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[EN] Innovation Hub Blog

Becoming Co-Stars

The #shiftthepower movement advocates for more community-led development. In the Partos Strategic Partnerships Lab we take stock of its practical implementation. It is a journey of transformation and genuine collaboration.

Author: Gerrit de Vries, founder Joint Purpose 

13 april 2022


Acknowledging people from communities in the global South as co-investors instead of beneficiaries. That’s one of the elements of #shiftthepower.

It’s a different way of valuing and measuring assets, and valuing that people in communities have assets. When they bring them to the table it moves them from being beneficiaries to co-investors.

This was a statement by Jenny Hodgson, Executive Director of the Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF) at the third Partos Strategic Partnership Lab on 29 March. GFCF are part of the Giving for Change Alliance, together with Africa Philanthropy Network, Kenya Community Development Foundation, and Wilde Ganzen.

Acknowledging resources

So often donors and INGOs have a dominant say in partnerships because of their financial power, access to funds, and because of the large machinery they have with specialised staff, access to academics, and to the corridors of international power. However, when we talk about resources, there is a need to acknowledge the resources that are abundantly present in the communities we intend to serve: they have to their own knowledge and contextual understanding, they know what works and what not, they have networks and relations, access to local governments and private sector, to mention just a few of the resources that are essential in working towards social change.

The Giving for Change Alliance goes a step further. They also show that communities do have financial means that can be mobilised. Grace Maingi, Executive Director of Kenya Community Development Foundation explains that her organisation works seriously on shifting power within Kenya, from her organisation at Nairobi-level towards communities in the country. They create relations, co-create with communities, have mechanisms for critical feedback from communities about their work in order to learn, check their own biases, and acknowledge that communities are at the centre of their own change. And they support community resource recognition: KCDF matches grants raised by communities, and recognises and costs other services brought in by communities, such as social capital, materials, and time invested. This is how communities are empowered, seen as co-investors instead of beneficiaries.

A movement

What can the international development community learn from this example? Jenny makes a case for seeing shift the power as a movement. In a movement, everyone contributes to its success, or put differently, everyone has a role to play. I would like to highlight three points that are of interest here.

The first one is about recognising resources. The story of Grace shows how community resources are recognised and taken seriously by KCDF. If KCDF succeeds in empowering communities by valuing their financial and non-financial resources, how can northern NGOs also value the contributions of communities and their Southern partners? Are northern NGOs enablers or blockers for real ownership by their southern partners and communities? Northern NGOs should on the one hand recognise the resources of their Southern partners by listening to their voices, creating equal partnerships where every partner contributes, and on the other hand change practices so that southern partners can better resource themselves, for example by financing organisations instead of projects, longer-term commitments and supporting partners in resourcing themselves through building their own systems of giving.

Secondly, the notion of accountability is crucial. How do we create a movement where horizontal accountability from community to national organisation to international NGO or donor is replaced by more horizontal accountability? As mentioned by Jenny: “Isn’t 300 people giving regularly to an organisation a much stronger accountability than passing the audit test of a bilateral funder?” In a movement, we are all striving together for social change. So let us also develop ways to be mutually accountable to one another for our actions. KCDF provided some good examples of feedback mechanisms, being made aware of own biases. And many other mechanisms can be developed: peer-reviewing, joint learning, and different decision-making processes.


And thirdly, being a movement means that we are all part of it and everyone can contribute. And that’s where I see the notion of co-investors come in again.

If we recognize that we can all be part of the social change that we wish to achieve, it means that we can all be co-investors.

By investing our ideas, our courage to make a change, by standing up, experimenting with new ways of working, influencing our own leaders, by linking up with people, across organisations and the sector. If we acknowledge communities as co-investors instead of beneficiaries, and if we all become co-investors in making shift the power reality, each of us from our own positions, wouldn’t we then be a powerful movement for real and lasting social change?

More about Shift the Power? Join the next Strategic Partnership Lab! Every last Thursday of the month, the Partos Innovation Hub organises sessions. Also, let’s stay in touch! Subscribe to our monthly newsletter to receive information about upcoming events, the latest innovations, reports and more. No strings attached.

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