduction to various existing concepts of development education and global learning. In the conclusion, I attempt to outline an approach to development education based on values, empowerment and social transformation.

You can download the short essay (1600 words) here: Deconstructing Development Education

Enjoy the reading, and don’t hesitate to leave critical comments! This blog shall be about exchange and debate, so your reactions are more then welcome.