A mango! That’s how one participant described her organisation’s partnership in the session of the Strategic Partnership Lab, hosted by Partos on 24 February. Mangoes come in many varieties, different tastes, types and sizes. The same counts for partnerships and the contexts in which they are created.
In the Partos Strategic Partnerships Lab we take stock of the practical implementation of strategic partnerships and shift the power. It is a journey of transformation and genuine collaboration. And it is needed: in a poll during the session, over 80% of the respondents reported to experience power imbalances in the partnerships!
Simavi, Dorcas and Pax for Peace shared their cases in the session. They related to the process of developing theories of change and partnership policies. Last year’s Partos Dream Paper on shift the power that was written by a large group of involved practitioners, states that CSOs from the South need a seat at the discussion table, from the thinking/design phase of programmes and projects right through to the conceptualisation, planning, implementation, and monitoring/measuring of outcomes.
Unfortunately this has not always happened. Not infrequently, first steps in the development of such complicated concepts like theories of change or partnership guidelines are formulated by northern partners and then contextualized for the countries in which the partnership is working. Often the pressure of limited time, the perceived complexity of the issue, or high donor demands lead organisations to do so. The risk is that northern organisations become gatekeepers towards the donors and other corridors of power.
Most northern organisations do not wish to occupy such a position. The willingness to change is there, but how to approach it? Many principles of shift the power were shared and agreed in the session. Sometimes we might feel uncomfortable since we need to change the way in which we have worked for so long, from knowing to being inquisitive, from consultation to co-creation. We need to embrace diversity: all partners are experts and all partners are learners! We need to build on local knowledge, expertise and priorities. And we do not want rigid approaches, but adaptive management that can relate to rapidly changing circumstances.
Just get going
Implementing such change is not easy! The desired change seems so big, concepts are so complicated! I think a lot can be done if we unpack it, and just get going. Let us try, experiment. Let us get started, just by doing small things. With the vision of shifting power guiding us. Often change comes from people and organisations who do something and are not afraid to fail, because they have tried!
I feel encouraged that initiatives have been taken, experiments are carried out. To mention a few which have been listed by participants in the Strategic Partnerships Lab:
- South to south peer reviews for learning and feedback
- Adapting the Power Awareness Tool for planning and review
- Mutual capacity strengthening: southern partners training northern partners
- Participatory grant-making where communities decide themselves on priorities and grants
- Recruiting people from South in the program management unit
- Make an innovation fund whereby south ánd north learn and decide about allocations
So let us not get paralysed by complexity, but just do, try, experiment. And then document our learnings, share and scale up when experiments work. That’s how change will happen. I invite you all to share your successes and failures, in your own circles and in the Partos Strategic Partnerships Lab, so we will end up with a big box filled with the most delicious juicy mangoes!