Posts with the tag
“Scanning the Horizon”

Anticipate, listen patiently, and build a peer network – three lessons from Leading Together

10th July 2023 by Miriam Niehaus

For the first time in four years, the Centre convened its Leading Together conference in person again. Leading Together is our annual space for the global directors of the ICSO divisions of Human Resources, Policy/Advocacy, and Programmes. These groups have parallel peer group discussions as well as joint sessions over topics that concern them all. This year, the Scanning the Horizon community of futures-focused senior sector professionals also joined the group. We were thrilled to welcome participants on our home turf in Berlin and spend 48h learning, debating, and reflecting. The Centre team is busily following up on those 47+ items/ideas/insights generated during the event, and we would also like to share three insights that were key to us:

1. Exercising that anticipatory muscle is challenging, liberating – and necessary 

At Global Perspectives 2022, we heard and stressed how anticipatory capacity in (I)CSOs is a collective muscle we need to exercise constantly. We took this advice and focused peer and joint sessions on this topic: Discussions with Russell Reynolds on the role of leadership and using AI for the good of ICSOs as well as shaping the future through participatory strategy making were sessions where participants engaged with trends and how to “organise futures”. The Policy/Advocacy Directors discussed with David Griffiths, Associate Fellow at Chatham House the future of the Human Rights diplomacy 

We also really challenged participants with some freshly generated scenarios created in a collective exercise (ParEvo) the Centre has just concluded. Participants had to discuss and reflect on how civil society (organisations) might deal with and shape civil society space after a series of mega-tsunamis hit the world and severed all IT infrastructure.  While some scenarios stretched the goodwill of participants to further consider, the exercise was highlighted by many as important to encourage imagining futures differently. A series of mega-tsunamis will throw the world into disarray (not unlike a global pandemic) and might need primarily our crisis-response capacity. However, spending time on creating long-term visions for different futures can put us as civil society sector professionals in a different kind of driving seat versus racing to manage with futures narratives others – usually more powerful actors – are creating. 

 

2. Taking time for nuance and learning advances us collectively 

What was particularly enriching at this year’s conference was the participants’ willingness to engage in the substance of discussions and openness to critical challenges, and generally a learning mentality. We tried not to gloss over differences with buzzword definitions like “power shift” or “decolonising” but acknowledged the complexity of the matters we deal with and that we may get some things right and others wrong along the journey. Similarly, a joint discussion between the Programme and the Policy/Advocacy directors in exchange with AWID over anti-rights groups and the threat they pose to civic space was exemplary for constructive engagement: Participants brought so much nuance to the discussion and – it might sound like a cliché – embraced the diversity of viewpoints and created patience for understanding our individual or organisational contexts.  These high-quality discussions were incredibly enriching and displayed a high degree of collective responsibility for advancing as a sector.  

 

3. Our organisations are shifting fundamentally – from strategy making to recruitment processes – and peer support may just help keep the head above water 

A few years back someone said “’powershift’ is the water we all swim in”. This was certainly true for Leading Together. In so many sessions participants explored topics that come from our journeys to become organisations that are at least more power-aware or even mirror a decolonised, equitable and just society that we want to see. It was hugely encouraging to see the spread of organisational initiatives and the degree to which ambitions for change are permeating the organisations: to learn from the experience of WaterAid’s participatory strategy making journey, engage with Superrr Lab in what it takes to break western-centred views of futures making. In similar vein, Mission Talent and the cohort of Human Resources directors discussed the challenges and possibilities our changing sector holds to build more diverse organisations; the Programme Directors explored with Comic Relief what ways there are to work differently with bilateral donors to enable more equitable partnerships; and the Policy/Advocacy Directors are already experienced how shifting mandates of ICSOs hold increased expectations for their departments. Senior leaders from the ICSOs are demonstrating resolve and yet acknowledge that these are unchartered waters where peer exchange, inspiration and support is just what you need. 

If you are also an ICSO senior leader and you want to learn more about our offer, do reach out. We already look forward to the next round of Leading Together in 2024 – online – and in-person in 2025!  

 

Miriam Niehaus

Head of Programmes

International Civil Society Centre

Miriam leads the Centre’s programmes. She started at the Centre as Executive Assistant in 2014 and then, as Project Manager, developed and implemented the Centre’s projects on civic space between 2016 and 2019. Prior to joining the Centre Miriam worked for VSO International and GIZ in the Palestinian Territories. She holds a BA in Islamic Studies and Social Anthropology from the University of Freiburg and an MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies.


What trends did we miss and why do we miss them?

30th March 2023 by Paola Pierri, Rachel Wilkinson, Will Garrood

Spotting emerging trends at an early stage is key for the international civil society sector to be able to adapt and respond to those trends before they could have a negative impact or in order to make the most of an emerging opportunity.  

Trends and early signals are not always easy to spot and futurists and strategists within ICSOs are always looking for new ways and methods to get better at anticipating future scenarios in order to make the sector more resilient. 

Last Autumn during our Scanning the Horizon annual community meeting, Will Garrood from WaterAid ran an inspiring session to map, together with other key players and (I)CSOs, what trends we missed from 2022 and reflect together on why we missed them. 

Scanning the Horizon is the only collaborative trend scouting and analysis platform in the civil society sector. Members include leading ICSOs, national CSO umbrella organisations, philanthropy and development consultancies. It is a cross-sector community of experts and practitioners that gets together to share insights, explore key trends and develop relevant strategies.  

Here we are sharing our main learnings looking back at the trends we missed, and – more importantly – trying to unpack why we missed them.  

What trends we missed 

We were thinking a war was probably likely, but no one anticipated there would have been one in Europe! (a Participant) 

In a group exercise we mapped a series of trends that by that time had become visible but that no one in the group had anticipated before. Below is a selection of the missed trends. 

Conflict in Europe: this was something that no one in the group had anticipated as an imminent risk and that has profoundly impacted the sector, including through a diversion of funding towards supporting the local population after Ukraine’s invasion. 

‘Weaponisation’ of Energy: one of the after-effects of the war in Ukraine was that the use of energy sources and access to them became an additional ‘weapon’ used by Russia to put pressure on countries to not intervene in the conflict.  

Cyber and Digital Security and cyber conflicts: (I)CSOs have generally a good awareness of the possible impact of digital advancements as well as digital threats to their work, for example in the ways in which digital tools and media could exacerbate misinformation/ disinformation and malinformation but the large rate of increased attacks and risk to cybersecurity and the huge leap in large-language AI models, such as ChatGPT took many by surprise. The Centre recently published a study sharing useful practical insights on how can (I)CSOs better protect the communities they serve and their own work against cyberattacks.  

Why did or do we miss trends? 

The second part of our exercise with the Scanning Community focused on why people and organisations had not seen these trends coming or underestimated them. This is an even more important question to ask because if we reflect and identify the reasons why people usually miss these trends, then we can at least attempt to not fall into these traps again. 

Below is what we learnt. 

  • Trend Overload: for those who are not full-time futurists (and even for those who operate in this role full-time) keeping up with all the trends, publications, signals are not an easy task. ‘Trend overload’ might become a problem as we are not sure which one to consider and which one to prioritise. Getting trends scouting to become a regular exercise may help with that and learning to prioritise our sources for trends mapping and foresight will also help.  
  • Between Black Elephants and Black Swans: Some events are of course simply unpredictable (so-called Black Swans) but others are known and understood and yet not addressed. These phenomena are described as Black Elephants and they describe events that people tend to ignore, like global warming or the risk of more pandemics going forward. Ways to mitigate the impact of these Black Elephants are various, including calling these ‘elephants in the room’ by their name, celebrating the mitigation stories that help us remember that black elephants can still be avoided or breaking the silos of different organisational departments that stop important knowledge about trends and risk to circulate more widely.  
Elephant and Swan in continuous line art drawing style.
  • Disconnect between communities and language: When many people in (I)CSOs, corporates and governments don’t share language and discussion spaces, this is likely to mean things are missed. It may also be about who in (I)CSOs is thinking about these issues. There may be areas where government-facing teams are talking about issues a lot, but it isn’t percolating into the wider organisation. We talked about Ukraine in the discussion, but China/Taiwan may be another useful example. 
  • Unconscious bias: when we observe the trends that are emerging we cannot avoid bringing with us our unconscious bias, the things that we assume to be true based on what happen in the past and that help us orienting ourselves in the future. Unconscious Bias (e.g. confirmation bias or affinity bias) are associations we all hold and that we might not be aware of but few techniques are available that can help are people to break their Bias habits. Opening up the future scanning exercise to a more diverse group and bring into our future thinking new and different perspectives might be another way to address this issue. To deal with unconscious bias we would need to make sure we get the right information first, but then we have to make sure we don’t discount it!  

The unpredictability of global trends and the challenges of mapping and noticing the new trends emerging makes it very difficult for civil society organisations, in particular those with an international remit, to better use the future in order to deal with the present. Coupled with the busyness of everyday workload it seems increasingly difficult to take the time to pause and think through where organisations are potentially vulnerable or how to be more prepared and proactive to make the most of future trends and opportunities. However, it is incredibly important for civil society organisations to be planning for the long-term and taking the time to ensure we are fit for purpose and able to meet the challenges and embrace new innovations in our work. This will help (I)CSOs to respond rapidly when these events do happen as they will not be starting from scratch. 

At the Centre we are collaborating with our members and other partners to develop a stronger future literacy in the sector and work together in mapping as well as anticipating the emerging trends. The Scanning the Horizon Community brings togethepeers from across multiple sectors to share learning and expertise and collectively learn and trial new future methodologies. If you are working on foresight in your organisation and would like to know more about the Community feel free to contact us we would like to hear from you.  

Paola Pierri

University of the Arts Bern

Paola is Professor of Social Design at the University of the Arts Bern where she specialises in Design and Anthropology of Technologies. She advises the Centre as an Associate on its Futures and Innovation pillar (which Paola has also co-led until August 2023). She brings to the Centre her expertise on design research and future oriented methodologies, including her research on the impact of emerging technologies on the civic space and on our democracies. Paola was previously Director of Research at Democratic Society and a Research Fellow at the Weizenbaum Institute, researching on issue of Digital Inequalities.

Rachel Wilkinson

Programme Manager – Futures and Innovation

International Civil Society Centre

Rachel co-leads the Futures and Innovation programme with Paola Pierri. Rachel is jointly responsible for managing the portfolio of projects and events as well as leading and developing the Scanning the Horizon strategic peer learning platform. Rachel has more than 15 years of experience working in the third sector, on a national and international level, working for various ICSOs in international development and human rights in both London and Berlin.

Will Garrood

Strategy and Transformation Director

WaterAid

Will is the Strategy and Transformation Director for WaterAid. Previously, Will held strategic and policy roles at the BBC and Ofcom and trained at LEK, a strategy consultancy. He holds degrees from the University of Oxford and King's College London.


New – 2023 events and programme flyer, find out what’s on and what we are doing

2nd January 2023 by Adriana Sahagún Martínez

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

Adriana Sahagún Martínez

Communications Manager

International Civil Society Centre

Adriana is responsible for developing and implementing the Centre’s communication strategy. Prior to joining the Centre, Adriana worked at ShareTheMeal, an initiative of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), where she developed and implemented multiple global marketing campaigns. Before that, she worked for six years in the private sector, where she held various positions in Corporate Social Responsibility and Integrated Marketing Communications.


Discover the ‘Anticipating Futures for Civil Society Operating Space’ report 

10th November 2022 by Eva Gondor

This report contributes to the Centre’s multi-year initiative Anticipating Futures for Civil Society Operating Space to strengthen the anticipatory capacities and future readiness of civil society professionals who are working to defend civic and civil society operating space. It is intended to provide a basis for further activities, especially in identifying gaps that require collective sector commitment. 

The report is the outcome of an exercise to map the current landscape: the issues impacting civic space, the strengths and weaknesses of civil society organisations’ (CSOs) responses and their reflections. 

Download Report

Eva Gondor

Senior Project Manager

International Civil Society Centre

Eva leads on the Centre's civic space work - the Solidarity Action Network (SANE) aimed at strengthening resilience of and solidarity among civil society actors, and the International Civic Forum (ICF), our annual civic space platform to network and identify opportunities for collaboration. Prior to joining the Centre she worked at the Robert Bosch Stiftung (Foundation) in Stuttgart where she managed the foundation’s projects focusing on civil society and governance in Turkey, the Western Balkans, and North Africa.


Podcast: Leading Strategy as a Journey of Not Knowing

17th May 2022 by Elizabeth Parsons

In this episode, we speak with Philip Goodwin, Chief Executive Officer of Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), the leading global international development organisation working through volunteers to empower communities in some of the world’s poorest and most overlooked regions.

Philip talks with Vicky Tongue, the Centre’s Head of Futures and Innovation, sharing insights and organisational experiences of uncertainty, strategy, leadership and narrative. We learn how VSO operates in framing strategy and action, using the principles of dispersed leadership, connecting logic, emotion and action as a way of aligning people, and above all being reflective in practice – constantly assessing what VSO is doing and how that might require the organisation to change. In this way, they have achieved a space where interactions, particularly across the wider global leadership group, maintain momentum and generate opportunity in meeting the organisation’s mission.

picking up on themes from two publications:

This conversation shared some exciting food for thought on leadership, which the Centre will be picking up on in our sector leadership convenings in 2022. We think it will inspire you as much as it has us, so please listen and enjoy!

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Communications Manager

International Civil Society Centre


Tools for inclusive futures: Futures Frequency: A workshop method for building alternative futures

29th September 2021 by Vicky Tongue and Lena Tünkers

Members of the Scanning the Horizon community recently met online to continue our exploration of ‘tools for inclusive futures’, engaging methods to democratise futures conversations in organisations, using digital tools which do not require previous experience from either facilitators or participants. These tools have been highlighted in our recent Sector Guide on Strategic Decision-Making in a Whirly World.

Futures Frequency

This time, we wanted to find out more about Futures Frequency, from the Finnish innovation and futures fund Sitra. The idea behind Futures Frequency is that it inspires thinking and action towards positive, preferred futures and can be ‘used and applied by anyone’. You can check out an intro video here.

We decided to use it to explore futures of human diversity, and felt that a group of 9-12 is a good size to allow the discussion parts to take place in threes. No advance preparation was requested from participants, just encouragement to join with an open mind, and be ready to ‘enjoy the ride’, go with the process and put their heads in a different, more creative and playful space.

Setting the stage

We started with some relaxed individual reflection about the big ‘what if’ question – in relation to futures of human diversity in 2050 – which occurred to us. Then we introduced ourselves and our big question in plenary and it was already really interesting to see the different angles which people had already come up with – from gender fluidity, to intergenerational working with people living longer, to racism being history, to humans being seen as just another part of nature. Just this initial sharing already encourages you to open up and expand your own thinking more.

First stage, challenge your assumptions about the future

Then we had to activate our imagination muscles more by moving into the first main stage of the Futures Frequency method, challenging assumptions. We were given an audio drama snippet to listen to individually and then as a small group, we discussed what assumptions we heard in the piece and how it connected to our own assumptions or what felt familiar. This was a really interesting process to go through, surfacing both small assumptions or questions but also bigger ones about when in the future the conversation was set or whether we were just defaulting to assumptions about things in this future were still working in a similar way to the present. From a facilitation angle, you could either use one of the many supporting resources which Sitra provides for this, or you could create your own snippet – audio or written – linked to the theme you’re exploring.

This process does highlight biases you weren’t aware of in your own thinking and how your brain tries to ‘fill in the gaps’ around incomplete information you have on a situation. It also helps you better understand and appreciate how those you are working with are also thinking. This would be particularly important in a very diverse group, or especially if exploring potentially sensitive topics together. This stage increases your awareness of why you think certain things, before you then move onto imagining preferred futures.

Second stage, imagine your preferred futures

In this stage, you again start with individual reflection to imagine what the theme – for us, human diversity – might look like, without boundaries, with new possibilities, and envision a mental snapshot of the future you personally prefer for this, trying to engage different senses to bring this image to life. Then moving into Miro or another digital whiteboarding space, each person in the group writes up their personal vision in one sentence on a post-it and shares it with the others in the group. Then you all work together to combine your (three) different visions into a new statement which integrates the main ‘spirit’ of each. We didn’t really have enough time for this as we were primarily exploring the method – rather than the topic – fully, but in a full session this stage clearly needs a good amount of time to complete. Again, all this has templates from Sitra.

Take action towards your preferred futures

The final stage involves thinking through actions which you can take towards bringing this vision about.  First, we were guided through an individual brainstorm to come with ideas that would lead us to our vision. Time was the creative constrain here. In our small groups we were then tasked with coming up with a news headline from the future which captured what would have happened in the intervening period. We imagined we were living in 2030 and working as reporters for ‘Future News’, sharing our headline and a short explanation of the actions that had taken place and answering any questions from the other groups. And we could add visual images to represent the story as well.

Final reflections on the method

It’s recommended to add further methods to this final phase if you want to build out the process into more of a detailed action planning process. For instance, you could use backcasting or future literacy labs. But from a first experience, it really is a very useful way of getting the participants into a different space to share ideas and inspire others, appreciate the diversity of perspectives in the group and be encouraged to use your imaginations, within a simple but effective framework. It really does feel like a universal method which anyone can just pick up and use!

Vicky Tongue

Vicky Tongue was the Centre’s Head of Futures and Innovation/Scanning the Horizon project manager from 2018-2022, leading the Centre’s futures strategy and collaborative trends scanning community. In this role, Vicky wrote and edited many of the Centre’s Scanning Sector Guides and Civil Society Innovation reports.

Lena Tünkers

Co-Founder and Partner

Zukünftige

Lena Tünkers is an entrepreneur, process designer and facilitator, guided by the purpose of empowering people to cheerfully move towards the future. She has designed and executed a variety of strategy and innovation processes in Denmark, Kenya and Germany and applied the method Futures Literacy and Futures Frequency to the topics of education, collaboration, leadership and culture. From her work with the UN, Spotify, HelloFresh and Hugo Boss, among others, Lena brings experiences in business model design, strategy as well as innovation development. She is a board member of Founders of Tomorrow and hosts the House of Beautiful Business in


Podcast: How can social changemakers get better at not just adapting to change, but actively engineering it?

13th August 2021 by Elizabeth Parsons

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Foresight practitioner Krizna Gomez has written JustLabs’ new ‘Guide to Foresight in the Social Change Field’ and is a passionate advocate of why foresight needs to become part of the DNA of the social change field. In this episode, Krizna shared some of her insights from leading futures work with organisations in the social change field around the world, as well as activists and creatives, and why this new guide is needed to ‘demystify’ foresight. Krizna also presented some simple visual outcomes of applying these steps to look at the future of media and information, and the kind of areas of new exploration this can generate for social change organisations and leaders.

Download JustLabs Guide to Foresight in the Social Change Field.

Krizna Gomez works as an independent consultant, using design thinking, foresight, systems thinking and other methods normally not employed in the social change field, to help partners tackle long-standing problems with a fresh perspective, and opening them up through working with experts from other disciplines such as neuroscience, tech, marketing, and design. She is a recipient of the Joseph Jaworski Next Generation Foresight Practitioners Award (Humanitarian Special Award) by the School of International Futures. See Krizna’s full bio here.

Find out about the Centre’s Scanning the Horizon civil society futures community here.

Communications Manager

International Civil Society Centre


Understanding megatrends’ impact on civil society’s work – Oxfam GB

30th April 2020 by Thomas Howie

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Listen on itunes

Links

Mini Series: Exploring the Interconnectedness of Global Trends Mini-series – Episode 2

Irene Guijt and Filippo Artuso, Research and Publishing Team Oxfam GB, share insights and discuss their findings of a yearlong mapping of global megatrends

Producer: Julia Pazos

Global Megatrends: Mapping the forces that affect us all: oxfamilibrary.openrepository.com/bitstrea…d=yOxfam From Poverty to Power blog: Will the real megatrend please stand up? Insights from a scan of scans: oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/will-the-rea…-a-scan-of-scans/
Scanning the Horizon – icscentre.org/our-work/scanning-the-horizon/

Thomas Howie

Communications Manager

International Civil Society Centre

Thomas joined the Centre in June 2017 as the Communications Coordinator. He is responsible for developing and implementing the Centre’s global communication strategy, as well as the Disrupt & Innovate platform – a place for civil society professionals and activists to discuss current innovations and future trends in the civil society sector. Prior to the Centre, Thomas worked for 5 years in the European Parliament firstly as the Digital and Social Media Coordinator for the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, and then, after the 2014 European elections, for Jude Kirton-Darling and Paul Brannen as Head of Communications, where he worked on issues such as the EU-US trade deal, issues around Brexit and as a specialist on the Petitions Committee. Thomas graduated from Bristol University with BSci in Geographical Sciences and holds an MA in Peace Studies from the University of Bradford, where he completed research into the role of civil society in the post war peace settlement in northern Uganda.


Why we’re looking forward to foresight in 2020

16th December 2019 by Vicky Tongue

Download the Scanning the Horizon 2020 flyer

Looking forward to 2020 might seem a bit short for a group of strategists and horizon scanners, but we’re pretty excited about the state of foresighting and futures in our sector at the moment. And here’s why: there’s some great work and resources that we’re seeing both done in and shared by some of the international civil society organisations in our Scanning the Horizon community at the moment.

New foresighting and futures resources: The Future Is Ours, thanks to Save the Children…

First of all, there are some fantastic new resources around. JM Roche at Save the Children, with the School of International Futures, has just done everyone in our sector a fantastic favour and pulled together a compendium of 12 strategic foresight tools and techniques which they have successfully adapted for their own and partner use. The Future is Ours is out now and immediately essential reading for anyone involved in strategy, planning and decision-making in our sector.

This guide walks you through a number of tools, why you would use which and when, with helpful facilitation notes. Key tips overall include: being open to a range of possible futures, pay attention to weak signals, practice foresight regularly, and integrate and embed insights. Sounds like four great New Year’s Resolutions to me! You can also join us for a webinar with JM on 30 January to hear him introduce this in person.

…and understanding the rise of global China may be somewhat more manageable now

This year, our Scanning the Horizon community did our first ever ‘deep dive’ on one of the most major influential megatrends, the rise of global China. We’ve just put out our Sector Guide of strategic recommendations for ICSOs, and hearing some great feedback from our community. Amnesty’s China Strategy Manager Heather Hutchings has already shared a bit of an informal reflection on ‘benchmarking’ itself against our findings, in this excellent blog in case you missed it.

You can also catch up on our webinars which feature our author and researcher Bertram Lang providing more context ‘meat’ to flesh out the ‘bones’ of the recommendations, and explaining more on where and why there was consensus and divergence among the ICSOs involved.

The Sector Guide has been a cumulative process throughout the year, building on interviews and experience-sharing with global and China strategists, as well as country or regional management, from most of the top international ICSOs working both in and beyond the boundaries of mainland China. We’ve incorporated additional insights from ‘China watchers’ from academia and philanthropy, and highlighted some of the priorities and need to engage with local community-based organisations.

This has been a huge topic to explore and make more navigable in practical ways for our sector. We worked carefully with our community to find the right way to break it down into key sub-themes and entry points for strategists. While the recommendations might not all be straightforward, they lay out an ambition and signpost some directions of travel, which can help steer organisations in these unpredictable waters. What this collaborative exploration proved most though was the enormous value of bringing the major and diverse players in our sector together to share their different experiences and capacities. We have seen again the enormous power in co-producing new knowledge and insights, which can then be shared with the rest of our sector.

We also love what we’re hearing from other recent strategy processes

At our recent Global Perspectives conference in Addis Ababa, we were very excited by a presentation from Plan International on the scenarios they have been using – looking at the combination of climate change and nationalism in different future world’s scenarios, and what each might mean for the organisation’s place in the world.

We also heard how Oxfam International’s recent global strategy process included meeting with a ‘critical chorus’ of external voices, some of which told them some challenging things, but triggered a range of important and reflective conversations to guide thinking of the different roles the organisation may have in future.

And IFRC’s new 2030 strategy has clearly put climate action as the main priority for its programmes and appeals. The other key challenges it has identified are crises and disasters, health, migration and identity, and values, power and inclusion.

We look forward to learning more, together, about these and other exciting developments.

So here’s to the New Year and what we will be doing in 2020!

Taking inspiration from these developments, and also what we’re seeing from outside the sector, our annual meeting in May 2020 will bring our community together to explore more how the global trends influencing our work are interconnected and intersect to bring about different potential futures, and how to better integrate this analysis into organisational strategic planning.

We will have a collective check-up on the trends we’re all watching as organisations. We will explore tools and practical processes for intersectional approaches and take a look at the detailed scenarios ICSOs are seeing, with a special emphasis on climate change + (one or several trends). We will invite input from beyond the sector, with private, public and academic sector insights. And, with funding, we will deliver another Sector Guide this time next year summarising our insights for the sector.

Our monthly newsletters throughout 2019 have been packed with new resources from within and beyond our sector, but there are so many things we just can’t keep out! A lot of careful curation goes into what the Centre and Direct Impact Group summarise and share with our community each month, and we’ll continue these efforts to keep bringing you the best throughout 2020!

 

 

Vicky Tongue

Vicky Tongue was the Centre’s Head of Futures and Innovation/Scanning the Horizon project manager from 2018-2022, leading the Centre’s futures strategy and collaborative trends scanning community. In this role, Vicky wrote and edited many of the Centre’s Scanning Sector Guides and Civil Society Innovation reports.


How Amnesty International is Engaging with China Abroad

29th November 2019 by Heather Hutchings

Throughout 2019, the Centre’s Scanning the Horizon futures community has explored the implications of China’s growing global influence on the future work of internationally-operating civil society organisations. Following a well-attended cross-sector meeting in Hong Kong in June, we have published a new Sector Guide of practical entry points for senior civil society leaders to summarise the key themes and implications for our sector. It provides strategic guidance for organisations to think through their current strategies and capacities, and further develop future engagement and adaptation approaches to be better prepared for this major trend.

To accompany the launch of this Guide, we invited this guest blog from Amnesty International’s China Strategy Manager, Heather Hutchings.

——————-

The rise of global China is impacting human rights.

In the increasing number of countries in which China is investing and operating, much-needed infrastructure and employment can help to fulfil the human rights of the people living there. But all too often their rights are abused as China fails time and again to consult with and address the concerns of communities affected by its overseas ‘development’ projects.

Furthermore, an increasingly assertive China has worrying implications for the human rights system as a whole. We see China operating from within the UN Human Rights Council to shrink the space available for the UN and civil society to hold states accountable for their human rights records, as well as making efforts to reframe human rights as a ‘cause’, as opposed to a state’s legal obligation to its people.

But China’s ascension to the world stage is a paradigm shift that is both driving and reflecting a new world order and balance of power. As this excellent new International Civil Society Centre guide notes, this is ‘widely regarded as one of the top global trends influencing the trajectory of other major megatrends for decades ahead’. This means, in other words, we can neither ignore nor resist global China.

Amnesty International vs Global China

I’m pleased – and relieved! – to see that Amnesty International’s global China strategy responds to many of the recommendations in this guide, while some others set us challenges to meet and aspirations to fulfil.

Amnesty views global China as a complex problem, or ‘VUCA’ for those who enjoy military acronyms!:

  • Volatile in its pace of change and sheer scale, which thwarts our attempts to know and understand. Any information we have at any one time is incomplete and quickly obsolete.
  • Unpredictable – as Yuen Yuen Ang summed up, China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative bears “the hallmark of communist-style mass campaigns [in that] everyone pitches in with frenzied enthusiasm and little coordination…lead[ing] to low-quality and mismatched projects, duplication, conflicts of interest and corruption.”
  • Complex, with innumerable and entangled causes and effects. China is both driving and benefitting from the shift in global power. It is changing and shaped by the global economy and feeds both off and into rising authoritarianism.
  • Ambiguous, in the absence of transparent information about China’s foreign policy ambitions, plans and individual projects assumptions. Under such conditions, rumour and contradiction run rife.

China’s impact on human rights abroad is not a simple problem that can be solved. So, Amnesty’s aim is not to bring an end to China’s global reach in a concise campaign timeframe. Our aim is to build capacity across Amnesty’s movement of more than seven million members and supporters to influence global China, now and over time, and adapt as global China itself evolves.

Amnesty’s 16 Regional Offices and 68 national entities position us well to respond to China in and from countries where it is active, and to do so in partnership with local civil society (recommendation 3). As Strategy Manager, I draw together the relevant China expertise from our East Asia office, the local knowledge and connections of our staff in or from countries in which China is active, and Amnesty’s thematic specialists (recommendation 6). Through this network, we add value to work already identified as important by our colleagues across the movement – easily done, given the many ways in which China is showing up in Amnesty’s work around the world (recommendation 1).

Complementing this action-oriented network is a web of horizon scanners who regularly share their views of China from locations as far afield as Buenos Aires, Brussels or Bangkok (recommendations 7 and11). Their broad, light-touch insights about China in the world help deepen our analysis of China’s foreign policy and practice and better equip us to anticipate developments, spot trends and see entry points for our human rights work.

We recognise that we don’t have ready-made solutions to apply to the complex challenges arising from China’s presence abroad. We know we can only influence change together with others by forging partnerships with civil society to engage China in their countries and communities, to negotiate their interests and protect their rights (recommendation 12). And we also need to engage Chinese audiences, inside China and the diaspora of Chinese living overseas, as change agents and in solidarity with human rights defenders in countries where China is active. This is critical if we want to target Chinese state actors and corporations that perpetrate human rights violations abroad, without isolating and vilifying all Chinese people.

Challenges and aspirations

Key to Amnesty’s approach in this ‘VUCA’ context is learning and adaptation, as we actively test our theory of influence and make adjustments to strategy and action.

Learning from our experience to date, we know that the critical approach to human rights in China coming from Amnesty’s base in the ‘Global North’ serves an important watchdog function, but is readily dismissed by Beijing as hypocritical and an attempt to ‘contain’ China. Hence, we have chosen to focus on south-south engagement influencing China with and through civil society and governments of the ‘Global South’ – and moving beyond ‘naming and shaming’ by not (only) pointing to problems. This approach – which departs from Amnesty’s usual practice – is challenging us to frame advocacy messages (recommendation 14) that propose practical solutions and, where appropriate, encourage China’s leadership to respect, protect and fulfil human rights.

Amnesty also deliberately adopts an ‘outsider’ strategy (recommendations 4 and 11). The price of our freedom to criticise China – harshly when and where deserved – is that our channels for dialogue with Beijing are few, country access for Amnesty staff is extremely limited, and our website and social media channels are blocked inside China. Understandably, this does not always make us the partner of choice for ICSOs with in-country offices (recommendations 18, 19 and 20).

Even as Amnesty aims to establish an ‘insider’ position with some Chinese actors abroad on issues of mutual interest – and indeed we have already seen promising outcomes through exchanges with Chinese companies and industry bodies – recommendation 16 is, I hope, an aspiration of the not-too-distant future when ICSOs will bring together our complementary ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ strategies for greatest impact.

For Amnesty and across the sector, we need not only to develop a specific, organisation-wide global China strategy now. But also to continue developing and evolving our organisational responses over time, so that we may continually adapt ourselves to better influence the impact China has on the landscape for human rights and development. And thanks to the Centre and our sector Scanning the Horizon community, we now have a guide to help us do just that.

 

Heather Hutchings

Strategy Development Manager

Amnesty International

Heather Hutchings is the Strategy Manager for Amnesty International’s programme seeking to engage China abroad. Heather holds a MSc in Human Rights from the London School of Economics and has extensive experience in strategy management and capacity building, organisational change and development. Heather has been working with individuals and teams across different geographical locations within the Amnesty International movement for the past 12 years, including the last 7 years in Hong Kong.