yellow shape
Innovation Hub News

How we reimagine collaborations within development work

Twasiima P. Bigirwa wrote this article, inspired by reading, and initially prepared for the launch of, Reimagining Civil Society Collaborations in Development Starting from the South, Edited ByMargit van Wessel, Tiina Kontinen, Justice Nyigmah Bawole.

24 May 2023

I like to think of this period we find ourselves in as one that calls for us to explore the newness that is emerging, while demanding of us to understand and determine how we engage with these changes. It is perhaps, one would call it, the call to reimagination.

DDD manifesto, as referenced in this book, presents development as ‘a locally owned process, working through local convenors mobilizing all those with a stake in progress; blending design and implementation through rapid cycles of planning, action, reflection, and revision; and drawing on local knowledge, feedback, and energy.’

And so, as I read, I found myself with more questions and long pauses that come from reflecting on the nature of how we do this work now. And as I share what comes up for me with you, I invite us to reflect together.

Always, as I engage with language and thought around concepts of ‘Shift the Power’, what is stirred are questions on identity, autonomy, dignity, history, and economy and how these consciously affect the ability of what we can reimagine.

I agree with many, including the authors in this book that the task ahead demands of us to reconstruct relationships and reimagine collaborations. It is also true that those on the margins are usually better able, and perhaps even invested in deconstructing and organising against power structures. I also ask.

Who has the freedom to dream, and so, who can actually be front and center of this work? Can the colonized, whose material realities are as we known them to be, and come with collections of distorted and ahistorical political education speak? Can they have the freedom to shape what this new world can look like?

The power balances that exist between those in the North and South exist beyond just development actors working through INGOs or CSOs. They exist within a framework that is perpetuated not just through political impositions, but cultural ones too. This is maintained through the neo-colonial machinery that is supported by an economic system and financial institutions that continue to yield significant power in many of our countries. This financing model is at the heart of how the development model industry is structured.

I am interested in the idea of what solidarity can look and feel like in this our shared context. What can be the role of those in the North; institutions and individuals when we are continually faced with these realities? And as we do that, how do we unlink neo-colonial exploitative interests that have come to be characterised with this work from Southern countries? What is the role of the different actors who are emerging and willing to engage with these complexities?

We cannot fragment freedom. We do not live single issue lives. And yet, while looking to address complex systemic problems that persist, we work as though they exist in isolation of one another. Those who are minoritized by race, gendered identity, class, or othered by the many other isms where our oppression intersects, are the ones most susceptible to other injustices and indignities.

In thinking through what our collective action can be, I am inspired by the chapter on Reimagining Development from Local Voices and Positions – Southern Feminist Movements in the Lead. The kind of capitalist patriarchy we are fighting against today is borne out of a hegemonic view that constructs the generic human subject as male, and white. Those of us who exist outside either of these centers of power have the ominous task of reconstructing and reclaiming our realities. There are many successes recorded in this book about movements led by African women. And there are many more that are not. Southern feminists have and can continue to show us to liberation, informed by the inherent indigenous knowledge that emerges from what we know to be true about ourselves and each other.

I am left with the question of whether we dare stretch ourselves to imagine freedom outside the confines of institutions and individuals that have shaped how we currently think about development work. And if we dare, how.

It feels important to stress the necessity for indigenous knowledge. And even beyond that, engendering knowledge, and the localisation of language. Concepts and truths can be unburied and recentred. We look to histories and teachings that speak to how we can care for and support each other, concepts rooted in okuba’omuntu, that if reclaimed, guide.

To give us back the gift of our imagination, we must move towards narratives that center the possibilities, dreams, and aspirations, of people. We need this, if we are to build a new and materialise systems that allow for autonomy, self-sustainability, and reconstruction of power.