The #shiftthepower movement advocates for more community-led development. In the Partos Strategic Partnerships Lab we take stock of its practical implementation. It is a journey of transformation and genuine collaboration.
Last week I facilitated the session with She Leads, a 5-year partnership of Plan International, Femnet (The African Women’s Development and Communications Network), Defence for Children – ECPAT, and Terre des Hommes. The partnership aims to strengthen inclusion of girls and young women’s perspectives in society.
‘It is a journey that I am proud to be part of’, says Mishi Singano of Femnet. ‘It does not have an expiry date. We’re in this constant journey where we collectively and consistently and deliberately check our own privilege, our positioning and the power that we grab in specific situations or historically.’
And a journey it is! Shift the power is more than changing a decision-making or accountability structure. It is a transformation in which we look at all elements of the partnership. Ourselves, our organisations, our language, our ways of working, our values and leadership, procedures, funding, governance, they all matter. And it happens in the system that we work in, the communities, civil society organisations, northern NGOs, donors. So many stakeholders, each with their interests and ways in which they are used to do things.
This might sound scary, as if too much change is demanded. The good thing: organisations are already doing it. She Leads is a case in point. They just started and there are interesting learnings to be shared. So let us not be scared off: every step is progress on the journey of change. And that is how She Leads is developing: step by step shift the power is being implemented.
Helen Evertsz of Plan explained how She Leads partners have collaboratively developed 10 guiding principles, such as inclusiveness, collective well-being, equal partnership and collective accountability and transparency. As they were developed together, everyone feels accountable to them.
A great initiative is the formation of the Global Girls and Young Women’s Advisory Board, consisting of girls and young women from the communities. They know what is needed and their voices matter in the partnership. Investing in this Board to get a strong voice in the partnership is crucial. It was suggested to design a clear monitoring tool in order to measure in how far the Board’s advice is being implemented. A very practical way to ensure that She Leads will practice what they preach!
The journey of shift the power is nothing less than building a genuine partnership. A partnership where everybody matters, trust is being built, and everyone contributes and benefits. In such a partnership the issue is not who has power over who, but how powers are used together in order to achieve shared ambitions. We discussed a few learnings.
- Sometimes we need to compromise between shared ambitions and individual interests. In the composition of the Girls and Young Women’s Board, She Leads wished to have each participating country to select one representative. The joint ambition however was to have much diversity in the board composition. A compromise was discussed in which the countries put forward three top candidates and the collective decided on the final appointments, taking diversity into consideration.
- Partnerships are about listening and understanding one another. In the words of Mishi: ‘seeing that intention of everyone to listen, and not to impose, has really been life-changing’.
- Shift the Power is about designing and implementing together. It is not just handing over power from one to another, but also to take over responsibilities and share risks. ‘Of course it comes with its challenges, but we do know the requirements to design a proposal. It has been a lot of heavy-lifting, but it was worth it because that is what it means to share power: to take responsibility, not only privilege’.
- Genuine partnership builds on recognizing that each partner adds value to the partnership. Mishi: ‘ Plan can have a lot of power through their knowledge of how the Ministry operates, but Femnet can have a lot of power through their knowledge of how communities operate’.
For me that is one of the most important elements of shift the power and of each genuine partnership: having a fair dialogue where partners recognise one another and invest time in building the partnership based on trust and complementarity. Investing time to identify what all partners have to offer and need from one another in order to achieve the shared ambition.
We are talking a lot about shifting power in our relations between northern NGOs and southern civil society organisations. And rightfully so! In the end however #shiftthepower goes a step further: it is about community-led development. She Leads envisions a situation where not only policies change, but institutional cultures, so that girls can own and claim power before power is granted to them. Isn’t that powerful?