There is widespread consensus that in partnerships for development, donors and international NGOs have too much power, and NGOs in the South too little. Despite this consensus, power imbalances persist. Apparently, it is hard to put the principles into practice. Why is this the case, and what can be done about it?
These are the core questions that Partos seeks to address with the Community of Practice on Shifting Power. The initiative is timely, especially against the backdrop of the new partnership programs that are financially supported by the Civil Society Strengthening Program of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which the strengthening of southern ownership is formulated as a shared ambition.
Power relations in partnerships
Power is the ability to influence decision making, mobilise resources and implement decisions. Power is an indispensable asset for getting things done, also in development cooperation. However, the distribution of power in current partnerships is often very uneven. Those with the most power, usually the donors, and to a lesser extent the INGOs, are not always the most knowledgeable about the local situation or about the change needed and how to achieve this. Shifting power to Southern-based civil society is important in order to realise lasting and locally-led social change, and to build partnerships that are effective and based on trust.
The Power Awareness Tool
In 2019 and 2020 the Partos Shift-the-Power innovation lab developed the Power Awareness Tool. This tool brings to light power in decision-making in partnership relations, enabling partners to analyse and reflect on power relations. The Power Awareness Tool is currently in use by some of the Strategic Partnerships, and by Dutch and Southern-based organisations. It is being shared and promoted by INGO platforms, like BOND, Interaction and the Berlin Civil Society Centre.