TAPESTrY 2030 EPISODE 1: local Thinking, design and leadership

TAPESTRY 2030 Season 2

EPISODE 1: Local Thinking, Design and Leadership



Episode 1: Local Thinking, Design and Leadership


[Eliana introduction] You are listening to the Ontario Council for International Cooperation’s Tapestry 2030 podcast series focused on the future of international cooperation and global solidarity and the partnerships needed for gender transformative sustainable development.

My name is Eliana, and I am your host. I can’t believe Season 2 is already upon us. OCIC is so excited to launch season 2 of this podcast series and in this season, we’re placing an extra focus on localization and development. We are going to be hearing stories from policy experts as well as our members and their partners working on the ground in the global South. 

To kick start this season, I am pleased to welcome Brian Tomlinson and Marlen Mondaca, both policy experts to help us get a deeper understanding of what localization is. Welcome Brian and welcome Marlen to our podcast today. We’d love it if you could introduce yourselves to our audience by telling us a little bit about your passions and your work and how it relates to the theme of our podcast today.

[Marlen] Well, thank you so much Eliana for first of all the invitation to participate in this conversation. So, a little bit about myself; I mean, what motivates me about this particular topic is I think my long standing and deep belief that social change is possible, and that solutions are always more likely to succeed and be sustainable if they are the product of local thinking, design and leadership.

This thinking, I think is in part a product of my own long-standing work in the field of International Development, of human rights; I’ve been doing this kind of work for just over 25 years and started off working with refugees in Central America and then moved to Chile and worked on issues in the Southern Cone of Bolivia, Peru and Chile of issues of food security and violence against women.

And then you know, lastly, I’ve been involved in the field of looking at child rights in particular over the last couple of decades. So, that combined with my own personal history of being a Latin American who was displaced at a young age from her home country of Chile due to violence and political upheaval really shaped my thinking and my long-standing commitment to the issues of human rights, but also as I said, might be belief that social change is possible.

Localization for me, this issue in particular is a deeply political issue, and it has to do with power and challenging structures, and shifting power imbalances, and I’m excited that we’re having this conversation today because it is so deeply political. It’s not a technocratic kind of ‘check-the-box’ kind of exercise, and I believe at this particular moment there’s a lot of momentum behind the idea of this change.

[Eliana] Absolutely.

[Marlen] So maybe I’ll leave it there.

[Eliana] Yes, I love that your life as much as what’s happening in the world today is driving your passion to work specifically on localization. I loved your introduction. Thank you so much. Brian…

[Brian] Yes, well thank you Eliana for inviting me as well to this conversation. I think I share with Marlen the importance of this, and I share her perspectives that it is a deeply political agenda.

And for me, it’s I’ve been working slightly longer than Marlen in this area since 1973 in fact, when I joined Oxfam Canada and have worked with Oxfam and with CUSO and in the last 15-20 years I worked with the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, and in some ways this agenda of localization has been with me throughout this journey and Oxfam, we in the 1970s we were talking about the notion of what we call partage meaning sharing among equals, but trying to define what equals meant in a civil society aid relationship at the time, we struggled around that, but we also found ways of making it real, and I recall a really important work that we did in support of solidarity with the Dene and the Northwest Territories around the pipeline that was being proposed at the time, and making linkages with liberation movements in Southern Africa.

And so, that interest has continued through these many years. In the 1990s where I really shifted towards policy work full time, I became involved in a network that was called the Reality of Aid; that was really a European NGO initiative that invited a few colleagues from the South to participate by writing a piece for our annual report. And over several years with colleagues particularly from Latin America, we managed to shift that structure to be a southern-led policy network on aid, and it continues to this day to be one. And that was very important because what Reality of Aid was talking about was the reality of aid and who best to speak to that than Southern colleagues. And finally, I guess the other, the last thing that really has brought home for me these issues is my work around civil society development effectiveness; improving the ways in which we as development actors are making change in the world And, I was very much involved in the development of what are called the Istanbul principles for civil society development effectiveness and among those are a principle around human rights, but also a principle around equitable partnerships. And since 2010, we’ve been working intensely to bring attention to these principles, but also work with colleagues both in the North and the South in bringing home the realities of our work more consistently with the principles.

But the last point I would make and maybe it leads into the importance of this conversation, is that we were also monitoring the implementation of those principles and in the last round, which I summarized for colleagues, we asked civil society in 48 countries how they felt about the implementation of equitable partnerships and close to 80% of the respondents, and these are southern civil society said that they continued to experience their partnerships as individual projects which are largely the expression of the financing CSO program interests in the North. So yes, you know we have a lot of experience I think over these years and much to draw upon, but that statistic brought home for me that we still have a long road to haul. So hence, the importance of our discussion today.

[Eliana] Absolutely. I also like how your work and your experience has cross cutting presence in policy and in civil society and human rights and aid.

And I feel like this is actually an excellent way to segue into my next question which is: What is your understanding of the meaning of localization based on all of this work that you’ve done in so many different thematic areas? And why do you both think, why do you think it’s being contested in certain contexts?

I mean, the term localization is very loaded, right? And I kind of, I’m hoping that our listeners today can take away more of an understanding of the layers to localization. So, what do you believe are the layers of localization? What is a meaning or an understanding of localization that we can cultivate?

[Brian] Yeah, well for me in in my experience localization as we call it today depends really on where you sit in the aid relationship and the civil society aid relationship in particular. So for colleagues from the global South from civil society in the global South, it’s clearly about shifting power and agency to civil society in the South. They wish to be development actors in their own right, and just as we do, and for them that means that, excuse me, that they have control over their own decision-making about what are the relevant priorities for their work  and their program, that their partnerships are those that are structured around their priorities that they are in the best position to determine, and that they are the ones who are providing leadership both at their own country level of course, although that’s sometimes in question, but also at the regional and global level. So, it’s really about shifting power from their point of view.

From the northern point of view, in my experience there’s varieties of attitudes towards localization, but I think the predominant one is, as I mentioned in my intro, it’s about equitable partnerships.

[Eliana] Right.

[Brian] And clearly the best of the work here has tried to ameliorate the worst aspects of unequal power within these relationships are often based on obviously the command of money, but nevertheless, these partnerships continue to exist within the aid system, and this aid system is one that is northern-driven. It’s driven by northern interests in terms of the development agenda often. It’s also as I mentioned, driven by the power of money. And so, the perspectives may be different, and also, the approaches are going to be different, so in the North we talk more about reforming our partnerships, bringing more control within these partnerships to the Global South. But in the South, what I’ve heard, particularly among policy oriented CSO’s, is it’s about transforming that relationship so that the center of that relationship is located in the South, and that we in the North are subsidiary to it, and there is a lot to talk about what that transformation means, but I don’t think so much that it’s contested as is. There is different attitudes and perspectives from where we sit in that relationship, and we can explore that a bit more in the conversation.

[Marlen] Yeah, for me I don’t know. I mean I don’t know whether it is contested. I mean in many ways I think, I guess depending on your understanding of what contested means, definitely I think that there is, you know, picking up on Bryan’s point, there’s a different, very strong, different perspective that is really challenging the idea that it is just this reform of the system that’s required, but it is a more deeply transformative agenda that is very much linked to this idea that we need a new model for international development of humanitarian aid that, really, that that is very much connected to an anti racist agenda, that’s very much connected to this whole idea of decolonizing aid, and that in order to really transform, you need to challenge the ideological premises of international aid altogether. And that we need to be challenging and changing our current ways of thinking and doing that have been normalized for decades, right? That it’s very much about structural racism that’s deeply embedded in our everyday culture and work practices.

[Eliana] Absolutely, and so, based on this, to follow up on this, what do you think are some of the biggest opportunities and the challenges you see facing localization and the localization agenda today in Canada and internationally, specifically within the context of COVID-19, the global pandemic that continues?

[Brian] Well, I think Marlen picked up a very important point and made it very explicit that it’s about transforming the aid system per se. And if that’s true, that’s a mammoth challenge, and probably one that’s beyond kind of the purview of any one national set of NGOs in Canada or in Tanzania or wherever. It’s going to be, have to be a very deep collective effort and so you know we can look at steps in moving in that direction. But really to pick up a bit more on some of the challenges per se, they’re clearly internal. So, Marlen has already referred to you know, the issues of structural racism. I think also there are patterns of partnership that we have developed over years that are important to us and to partners. And there’s real strong organizational stakes in these partnerships, and so they are difficult to move. There are, I think really not just in Canada, but throughout the North, the ways in which we engage Canadians in this work, which really has been around a charitable model; that we are the ‘givers’, and the others are the beneficiaries and all of the attitudes that support that structures the way in which we then behave and engage as development actors and limits us in that regard because, you know, we must be truthful to our donors, and if we’re working within that model and not a solidarity model, that affects how we communicate and therefore act.

It’s also, I think limited because of the complexities of our organizations that have grown over time, but some of the other aspects of challenges relate to the external ones and we can’t underestimate these, particularly as I said in, and Marlen said that we’re dealing with the reform of the aid system itself in many ways. So, as it affects this agenda in Canada, we have regulations in the government that says that, as a development actor in Canada, as a CSO, we must always have command and control over the money that we provide to a partner in the South, which means that we actually own that work in a technical sense. And therefore, you know this is very challenging if one wants to establish more equitable partnership/relationships. Increasingly over this decade, we have in Canada and particularly moved into calls for proposals we’ve created a competitive environment in which we kind of compete for resources often based on a profile that the Government of Canada establishes, not our partners; we’ve moved away from core funding. 

And lastly, I would draw our attention to the importance of closing civic space in in the global South where the organizations that many of them in which we work, and particularly human rights defenders, are being threatened both physically and politically and organizationally by forces within their own government and outside. We must remember that development is really often very contested in all parts of the world and particularly in the ones we work with, and so as space shrinks it’s much more difficult to establish, open and constructive partnerships that meet the principles that we want to define for them.

[Marlen] Yeah, maybe picking up on some of Brian points around the opportunities and challenges. In terms of opportunities, I do think that this is we’re living in a kind of a unique moment that kind of brought together, you know two streams if you will, or and has created in many ways kind of for me, a perfect storm. 

Number one was kind of like the global kind of uprisings around race and you know that started in U.S. but kind of became this global uproar of people calling attention to you know racial inequality, violence, injustice and then which then became very much part of the conversations internally across all of the international aid sectors. So, whether you are part of a large INGO to a smaller organization, everyone was talking about race and how race plays out in the in the workplace. 

And then of course COVID happened, and COVID also has required a complete shift in in the ways of working of many organizations because you know, expats had to leave and then we had to rely, you know, explicitly and overtly on local actors to actually continue to deliver programs and, you know, do the service delivery of many of the projects, whether humanitarian or development. So those two things I think have created, you know, an opportunity for us to really question ourselves, to question the way we work in this moment. So, I do think that it’s a special moment and is called into question many of the things that Brian was talking about. For me, particularly coming out of a large INGO, the question of how much we’ve grown like the bureaucracy an INGO, how we become this huge super-structures that are very hard to dismantle and we have a very hard time giving up power, and giving up control over resources as, and even though in principle I think you know everyone agrees that, you know local, localization is about initiatives and programs that are owned and led by people working in their own contexts. You know, we’ve kind of twisted and interpreted local in sometimes in ways that are convenient and self-serving because it is so hard to dismantle, you know our structures and to dismantle our ways of doing and thinking because it’s connected to our colonial legacy, but it’s also connected to the business; to the business of being part of these big bureaucracies that are multi-million dollar businesses for many big INGOs.

[Brian] Maybe just to pick up with a bit of my own experience around that. If you talk about something that is contested, I think one thing that is very much contested, although below the surface often is the growing presence of INGO’s across the world in developing countries. There’s been, in a sense, a shift of power, but the shift of power has been within the INGO, and I’ve heard very explicitly in private conversations from significant civil society leaders across the global South that, this is displacing the leadership of local NGOs and CSO’s in their own processes. Not that the staff of INGOs are not nationals of these countries, but you know there creates tension on the ground and I think some of this localization agenda is built, is arising from that experience that has been going on now for probably about 15 years or so.

[Marlen] Yeah, it’s interesting you say that Brian because I think even though the Grand Bargain which was you know, hailed as a major outcome of the 2016 Humanitarian Summit, you know, and with a commitment around allocating at least 25% of funds to local or national actors. Then you know five years onwards, you know one of the things that has been the biggest disappointment is that we haven’t seen that allocation of resources as was committed at the time to local national actors and the definition of local became contested, or, you know, kind of reshaped post summit, mostly by INGO’s who wanted, who argued that local actually included national country offices, and so therefore you know, you create a sense of competition with global southern actors, and for them, you know those offices are really a visible manifestation of the unwillingness of INGOs to give up power, but also manifestation of structural racism. I can, in terms of risks, I see the issue of risk and the attempts to minimize it alongside corruption and program failure as very much part of this, I would call it codification and professionalization of the aid system that has taken place over the last two decades.

People talk about it as the ‘technocratisation’ of the aid sector. There’s this big emphasis on results, effectiveness, and in creating these very complex administrative norms and processes which you know many times go alongside really unachievable benchmarks, right? We all know about results-frameworks and logic frameworks. So, it’s a very complex technical skill to work in this in this sector nowadays. But I think in many ways this whole administrative structure that’s been built around aid has been justified, and the rationale has been around managing and mitigating risks. And I think in part it has created huge barriers for many southern organizations, whether because their English isn’t good enough because English is the dominant language, because they just don’t have the you know, the ‘skills’ and I put skills in kind of quotation marks as defined by the North and northern donors and northern INGOs that are required to be able to meet the threshold and therefore, you create a system where some NGO’s and including some southern NGO’s qualify to compete in this new system, and many others that do not even though they might be doing amazing work on the ground, even though they’re best placed because they understand the realities of their context; they just can’t compete because they don’t have all of these sets of skills or governance structures or administrative systems that we require in order to be able to function in the current aid system.

[Eliana] Brian, is there anything you’d like to add to that?

[Brian] No, I think Marlen has hit it right on; I think those are some of the major issues and it yes, marginalizes significant proportions of the sector in in the global South. To be clear, I mean there are hundreds of thousands of organizations in the global South that do not and have no relationship to the aid system and that is, you know that’s good. But I think you know what we’re talking about here is those aspects of the aid system that can energize as Marlen said at the beginning, change at the country level, and I think you know there is experience and example of relationships of solidarity North-South that actually catalyze and are synergistic with the change in the global South and you know, benefit all partners and all sides. But you know, as Marlen said, if we make this a bureaucratic, as we’ve done over the last 20 years, I think we move further and further away from that potential.

[Eliana] So based on everything that’s already been said, I’m wondering if this agenda has a different impact on international, non-governmental organizations or INGOs? And small and medium-sized organizations? Does it impact them differently, and if so, in what ways? What might these differences mean in moving forward?

Marlen let’s start with you.

[Marlen] I do think that a small or medium organization, just based on what I’ve heard over the last couple of years, particularly from Canadian small-medium sized organizations is that, they have, because in many instances they don’t have the same types of relationships or dependencies with institutional donors and particularly Global Affairs Canada, they have greater flexibility to be able to establish and develop different kinds of relationships with their partners. In many instances they are able to move away from this very transactional type of relationship that is project based that’s defined by, you get project money and there’s a beginning and end to that relationship and then you’re done unless you get new funding to, you know, continue in phase two. So which is very much part of redefining you know relationships so that they are not just project based, but you actually establish longer term partnerships and which allow you know Southern partners to be able to develop, grow and in the areas in which they feel that they need to develop and grow.

So I do feel like, you know, there’s an opportunity for small-medium organizations to kind of in many ways pave the way and document and systematize their experiences for others to be, to look at and learn from. I think international INGOs there’s definitely in principle an understanding of the issues and a desire to move towards supporting this change, but the difficulty is that there are huge structures; I call them in my mind, it’s like the Titanic, right, and you’re trying to move this huge ship like to make it pivot and it’s very, very hard to engage you know, when you’re talking about, you know communications teams and policy teams and you know branding teams and you have your finance teams and you know your logistics teams and you have all of these parts of this organization trying to move them as one. You know you have your humanitarian team and your development teams and people working on peacebuilding and in many instances you know to bring everyone together as people is very difficult, but then the structures themselves that have been developed and the processes are also very difficult to change and ultimately, it is an ideological also challenge because I think we’ve had this idea that we’re doing good right? You know everyone that’s in development, it’s we’re, we believe that you know we have the best interests of people at heart and we’re doing good, right? It’s this, it’s this white savior mentality that people talk about, right? But ultimately, I think we really need to challenge our ways of thinking because I think it’s this idea that we have some sort of truth, that we have the capacity, that our ways of doing are kind of superior to others, is what exactly what we need to be challenging and is very much part of this reform. So, I think INGOs have a bit of a tougher job because their whole business models are built around you know, having big you know, superstructures at head offices, wherever they might sit, and then you have these governance models where you know these country offices or you know are basically you know, despite them having maybe you know local leadership and they might have local lots of, all of their staff being local, if their directives and their strategy is coming from the North, then they’re not you know they would not be defined local right? So, I think these are the tensions and dismantling all of that you can imagine is a huge, 

[Eliana] undertaking,

[Marlen]  job, exactly yeah, and I think that’s the biggest challenge for INGO’s, right now.

[Brian] Yeah, and I think we are, I did some research with the Provincial Council and Territorial Councils a few years ago on the effectiveness of small and medium size NGOs and I think what Marlen said in the beginning of her answers here, really resonates because I think that came out of the results of this more detailed study that was based on evaluations of some of these organizations. But I think also that if we take seriously and I do the challenge that we’re facing a transformative agenda here, one that transforms the aid system as a whole. Then I think it’s clear that small-medium sized organizations will be challenged in terms of their resource and just human capacities to engage in that, because that will take a very sustained effort.

To me, that part of the agenda really has to be, I think it will come from the global South and I experience it as I work with the reality of aid network that I mentioned earlier because within that the analysis is coming from the lived experience of CSO’s in the global South with the aid system. But we need to respond to that and we need to organize ourselves in ways that that can respond to that and that would be the last point I would make here is that well, however effective small and medium sized organizations may be to shift the power, and I think that research demonstrated that some were clearly in and moving in that direction, we need to work in coalitions to both support that as organizational change, but for me, what’s still lacking is coalitions among CSO’s in the global North to really partner with those in the global South who are seeking a transformation in this aid system. And that’s going to be a hard one because it will potentially threaten the basis and foundations of the way we raise money, the size and scope of our organizations, and the mandates that we pursue in the future. So, that’s a challenge for both I think INGOs, but also small and medium.

[Marlen] Yeah, the only thing I would add to that is that, and I absolutely agree with everything that you’ve just said, Brian, but I think that the other big piece and the big challenge for us here in the North is that we need to be working collectively together you know across the sector to really try to influence and push donor, our donor as many others you know in in many other countries are doing to change the way that it operates, because I mean you know the other part of this is that you know NGOs, whether big or small, that are receiving institutional money from global affairs are responding to the direction and control directives that they put in place as well, so there’s sort of a value chain that needs to be transformed and donors are very much part of that conversation and we need to be trying to influence and push them to actually make the changes that are required to create a more enabling environment for this transformation to take place.

[Eliana] Absolutely. Absolutely. These are such important points and I’m really happy that we’re bringing them up and, you know, throughout this conversation what we’ve been talking about is opportunities and challenges and risks facing the localization agenda, but my next question, what I’m really curious about is, what do you see as promising practices that are already happening in community-led, grassroots, localized approaches? And it would be wonderful if you can actually share a specific story.

[Marlen] Specific story, I don’t know whether I can share a specific story, Eliana, but I what I can tell you is that what I’ve seen over the last couple of years, but even beyond that, I think this is a resurgence of conversation and a resurgence in focus on this issue across the South whether you’re looking at Latin America or Africa or Asia, many global Southern partners are seizing the moment to really shed light on an issue that has been discussed for you know, really years, if not decades, but which at this particular moment has kind of gained greater momentum because of the things that we talked about, you know, kind of the uprisings around racial injustice, COVID, have really kind of accelerated if you will the conversation that had been happening you know maybe more covertly or more invisibly across the globe for many, many years, right? So I do feel like that it it’s a moment where we need to be continuing to pay attention to global Southern partners because they are speaking loud and clear, and what they’re saying is, we’re living a moment where we’re ready to seize you know, control of our own destiny and we have the capacity, and we have the skills and we have the knowledge, and you know we’re not saying you know, you know necessarily abandon us or leave. They’re saying you know, work with us, but work with us differently, and be a real partner in the ways that that Brian described earlier. 

So I do think that there it’s a special moment in that regard, but like there’s more,  I see like greater visibility and more openness to actually listening and hearing, and then here in the North, I think it’s a special moment as well because we are all doing our own reconciliation with our own legacy and our own culpability, if you will, if you want to put it that way, or responsibility of really kind of owning you know, the fact that the way that we’ve structured you, you know our relationships have created a power imbalance and have led to the marginalization and exclusion of voices and, of participation of those that need to be really leading the this process.

Brian, I don’t know whether you have anything to add on this?

[Brian] Oh, I don’t think so, I mean, I’m not, I don’t work directly with organizations that are community based. I generally work through intermediary organizations in the global South that in turn have many community relationships and I guess my own reflection on that is very much similar to Marlen that, that is where the knowledge and experiences. I mean, I wouldn’t expect somebody to come from Bolivia to Nova Scotia here and really understand how the dynamics of civic engagement work in in Nova Scotia, even though somebody could learn that over a long period of time, often they would miss the nuance that are the unspoken nuances. And but we make the assumption that that we can go and in a relatively short time, understand all of that in another country context, often country contexts that are fraught with severe issues of conflict and issues around violence against women and extreme conditions of poverty. So, I think we have to be modest, but also conscious, much more conscious of our roles as actors in in development and therefore support such partnerships as Marlen was just describing.

[Eliana] My final question. This has been an amazing, amazing conversation and the way to best wrap up I guess I would say, what are top maybe top two or three thoughts on how to move the localization agenda forward, and that’s both internationally and domestically?

[Brian] Maybe I’ll start, and I’ll pick up on my last point a few minutes ago about the importance of engaging the donor in our case, generally Global Affairs Canada in the ways in which they have structured the relationship with primarily us as civil society actors based in Canada, but also the ways in which they are absent in supporting civil society in developing countries. According to the OECD DAC, only slightly more than 4% of all the money that the Global Affairs Canada provides for civil society and Global Affairs Canada is one of the largest supporters of civil society, only 4% goes directly to civil society actors in the South. Now for the all donors, it’s only six 7%, but you know clearly there’s room for diversifying the ways in which Global Affairs support civil society. Just recently, in July of this year, at the OECD Development Assistance Committee, which is a club of all the donors that agree on good practice principles, they passed what’s called a recommendation, which is a very strong instrument for the OECD DAC on enabling civil society. And this recommendation really, if you look at it’s 28 provisions, speaks to many of the issues that we’ve been talking about today and Global Affairs Canada will be held accountable to this recommendation over the coming years, but it’s incumbent also on us as civil society in Canada and the Councils, and particularly Cooperation Canada to pick up on this recommendation and the clauses. So, for example, one of the recommendation clauses says that, ‘Donors must increase their support for leadership of southern civil society, including core support for southern civil society. They must also look at the ways in which they finance civil society in the donor countries, moving much more towards programmatic and core, multi-year core finance which provides much greater flexibility. So, this recommendation really is an important tool for us going forward. We also have a Senate motion that was launched in the last session of Parliament and it’s been reintroduced that will speak to moving the government regulations on what we referred to earlier as command and control, where we must be the owner of all money always that goes outside the country. So, these are important initiatives that I think in the future we must pick up on, on the external environment. But you know, I think you know moving forward, we need to continue these types of discussions both collectively as we’re doing now, but internally to all of our organizations, and then there are some interesting tools that are being developed. For example, there’s a coalition of southern CSOs called NEAR that have developed a localization performance management system, and that sounds quite technical, but if you look at it, it’s basically a set of questions that you ask yourself about this about your relationships and the power dynamics and similarly Partos, which is kind of the Dutch equivalent of Cooperation Canada has developed a power awareness tool. So there’s a lot of conversations going on around the world on this topic, and I think you know we need to draw some of this back into Canada and to really put our resources over the next couple of years in sustained ways to both facilitate some of this happen in Canada around our own organizations but also to put our collective heads together as we’ve said to really challenge some of the broader power dynamics in the aid system.

[Marlen] Yeah, in terms of for me, I think what lies ahead is really coming together as civil society; I think there’s internal and external challenges. Internally as we talk about I think you know, we all every organization individually, but also collectively and individuals within those organizations, particularly leadership and boards have a big responsibility in terms of ensuring that the dialogue continues and that they’re actually putting resources behind, you know, making the changes that they need to be making at the level of governance and at the level of process and policy within organizations so that they actually get their own houses in order that they’re not talking about these issues as something that is happening out there, in terms of just their programmatic work, but it’s actually it needs to be alignment between what’s happening in in in their own internal organization internally in their organizations, and so getting their houses in order and getting that housekeeping done, I think, is very much essential if there’s going to be any kind of alignment, as I said between what’s being said and what they’re actually doing. So, that’s a that’s a tall order for many organizations who are, you know, scrambling to understand, ok, what does this mean for us and how does it transform our you know the way we do our communications? For example, you know how we gather images? What are the policies for field trips, you know if they do field trips for donors? What kind of images can they use? And you know what language should accompany donor communication or fund-raising material. That’s a big tall order for many organizations that survive on fund raising, you know face-to-face fundraising, digital fundraising, so changing the language and educating at the same time donors as to why you know we can’t be depicting this imagery of you know of this of the global South as almost you know, recipients of our charity, right? And in fact, making our communication material, material that is reflective of our human rights commitments and the fact that you know those recipients, people receiving aid, are actually, you know their rights holders, and that you know we’re trying to uphold their human rights. So, there’s attention, and there’s always a struggle in terms of you know, especially by fundraisers you know who really struggle to say, you know, to deliver on raising money and the imagery and language we use so you know that’s one big, tall order. 

And then, of course there’s the whole programmatic stuff of how we develop programming right? Who designs the program? What goes into the program? What stays out? You know, how is that driven just by the North? and then in turn by the donor who kind of sets the parameters of what they want to see? And then the INGO does a knowledge translation of that and works with country offices and then they in turn work with local partners. Ultimately end up just being you know deliverers or implementers, but the reality is that the program is designed, managed, evaluated by people in the North and so all of that, I think is an internal challenge for, you know, big, big and small organizations here in the in the North. But I also think we need to get back to being connected with each other. I mean, I think we’re all everyone talks about being super busy, everybody is, you know, works long hours, everybody has burned out, but we’ve forgotten to talk to each other. Like you know, we are so busy in the day to day putting out all the fires that come up that there isn’t enough time left for us to talk to one another, and to do the solidarity building that Brian talked about before that is so needed amongst us here in the North like we need to be working collectively and collaboratively, you know, being generous with our time, trusting each other to share in, you know, to share our learnings so that we can learn from each other and  buildup off each other. So, I think that piece is really missing, and we need to do more of that, because I think there is experiences that we could learn from. For example, from smaller organizations to some of the experience potentially of some of the bigger ones, right? And so I think that there is space for us to be doing so much more of that if we’re going to be effective in continuing to build momentum around this issue. And then of course, externally I think there’s an opportunity also for us to be playing a role of making those connections with the global what’s happening globally, right? I think that there’s a lot of good examples from other countries and that we and from other organizations in whether in the global South or in the global North that are doing good work and we should be also connecting and talking and dialoguing with them in order to be able to have this be a global agenda. It’s not just a Canadian agenda, but it’s actually a global agenda. We’re talking about systemic change and systemic change requires that we pull all of these levers that are not only national, but also international and making them work in concert with one another.

[Eliana] Absolutely, because we need to look at local priorities, but then link them to global goals, right?

[Marlen] Exactly.

[Brian] Sure. I would just say that I’m very pleased that OCIC is taking up this agenda in multiple ways, including these podcasts, but also in their various for a with their members and in improving and increasing capacity to support their members around this, and I think hopefully that’s a model for others and other coalitions to do likewise, because I think we’re moving very quickly into a dynamic world where change is happening often beyond our control, not least the consequence of a pandemic, and so having these fora to discuss these issues but also launch reflection within our organizations is incredibly important at this stage in our in our development.

[Marlen] Yeah and maybe in closing as well to you know thank OCIC for the opportunity to have this conversation and hopefully it’s the first of many conversations that we will continue to have and that we should be having with each other and also to, I think you know, we need these kinds of moments to begin to think about how we you know collectively influence change with our donor. I think you know, I think organizations need to be supported to be able to do the documentation and systematization and learning. There’s we all believe in learning, and we all believe that that’s it’s needed but there’s never enough resources, whether financial or people allocated to it, and it’s so needed in this moment if we’re going to build off of each other and benefit from the lessons learned; we need to be able to have funding that supports those kinds of efforts.

[Eliana] Thank you both so much. I mean you’re both thanking OCIC for opening this forum, but to be honest, I think I speak for the entirety of OCIC when I say that we are grateful that we can speak with you Marlen and with you Brian about power, localization and shifting our thoughts around what localization means and what it means to really embrace, and listen to local priorities and have that inform first of all national policy change but also global priorities and global goals. So, we are very grateful and fortunate to have had this conversation with you and to have many more.

I want to thank you both for joining us today. I’ve personally learned so much from our conversation and there is a lot our audience can take away by listening to this episode. There are many more coming up in the rest of season 2, so please stay tuned and we look forward to furthering dialogue on localization.

Thank you, Marlen. Thank you, Brian. Thank you so so much for joining us today.

[Marlen] Thank you, Eliana.

[Brian] Thank you, it’s been a pleasure

[Eliana] And to our audience, thank you for tuning in. Make sure to catch our next episode as we continue to share other stories from our OCIC membership community. The Ontario Council for International Cooperation is an expanding community of members working for global social justice, human dignity and participation for all.

Join us visit, ocic.on.ca to learn more.