Upcoming Digital Debate: Who is afraid of African data sovereignty?

23rd March 2021 by Karl Steinacker

Those who follow the news know that these days, politicians tend to use the term sovereignty mainly in two different contexts: when it comes to close borders and keep migrants and refugees out or in discussions that touch on the ongoing transformation of our societies. That’s the moment they advocate for technological, cyber, and/or data sovereignty.

It was, thus, a question of time that somebody would bring up the issue of African data sovereignty. It happened in the weekly magazine Jeune Afrique in summer 2020 when the Senegalese law professor Jean-Louis Corréa stated that the data extraction by entities of the Global North is not benefitting Africans. He made no difference between data collection and mining for commercial and other purposes and called on African leaders to resist the ongoing cyber colonialism[1].

At around the same time, Paul Currion identified the unfinished business of decolonization and described it from the following angles: how aid flows map soft power relationships between former colonial powers and former colonies; how the career trajectory of many international aid workers often resembles that of colonial administrators; and how the aid beneficiary has been constructed as a post-colonial Other[2]. And now data.

Hence, it seems obvious to put the role of Africa in the global digital market on the agenda of the Digital Debates event series which was launched by the International Civil Society Centre in 2021. Once a month Barbara Iverson hosts such a debate. The next one will be held on 1 April and discuss the question: Is Africa “falling prey” to data colonialism?

We invite you to join this discussion here: Digital Debate 2: Is Africa ‘falling prey’ to Data Colonialism? – The International Civil Society Centre (icscentre.org)

Barbara Iverson will host Jean-Louis Corréa together with Karen Guevara of the Equanimity Foundation.

[1] Jean-Louis Corréa, [Tribune] Numérique : l’Afrique veut donner de la voix, in : Jeune Afrique, 9 July 2020,  https://t1p.de/hgql

[2]  Paul Currion, Decolonising aid, again – The unfinished business of decolonisation is the original sin of the modern aid industry, in: The New Humanitarian, 13 July 2020, https://t1p.de/4ful


Karl Steinacker

Digital Advisor

International Civil Society Centre

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.

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.

In this companion blog, Barney Tallack and Tosca Bruno-van Vijfeijken discuss some recent changes in the environment of ICSOs and what this means for their role. An upcoming interview with all four authors on these big questions of power and relevance of ICSOs will also be released later this month on the Centre’s Civil Society Futures and Innovation Podcast.

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.
  • Southern philanthropy is increasing – its impact on North-founded ICSOs uncertain.
  • An increased interest in Mergers & Acquisitions.
  • 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.
  • Long-term transition to ‘digital first’ organisations. But will ICSOs be willing to relinquish control when it comes to people-powered forms of campaigning and fundraising? And succeed in effectively linking online and face-to-face collaboration and organising?

#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

Principal Consultant

Five Oaks Consulting

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.

Barney Tallack

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.

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Vicky Tongue

Head of Futures and Innovation

International Civil Society Centre

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.

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.

, , , ,

George E. Mitchell

Associate Professor

Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College, City University of New York

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.

Hans Peter Schmitz

Associate Professor of Leadership Studies

University of San Diego

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.

New – 2021 events and programme flyer, find out what’s on and what we are doing

15th January 2021 by Adriana Sahagún Martínez

Welcome to our 2021 flyer. You can download the flyer below to find out about what we plan to do this year and how you can get involved.

Download 2021 Flyer


Communications Manager

International Civil Society Centre

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

Director for International Housing Programs

Habitat for Humanity International

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 Cargile

International Housing Programs Intern

Habitat for Humanity International

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 ».

This is certainly the right place to discuss the relevance and effectiveness of Civil Society Organisations in an increasingly digital world. A topic that had featured in recent months on this blog when the question was asked whether CSOs have the ambition to shape the digital world or remain bystanders? Among the many long-term issues on our agenda, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on the relevance and effectiveness of civil society and the future of civil society organisations in general.

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.

The discussion will take place on Wednesday, 28 October, at 15:15 hrs CET/ 10:15 EDT in Virtual Room 8 of the NetHope Virtual Global Summit 2020.

Karl Steinacker

Digital Advisor

International Civil Society Centre

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.

#GlobalPerspectives2020, Conversations on Inclusion: “Nothing about us without us”.

20th October 2020 by Adriana Sahagún Martínez

Listen to Acha Rita Agum, Disability and Inclusive Development Officer in Cameroon and Dominique Schlupkothen, Director of Community Based Inclusive Development at CBM, interviewed by Nihal Helmy from the International Civil Society Centre.

In this episode, they reflect on the importance of inclusion and how CBM is empowering local communities to have their own voice and advocate for themselves. Learn about the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and how they are ensuring their policies not only include people with disabilities, but that they are also consulted when designing the response.

Join their session at #GlobalPerspectives2020, where they will explore how representative organisations of persons with disabilities can effectively influence policy making at the local level.

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Communications Manager

International Civil Society Centre

World YWCA at #GlobalPerspectives2020: Using privilege for change

9th October 2020 by Robert Vysoudil

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Listen to Suchi Gaur, Ph.D, Director of Global Engagement and Impact, and Caterina Lemp Bitsacopoulos, Senior Specialist in Movement Building, interviewed by Nihal Helmy from the International Civil Society Centre.

World YWCA is a voluntary based, grassroots and diverse movement that connects and mobilizes the power of millions of women across the world. Learn how living in patriarchy motivates one to empower the new generations of women and to make space for them.

Join the Global Perspectives virtual experience in November, it will provide safe space to have honest conversations about inclusion!





Communications Student Assistant

International Civil Society Centre

Podcast: Breaking the cycle of poverty and disability

2nd October 2020 by Robert Vysoudil

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CBM Global works hard to transform lives and build inclusive communities for people living with disabilities in the underrepresented and marginalised communities around the world. Listen to David Bainbridge, Executive Director for disability and inclusion at CBM Global interviewed by Nihal Helmy.

Thirty years of experience help David to deal with the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemics, which has a disproportionate impact on the poor and those with disabilities. In collaboration with local partners, CBM Global is doing their best to make it possible for people with disabilities to enjoy their human rights and achieve their full potential.

Join us too at the Global Perspectives virtual experience in November! This year’s theme is inclusion. Share, learn, be challenged and inspired!



Communications Student Assistant

International Civil Society Centre