With COVID-19 pushing up to150 million people into extreme poverty by the end of 2021, the urgency to understand and meet the needs of the world’s most marginalised people has never been greater. However, pervasive gaps in official data and statistics are hindering efforts to protect and support those being left behind. To address this, over 15 civil society organisations (CSOs) are coming together and launching a collaborative that will combine their data-driven insights to create a more intersectional understanding of the pandemic’s effects.
From women to persons with disabilities to refugees, the pandemic has highlighted and deepened long-standing inequalities. But the true scale of the pandemic’s effects is obscured by data gaps. Many millions of people are invisible in official data and statistics, their lives and needs uncounted in policy decisions. An equitable recovery from COVID-19 requires better data on the lives of marginalised people, collected with their knowledge, consent, and participation.
Civil society is uniquely positioned to generate data and insights with marginalised people that can complement official statistics and fill data gaps. From citizen-generated data to rapid needs assessments to programmatic data, the collaborative is harnessing existing data collected by CSOs over the past year.
The collaborative will work with communities and activists to develop a data-driven report and advocacy campaign, launching in July this year at the United Nations High Level Political Forum.
Alongside new insights on the effects of COVID-19, the report will highlight CSOs and citizens’ learnings on inclusive and participatory data collection methods, and offer recommendations for improving collaboration and coordination between official data producers, civil society, and citizens.
The collaborative is led by a Steering Group, involving Action Aid (Denmark), Christian Aid, Development Initiatives, Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, International Civil Society Centre, Plan International, Restless Development, and Sightsavers.
A diverse and growing range of CSOs are engaged as partners, including Africa’s Voices Foundation, CBM, CIVICUS, Consortium for Street Children, HelpAge, Institute for Global Homelessness, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Save the Children, VSO, and World Vision.
The collaborative is an open platform for civil society, communities, and activists. If you would like to learn more about engaging, please contact Kate Richards, Inclusive Data Charter Outreach Manager.
The collaborative is made possible by the Steering Group’s contributions and convened by the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data and the International Civil Society Centre.
Kate Richards is the Outreach Manager for the Inclusive Data Charter, an initiative of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data. She leads on engaging new Inclusive Data Champions, as well as developing and implementing communications and advocacy strategies that catalyze action on disaggregated and inclusive data. She previously worked at Dalberg, advising leading foundations, multilaterals, and NGOs on strategic communications and advocacy, and at Oxford University. Kate has an MPA from the London School of Economics and is based in London.
Peter joined the Centre in January 2013, back then as a trainee. He completed the traineeship in the advocacy & campaigning office of World Vision Germany. Peter now coordinates the Leave No One Behind project and contributes to the development and implementation of various other strategic formats. Before joining the Centre, Peter worked for various organisations and think tanks in the development sector, being an expert in multi-stakeholder processes. He studied at the University of Bonn and graduated with an MA in Political Science with a focus on multi-actor advocacy for climate policy.
Between Power and Irrelevance: Are ICSOs actually looking at shifting their roles?
18th March 2021 by Tosca Bruno-van Vijfeijken and Barney Tallack
In the first of two guest blogs, accompanying the publication of ‘Between Power and Irrelevance: the Future of Transnational NGOs’, George E. Mitchell and Hans Peter Schmitz argued that if the ‘charity architecture’ in which our ICSO sector has been embedded for decades does not change, ICSOs will not be able to achieve the long-term impact they promise to deliver.
What has shifted over the past 12-18 months, in terms of ICSO power and relevance?
The COVID-19 pandemic primarily accelerated underlying challenges, providing additional drivers for what have been longer-standing trends:
The financial duress, which started well before the pandemic based on plateauing and/or declining fundraising in traditional ‘markets’ deepened. Some big ICSOs, such as World Vision and Save the Children, had good years in 2020 in terms of income. Many others, however, were treading water or are in decline, and furloughs and layoffs are now more common.
A shift towards a network model of autonomous, lean organisations.
Increased operational interest in shared services, office space, etc.
Significant soul-searching on anti-racism, equity, diversity and inclusion. Strong emphasis on cognitive awareness-raising, in the form of discussion, training, etc. – even though research shows this has limited impact and can even backfire, when used as the sole solution.
#ShiftThePower: Highly relevant – but in need of some nuance
The #shiftthepower and decolonising aid narratives, rhetorically, have become stronger and calls for action louder. The key question is: will ICSOs hear the critiques of Global South civil society, academics and governments and respond this time with greater clarity on how their role and size need to change and/or reduce significantly, in order to retain legitimacy and relevance? And can they discern the contexts in which a larger scale and global presence is still adding value?
At the same time, let’s add some nuance. For instance, which parts of global South civil society do not agree with the stance that ICSOs are crowding them out, and why not? We also urge the sector to take a nuanced, contextualised approach. The request to simply transfer unrestricted resources to Southern CSOs does not recognise the necessity for northern ICSOs to still create that income in the first place. They can only do this by being out in front of the public in their own markets, or by mobilising citizens to give their governments the mandates to allocate resources.
At the same time, a good amount of philanthropy is provided by high wealth individuals (increasingly from all parts of the world) who still need persuading that direct transfer of resources to CSOs in the Global South means that their ways of imprinting on such delivery will be more limited.
Equally, the commitment of boards, staff and volunteers to social justice and solidarity should not be dismissively categorised as being all about self-interest. It is the “how”, the “forms and norms” (as we say in the book) that need to change. It is not about the wholesale removal of Northern ICSOs from the equation.
Are ICSOs actually rethinking roles – in a serious way?
ICSOs need to seriously rethink shifting their roles to respond to this set of drivers, but we have not yet seen widespread openness to doing this in significant ways. By this, we mean more focused, specific and limited roles that really add value to the system, given the maturity of Global South civil society. Few ICSOs have fundamentally changed their role, power structure, or organisational “forms and norms”.
How ICSO leaders can start doing this:
Engage with your critical friends/stakeholders to ask for robust critique of where your organisation is helpful and where it is not
Know that recognising the need to change roles in some areas does not invalidate your organisation’s historic purpose and achievements up to that point
Frame sharing power with Southern peers and moving to new roles as a way of regaining valuable legitimacy and relevance
What these new roles could look like:
Be the campaigning ally/presence in their home countries for truly global multi-stakeholder co-owned and co-created campaigns
In public education and mobilisation, connect missions abroad to social justice issues at home
Provide, upon request, focused consulting services in specific thematic and technical niches
Offer policy research services, targeting mainly governments and institutions based in Europe, the Americas, and other wealthy nations
Broker relationships in multi-stakeholder collaborations
Play a backbone role, upon request, in networks of Global South actors to support collective impact
Be open to merging or being acquired by other actors (including in the Global South) for specific expertise or country footprint.
As practitioners, we will be keen to follow whether we will see such role shifts develop, and with them a greater handover of power, authority and decision rights – not just responsibility and risk – to country-level leadership, national boards and to partners.
As a sector, we need now more than ever to identify and share models of transformative practice in role shifting, and we will stay connected with the Centre to do this together in future. So if you have something significant to share on this, please get in touch!
Tosca Bruno-van Vijfeijken, alongside George E. Mitchell and Hans Peter Schmitz, are co-authors of the recently published book Between Power and Irrelevance: the Future of Transnational NGOs. You can discover more details about it here.
Tosca Bruno-van Vijfeijken has worked on international development and civil society issues for 30 years, in practice, in academia and as independent consultant. Before launching her consulting practice, Five Oaks Consulting, Tosca was the Director of the Transnational NGO Initiative at Syracuse University, USA. She focuses on NGO change management, leadership development and organisational culture. She has served as board member of InterAction, Public Interest Registry, ProLiteracy and Cadasta. Early in her career, Tosca worked as development practitioner for NGOs, the UN, the World Bank and at a think tank based in the Netherlands, Tosca’s country of birth.
Consultant on INGO strategy and transformation
Barney has worked as a practitioner in the INGO sector for nearly 30 years. He has held senior leadership and Board member roles in a variety of international and UK based organisations. He has deep experience in leading strategy and organisational transformation programmes, supporting restructurings, governance and NGO mergers. As Director of Strategy for Oxfam International, he ran the global strategy process and for five years the global transformation and change programme.
Tools for inclusive futures: Reflections on ‘Imagining Feminist Futures after COVID-19’
5th March 2021 by Vicky Tongue
In 2021, the Centre’s Scanning the Horizon futures community is working on ‘inclusive and equitable futures’, exploring and sharing models, analysis and collaborative opportunities for feminist, racially just futures. One key part is sharing practical and accessible tools, particularly open source methods which do not require significant specialist knowledge or skills to implement and, increasingly, virtual delivery options.
We want to explore new opportunities to either use these tools for our own community or group collaborations, or exchange experiences as we use shared techniques with our own audiences. These tools ‘meet the author’ tools workshops are a new kind of online community offering this year.
Tools for inclusive futures: Bringing you the best of what is ‘out there’
Common barriers to introducing or strengthening futures thinking in organisations include time-consuming workshops, not being able to bring diverse groups together (especially in-person) or the need for consultants or specialists to lead this work. So in 2021, we want to find the best of what is ‘out there’ to address these challenges, and bring them back into our community to help democratise futures practice beyond a smaller group of organisational strategic thinkers.
So we were very excited to find the new ‘Imagining Feminist Futures after COVID-19’ workshop methodology developed by the Australian CSO International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA) in 2020. This is a 3-hour online methodology which can bring new, diverse audiences together without expert external facilitation. And we partnered with IWDA to deliver a combined familiarisation and training of trainers session on 23-24 February for ten organisations from the Scanning the Horizon community.
A way to bring futures thinking to feminist thinkers, and feminist thinking to futures thinkers
Imagining Feminist Futures After COVID-19 is a project IWDA with support from a steering group of actors across the feminist movement. The project aims to enable feminist organisations and networks to think through the ways in which the COVID-19 crisis is changing the future trajectories – both positive and negative – for feminist social change towards the year 2030.
IWDA commissioned a consortium of feminist futurists, led by Changeist, to design this adaptable workshop methodology based on futures thinking approaches to support diverse feminist activists, organisations and networks to come together virtually (or in person where possible) and apply their own futures thinking and scenario building. For many participants, it may be their first experience of structured futures thinking, and as such, the tools have been designed for use by an audience which is totally new to the concepts.
A core objective of the project is to make the workshop methodology available for anyone to run with their own organisation, network or community. In return, they ask that participants share the findings from these different workshops. IWDA, along with project steering group members, plan to bring their own analysis and visioning to these outcomes and develop a range of creative outputs to add to the rich discussions happening across feminist movements.
IWDA has been holding feminist futures workshops with participants in Australia and across Asia and the Pacific. This workshop with our Scanning the Horizon community was IWDA’s first time with a group of more generalist futures thinkers, rather than strongly feminist-focused organisations and individuals.
The short summaries of (i) principles and frameworks that support and enable a feminist future and (ii) privileging forces/established power structures within society that hinder equal progress towards feminist futures help bring about different and deeper types of conversation. With more generalist audiences, we recommend including these as additional pre-reading, and to increase the amount of time in the agenda allocated to discussing the lens of privileging forces.
And actually, just a great entry point for different and dynamic conversations
Participants felt the workshop methodology can be used both to inform strategic thinking and also as a tool for personal formation and training minds to think in more inclusive and equitable ways about the future. Its full trends list includes STEEP + V – incorporating values into a standard social, technological, economic, environmental and political assessment – which makes this a more holistic and interesting process.
We wanted our particular group to work on a broad range of trends, so included 18 from the full list of 20 (three teams with six trends). For groups with a specific aim or audience, focusing down on a smaller set of more relevant or influential trends may work better for more focused futures conversations.
Interestingly, of the trends provided, our three breakout teams independently decided to focus on: (i) ‘new faces of change’, (ii) ‘refocus on community’ and (iii) ‘sharing and peer economies’. This may reflect interest in exploring some of the new decentralised and power and leadership models which have become more prominent since COVID-19.
You can see the outcomes of our conversations here. They show that the method is great at enabling dynamic and interesting exchanges which can shift thinking and explore new possibilities in the group you’re working with. It also documents a range of insights which can be compared and contrasted with other groups also using the tool.
You don’t need expert knowledge, but you do need well-prepared facilitation
Key factors for facilitation are who you have in the virtual ‘room’ (see below), how you capture different perspectives, and how you support participation and share the findings.
IWDA have really made the toolkit as ready to use as possible, with a clear, well-illustrated facilitation guide and pre-populated Miro board for your use. After our session, nearly all participants felt ready to run a workshop themselves, with proper preparation time. This included participants relatively new to futures thinking, feminist thinking or even both, which reiterates just how accessible it is and does not require significant pre-existing knowledge, experience or expertise.
It does, however, require careful thought on facilitation, and time to ensure in advance that participants have sufficient basic skills and familiarisation with Miro. This may be easier for digital natives and require more preparation time for others (note that participation does not require a paid account. You should offer advance familiarisation sessions to people who have not Miro before, and share a practice ‘play’ board. The workshop board layout is a very intuitive design, with arrows to guide people through the navigation. If you take this time and care, the technology should not be alienating or prevent people from taking part.
And you do need to stress fully with participants how important it is for them to take the time for the pre-reading so that they will get the most out of the group conversations.
You also need to think through how to organise the group documentation of dynamic conversations to fit the time available – as you will feel the pressure to get things down! The beauty of Miro allows everyone to write down and share their ideas individually, in an open way aligned to the aims of the method. But a designated scribe may also be needed to help summarise the collective sense-making conversations for report back in plenary, at the risk of simplifying or even silencing some of other strands, to report back to the others.
Ensuring diversity in the virtual room and breakout teams
When asked who they planned to run the workshop with, there was a real mix of audiences, both internally within our own organisations, externally with partners, networks and stakeholders, and in social circles with family and friends. And also with a range of people – activists and young changemakers, advocates, leadership/management teams, gender team/community of practice – but ideally with a broad mix of perspectives and roles to keep the explorations as diverse and dynamic as possible.
The workshop is designed for 5-20 participants. Breakout groups of around four people feels optimal to both generate ideas and keep documenting of conversations manageable. But ensuring diversity of groups is most critical – experience/knowledge/roles (futures/feminist/other), gender and geographic diversity, and a mix of optimists/pessimists (which could be identified by icebreakers).
Building a base of practice and knowledge
Half the organisations who took part are already planning to run workshops with their networks. The Centre itself will run another session in May at an Americas/Europe/Africa-friendly time for organisations. We want to contribute to a community of worldwide practitioners using this method, and share both content findings and facilitation experiences or tips with IWDA. This blog is our first contribution, so watch this space for more updates from us and the other participants-turned-practitioners, over the coming months!
Let us know if you are interested in joining or running an upcoming workshop on ‘Imagining Feminist Futures after COVID-19’.
Our next community methods/tools workshop will be with ParEvo on 29 April 2021 – see more here.
Vicky Tongue is the International Civil Society Centre’s Head of Futures and Innovation, leading our core initiatives on future trends, horizon scanning and civil society innovation. Vicky has more than 15 years’ senior programme management with several leading UK-based ISCOs, including Marie Stopes International, Article 19, CAFOD, ODI and Save the Children.
Call for Applications, Project Consultant Tender
23rd February 2021 by Adriana Sahagún Martínez
The International Civil Society Centre is looking for a project consultant to support the Civil Society Collaborative: Inclusive COVID-19 Data.
The goal of the collaboration is to bring together CSOs and use their data to understand and amplify the needs of marginalised people, especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. Currently, 15 partner organisations from the international civil society have signed up to the project, including key actors like Plan International, Sightsavers, Development Initiatives, Restless Development and CIVICUS.
The key output of the collaboration will be a joint report to be launched and presented at the UN High-Level Political Forum, taking place in early July. Further presentations are planned for the UN World Data Forum in October and potentially other occasions. The report’s main content will be an analysis of the data, learnings, and insights that partner organisations have jointly contributed, focusing on COVID-19 and its impact on marginalised people.
The Centre and GPSDD are currently conducting a survey across the participating partner organisations, collecting their relevant insights, learnings and available data. For the next steps of project implementation, the Centre is commissioning a consultant to:
Utilise the landscape survey and analysis conducted across the project partners to develop a report structure and outline;
Author of the advocacy report (10,000-12,000 words) to influence global leaders;
Identify case studies and impact stories to be promoted; and,
Work in close collaboration with the Centre, GPSDD and the project Steering Committee throughout the entire process to reconcile the report development with the interests of all participating parties.
To Remain Relevant, CSOs Need to Fix the Architecture
19th February 2021 by George E. Mitchell and Hans Peter Schmitz
This is the first of two guest blogs and an upcoming podcast interview which will explore longstanding challenges and new dimensions of deep drivers of change for international civil society organisations (ICSOs), from a group of academics and practitioners who have long explored the questions of power and relevance that influence the future of these organisations.
In this first blog, the authors explore the major long-term trends and questions already challenging the sector before the new complexities highlighted and surfaced by the big developments of 2020.
Long before COVID-19 disrupted the lives of billions and raised new, urgent challenges for the sector, many ICSOs were already grappling with existential questions about their futures. In many ways, the global pandemic is amplifying a longstanding need for change, not just for future-looking ICSOs but for the whole sector more broadly.
Geopolitical shifts, increasing demands for accountability, and growing competition have been driving the need for change within the sector for decades. ICSOs have been responding with specific initiatives intended to secure their future effectiveness and relevance, but their efforts have been constrained by institutional and cultural legacies—forms and norms—that inhibit their ability to successfully adapt. As ICSOs confront unprecedented challenges to their survival and future relevance, leaders and change managers must keep the long-term future in sight while addressing the immediate needs of their organisations and stakeholders.
New agency within old architecture
The longstanding problem facing ICSOs is that over the past half-century they have evolved into new kinds of organisations, while the architecture in which they operate has remained largely unchanged. Most ICSOs today do more than alleviate the symptoms of deprivation and injustice, seeking instead to address root causes through fundamental social and political transformations. As such, they are no longer conventional charities and instead agents of transformation focused on achieving long-term sustainable impact.
But ICSOs still operate within a legacy architecture designed for conventional charities, not for contemporary change agents. The resulting tensions underlie many of the challenges long debated throughout the sector, including aid localisation, downward accountability, and shifting power. Missing in these discussions is an acknowledgement that ICSOs need to do more than embrace internal reforms; they also need to work collectively to change the architecture in which they are embedded.
The legacy of the architecture and its accountability framework
The architecture consists of the forms and norms that have historically defined the sector. In the United States, ICSOs typically incorporate in charity form with self-perpetuating boards and transnational federated governance structures often dominated by their wealthiest member organisations. These forms tend to privilege ‘upward’ financial accountability to donors in the Global North, with a focus on preventing financial integrity failures, such as embezzlement or fraud, rather than focusing on ‘downward’ accountability and sustainable impact for intended local constituents.
The charity model assumes that the impact ICSOs create is often unknowable or too difficult to measure, so accountability is instead fixated on financial reporting and monitoring. In general, ICSOs are supposed to spend all of their available resources as quickly as possible on whatever is easiest to measure and most satisfying to donors. This is not conducive for organisations explicitly committed to being accountable to those they claim to serve, truly empowering stakeholders, and achieving long-term sustainable impact. The traditional charity model works well for conventional charities, but fails for ICSOs seeking to inhabit new roles as agents and facilitators of fundamental change.
Manifestations of dysfunctional architecture and cultural norms
The dysfunctional role of this architecture is today particularly apparent when ICSOs attempt to break the rules to increase their effectiveness; for instance, when activists seek to address global issues through advocacy “at home,” rather than through traditional aid transfers from the Global North to the South. In Germany, groups such as Attac and Campact had their tax-exempt status revoked because of tax laws prohibiting political activities. In Switzerland, a recent campaign by ICSOs in support of greater corporate accountability for human rights violations abroad has led to accusations of engaging in illegal domestic political activities. As the strategies of ICSOs continuously evolve based on changing understandings of global problems, the existing charity laws and regulations regularly fail the sector.
Alongside issues of law and governance, powerful cultural sector norms have also emerged that influence how stakeholders think and act. Many of these represent the sector’s virtuous character and should be maintained and celebrated, but others hold it back. For example, ICSO staff and supporters may acknowledge a need for reform throughout the sector, but at the same time consider their own organisations exempt because of some perceived unique difference. These ‘excessive cultures of uniqueness’ can also lead to problematic behaviours by individuals claiming a commitment to values as a substitute for a true culture of transparency and openness.
Transforming the architecture together
Of course, what ultimately matters most is the lives of the billions of people who stand to gain by a more successful sector. The architecture has ensured that ICSOs can survive, and even thrive, mainly by satisfying resource providers. But this system is outdated and fails to serve the needs of ICSOs and their local constituents today.
To ensure their future relevance, ICSOs need to collectively organise to transform the legal and cultural frameworks holding the sector back. They need to decide what kind of organisations they want to be and then help create a new architecture that facilitates, rather than impedes, success in these desired future roles.
George E. Mitchell and Hans Peter Schmitz, alongside Tosca Bruno-van Vijfeijken, are co-authors of the recently published book Between Power and Irrelevance: the Future of Transnational NGOs. You can discover more details about it here.
Prior to joining the Marxe School, he was Assistant Professor at the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership at the City College of New York. He received his PhD from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University (USA), where he was cofounder of the Transnational NGO Initiative at the Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs. George’s research examines topics in NGO and non-profit management, leadership, and strategy.
He received his PhD in Social and Political Sciences from the European University Institute in San Domenico di Fiesole, Italy. He is the cofounder of the Transnational NGO Initiative at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs/Syracuse University. His research interests include international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), human rights advocacy, digital activism, philanthropy, and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as global health issues.
Open Letter to States on Universal Access to COVID-19 Vaccines
8th February 2021 by Adriana Sahagún Martínez
This open letter from leaders of CSO platforms calls on States and UN Secretary-General to meet their obligations to protect the most marginalised groups during the Covid-19 crisis and ensure that all people worldwide, without distinction of any kind, have access to an effective vaccine in a timely manner.
8 February 2021
Permanent Missions in Geneva and to the United Nations Secretary-General Office
In these early months of 2021, our common SDG pledge to leaving no-one behind is as critical as ever. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hit indiscriminately both high-and low-income countries, threatening lives and aggravating existing inequalities and vulnerabilities, it is high time for international solidarity.
We are conveners of influential civil society networks and platforms. Our constituency entails thousands of civil society organisations and their partners which work with, and on behalf of millions of people who are being marginalised and deprived of their human and civic rights.
We highly value the long-standing partnership with States and UN agencies. We are determined to mobilise and lead collectively, based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focused in particular on the rights of those left furthest behind.
Together we have been able to move forward on crucial agendas such as peace and human rights, disaster response and development goals. Although, across these topics, serious challenges still exist, we remain committed to addressing them jointly. This is key to our success.
Regretfully, today we note a lack of collective actions in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and are seriously concerned by the increased competition on access to vaccines. While we recognise States’ responsibility to respect, protect and promote the right to adequate health care for all those living on their territory, we would like to highlight that this pandemic knows no borders and demands global solutions. With new variants of the virus developing in various locations in the globe, it has become clear that universal access to the COVID-19 vaccine is the only solution to end the pandemic and mitigate the deepening socio-economic inequalities. All people worldwide, without distinction of any kind, must have access to an effective vaccine in a timely manner.
Thereby we call upon States to step up multilateral efforts and lead a truthy global response. We call for a global allocation framework that puts humanity at the centre. It is in our common interest to ensure that priority in access to vaccine at a global level is given to those at a higher risk of infection and/or developing a serious disease. Other priority considerations at national and global level will be counterproductive, leading to a perpetual spiral of new, vaccine-resistant variants of the virus.
We urge States, pharmaceutical companies and all other private actors in the supply and production chain to undertake concrete steps to rapidly step up the production of vaccines’ and at a price that will be affordable for all. In these life-threatening times, more than ever, we need full transparency from our governments and accountability on invested public money.
As civil society organisations we stand ready to work hand in hand with States, UN Agencies and the private sector to ensure that this truly becomes a people’s vaccines. We have valuable knowledge, expertise and capacities to concretely support the roll out of effective and all-inclusive national vaccines programmes. We strongly believe that only by working together we can defeat this pandemic and successfully stand against future ones.
Explore: ‘Civil Society Innovation and Urban Inclusion’ report
2nd February 2021 by Adriana Sahagún Martínez
Civil society organisations are innovators. They test new approaches to both traditional and emerging problems. One of today’s most prominent and influential global megatrends is the rapid but unplanned urbanisation taking place around the world, which risks excluding the priorities of many groups of people living in cities from formal planning and decision-making processes. While civil society organisations have achieved some success in addressing these challenges, there is a significant opportunity for organisations to learn and benefit from the lessons others have encountered.
In this report, we’ve collected some samples of successful innovations in complex urban contexts that deliver inclusive solutions for marginalised communities. Get inspired by real-life examples of new approaches:
Leveraging multi-sector collaborations to transform the affordable housing crisis in cities
7th December 2020 by Sanjee Singh and Honora Cargile
Habitat for Humanity International’s Global Urban Approach 2018-30 is one of the innovation case studies and accompanying podcast interviews in the Centre’s ‘Civil Society Innovation and Urban Inclusion’ report 2020. Explore the full report here.
One of the ‘golden threads’ of inclusion and impact throughout the report is the need for effective multi-sector collaborations for change in complex urban challenges. This has become even clearer in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in cities, as two colleagues from Habitat share in this guest blog.
COVID-19 and sheltering in place
The current global pandemic represents both a health and an economic crisis. The availability of adequate and affordable housing is at the center of people being able to shelter in place for extended periods of time. COVID-19 has had far-reaching effects on urban communities across the world, with higher concentrations of people in cities increasing exposure rates. People living in informal settlements and refugee camps have been more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 due to their poor housing and living conditions, limited access to water and sanitation, loss of livelihoods and overcrowding. Social distancing and sheltering in place is difficult, if not impossible.
It is more apparent than ever just how essential it is for families to have safe, affordable, and adequate housing to reduce their vulnerability to COVID-19 and a plethora of other health- and disaster-related risks.
Community collaboration during COVID-19
While the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many of the vulnerabilities and inequalities in the housing ecosystem, it has also reiterated the strengths of many urban communities and the importance of taking a people-centered development approach. Local communities have exemplified what coming together really means and that through collaboration, communities prosper, especially when supported by the public and private sectors in robust multi-sector collaborations.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, community-level action has become more necessary than ever to address the schism between communities in cities whose needs are and are not being met or represented. Individuals have helped one another maintain economic activity, kept vulnerable community members safe, and fostered a sense of community, even when many of us are physically separated. This can only be accomplished by multiple entities within a community coming together to help each other during this difficult time.
This resilience and strength in our communities comes from collaboration, from being part of a team that sees the bigger picture. It comes from establishing important relationships that serve the most vulnerable in a population. People, Public, Private Partnerships (P4) are necessary alliances to ensure that the development needs of the most poor and marginalized are addressed and met in these complex contexts.
What makes a community?
The answer might seem obvious, but we cannot point to one individual unit that makes a community. Is it the citizens? Businesses? Public servants? Community organizations? Buildings? All of the above – none alone make for a community, yet none survive without all the others. The nature of a community is this system of interlinked elements that interact with each other and the environment, constantly changing in time and space. Even the smallest changes to one part of this system can affect the whole, and community members understand this better than anyone.
There is never a problem nor solution that affects only one piece of a system. For instance, inadequate housing can affect education, sanitation and livelihoods among other things. These complex problems require complex solutions, which acknowledge that interlinkages exist beyond the apparent and that one entity alone cannot tackle them. Complex solutions come from collaborations. Innovative, affordable housing solutions in any context require evidence-based community-, market- and policy-level solutions that stem from a deeper analysis of the entire housing ecosystem.
Why are multi-sector collaborations so important?
Collaborations allow multiple organizations to partner together to tackle a specific problem and contribute towards transformational change, especially the multi-faceted and complex problems often affecting urban populations. These mutually beneficial and well-defined relationships entered between government, non-profits, private organizations, community organizations or groups and individual community members solve problems or explore new opportunities, with no clear single answer. They acknowledge that the issues facing communities around the world require collaborative solutions at community, policy, and market levels.
Habitat for Humanity’s multi-sector collaborations during COVID-19
Various Habitat for Humanity national offices have engaged in multi-sector collaborations to tackle the nuanced and complex issues COVID-19 presents. Our Indonesia office ensured essential medical personnel had a safe and comfortable place to stay when they were unable to return home out of fear of bringing the virus with them, rejection from neighbors, and working on ‘standby’ status. But there were also not enough places for hospital workers to stay on site. Our team partnered with Jakarta area hospitals and hotels to ensure adequate accommodation for essential medical workers, reducing the risk of further spreading the virus and allowing these key staff to better perform their jobs.
Habitat for Humanity Paraguay is also working with our network of government and NGO partners to distribute COVID-19 sensitization materials and develop handwashing stations. Communities are being empowered through education and access to resources to stay healthy throughout the pandemic.
Why do multi-sector collaborations work?
Organizations are better able to create meaningful change with more resources, bandwidth, and new ideas. Multi-sector collaborations create an environment where this is possible. Working with these multiple actors means a variety of resources and perspectives bring creative solutions to complex problems. The strategic and creative approaches fostered by multi-sector collaboration allow for holistic solutions that do not tackle only one single component of a complex system.
We cannot separate the structural issues inherent to urban settings from the political, social, environmental, and economic systems in which they exist. These problems require expertise and solutions that are cross-disciplinary, multi-faceted and that put the value of the community first. A community’s strength lies in its ability to collaborate with actors both within and outside of it, and draw on its own strengths and resources. Community members and organizations are key stakeholders in any successful multi-sector collaboration to create long-term sustainable solutions.
Our communities are microcosms of multi-sector collaborations, with everyone pooling together their knowledge and resources to ensure that the whole community can thrive. We’ve seen how successful they can be, so why are we waiting to enact them on a global scale?
In conclusion, we need to do things together.
Months of isolation with the pandemic have made it very clear that we, as individual citizens, need one another. We need this same outlook when thinking about our goal of solving complex urban issues. We need each other – the community, private industry, governments, non-profits, and private citizens – and cannot do it alone.
Sanjee Singh is the Director for International Housing Programs at Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI), based out of Atlanta, USA.
Sanjee is a solution-driven strategic thinker and natural collaborator with more than 20 years’ experience in international development. She is skilled at building strategies, policies and programs to drive enhancements and systemic change leading to greater impact and outcomes. Sanjee is part of the Global Programs Design and Implementation Team at Habitat for Humanity International, focusing on the development of the organization’s Global Urban Approach and supporting the design implementation of comprehensive programs across Habitat’s federation. Sanjee has Bachelor of Science in Town and Regional Planning and a Master’s Degree in Public Development and Management from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is passionate about contributing towards sustainable development, gender equity and building processes and partnerships that improve outputs, outcomes and impact of teams, projects and programs.
Honora “Nora” Cargile is Habitat for Humanity’s International Housing Programs Intern. Originally from the Washington, DC area, Nora has lived most of her life abroad across South and Southeast Asia and Africa. She graduated from James Madison University in 2018 with a degree in English Literature and a minor in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Nora has served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Indonesia, teaching English and facilitating a variety of workshops on gender-inclusive classroom practices and administrative policies. She also has experience in solving a variety of curriculum development issues across broad social and linguistic contexts. Nora is currently pursuing a master’s degree from Emory University’s Development Practice program, and also interning in this role with Habitat for Humanity.
Join the Conversation: NetHope Summit Discusses the Relevance of Civil Society Organisations in the Digital World
26th October 2020 by Karl Steinacker
This year’s NetHope Summit goes virtual: From 26 to 28 October, there is another opportunity for Civil Society Organisations to learn, collaborate, and get inspired. NetHope aims, as always, to perform a vital role as a catalyst for change and improvement within the non-profit sector, focusing on topics around digital technology. The NetHope Virtual Global Summit 2020 has chosen as its motto « Collective Action. Sustainable Future ».
Three social justice activists will discuss these issues, and everybody is invited to join: On 26 October we have a virtual stage featuring Jane Muigai, Rukshana Nanayakkara, and Wolfgang Jamann sharing their thoughts on how CSOs should get ready for a digital future. The discussions are facilitated by Karl Steinacker.
Karl joined the Centre in June 2019 after a professional career in institutions of German technical co-operation and as humanitarian manager in the United Nations. He spent years in conflict zones, such as the Gaza Strip, the Great Lakes region in Central Africa, and in the Sahel. He led multi-sectoral teams on data management, refugee registration and biometrics. At the ICS Centre he will work pro bono on issues relating to artificial intelligence, digital transformation, identity and trust as well as their impact on civil society in general and ICSOs in particular. Karl, born in 1960 in Germany, is a graduate of the Political Science faculty of the Free University of Berlin and studied Public International Law at Cambridge University.