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2022 Skoll World Forum Gives Signs That Change is Brewing in the Global Aid Community

2022 Skoll World Forum Gives Signs That Change is Brewing in the Global Aid Community

A sea change is brewing within the global development community. Calls are rising for systems of foreign aid to transform from a Eurocentric approach rooted in colonialism to a new partnership-driven model that puts local leaders at the center of solving problems in their own communities. “Face/Forward” — the theme of the 2022 Skoll World Forum, one of the most celebrated annual events gathering leaders from within the global development space — is further evidence of this mounting shift.

The 2022 Skoll World Forum offers signs of a change — and it can’t come too soon

Globally, more than 99 percent of humanitarian and philanthropic funding goes to international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) that are largely based in Europe and North America, with less than half a percent going to local and national NGOs. Beyond dollars and cents, this disparity represents countless local leaders who do not have a sufficient voice at the decision-making table, and who are often forced to watch on the sidelines as leaders from faraway places try to employ solutions that don’t take the distinct needs of their communities into consideration.

The coronavirus pandemic provided an important entry point for new conversations. More often than not, local groups and community organizers were the first and only line of response as communities struggled to cope with the effects of the pandemic. To their credit, the wider development community is taking notice — and they’re looking for opportunities to center local communities in their programming and connect the local actors responding to the crisis with the trillions in pledged COVID-19 support globally.

Moves like this can’t happen fast enough, as global poverty is on the rise for the first time in two decades due to the pandemic, threatening to derail years of progress for millions of people worldwide. 

The 2022 Skoll World Forum and its focus on “Face/Forward” reflects the global development community’s appetite for change. The worldrecognizes the challenges we face are huge, and the future of development is in local leadership. The question now is how we get it done.

What is locally led development, and why does it matter? 

“The working definition I use to describe locally led development is that it’s broadly about decolonizing aid, shifting power and transforming unequal power relations,” Ennie Chipembere Chikwema, director of locally led development for the international NGO Humentum, explained in an op/ed for Devex. “It’s a way of undertaking development that ensures the people affected, impacted, or experiencing challenges are at the center of all response agendas, decision-making, processes and actions.”

That the people confronting a certain challenge should be at the forefront of solving it sounds a whole lot like common sense, but Chikwema’s own experience proves it doesn’t typically work that way. Growing up in the Mkoba neighborhood of the Zimbabwean city of Gweru, it was not uncommon for multigenerational families to share two-room houses of 500 square feet or less, or for two homes or more to share a single toilet and shower.

“I remember wondering why anyone in their right mind who knows about family size and cultural practices in Zimbabwe would make such a house,” Chikwema wrote on Devex. “I learned that I had lived with the consequences of colonial decisions regarding the type of housing that African people could have in urban areas. Family needs and gender dynamics were not considered, nor were they contextually or culturally relevant. My lived reality is a microcosm of what locally led development is about.”

Chikwema says her new position as the Director of Locally Led Development at Humentum, a massive international NGO with programming in over 100 countries around the world, is a “visible manifestation” of the shift occurring in the global development community that is reflected in the theme of the 2022 Skoll World Forum. Indeed, more large INGOs are seeking to fill similar positions and, as Chikwema puts it, start “walking the talk” when it comes to empowering local leaders.

“Do you need to exist in every country with your brand? No.”

As INGOs look to connect more deeply with local communities, it’s vital they take counsel from leaders like Chikwema who know the locally led development space and care about it deeply. But again, it doesn’t always work that way. 

In March of 2020, 146 African organizations penned a direct appeal to international NGOs, asking them to work with — not against — local leaders. It stemmed from conversations in a WhatsApp group called  #ShiftThePower, in which several leaders said they were approached by INGOs looking to “learn” from them in ways they felt were extractive.

“… We’ve been asked to meet with your highly paid consultants on numerous occasions,” the groups wrote in their letter, published on Open Democracy. “The strategy is pretty common: usually you start by creating a ‘local organization’ with a local board. A next step that we’re seeing is that you enter the world of DRM — ‘Domestic Resource Mobilization’ — to raise money from within our countries.”

Such an approach “probably sounds great to your northern ears,” they continued, but “what happens in practice is that these efforts only serve to reinforce the power dynamic at play, and ultimately to close the space for domestic civil society.”

The organizations called on INGOs to take a different approach to localizing their operations: Rather than expanding their footprint with new offices and (mostly white) staff shipped in from around the world, look for ways to use what they know to support the great work that’s already happening. 

“… Do you need to exist in every country with your brand? No,” the groups continued insistently. “There are often local organizations, like ourselves, who work effectively on the ground, with better connections to the local community. And many of us also have the skills and capacity to represent our issues on the world stage.”

In a small sign we’re moving in this direction, some of those local voices will be taking to the world stage (albeit virtually) at the 2022 Skoll World Forum, as community leaders like Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate and Rukka Sombolinggi, secretary general of the Indonesian group Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago, speak alongside executives from massive foundations and INGOs. 

Scaling social impact — quickly, consciously and collaboratively

If more of us now understand that the future of global development is local leadership, the question then becomes: How do we bring more local leaders to the forefront and ensure we’re (really) listening to them about what their communities need to thrive?  

At Street Business School, we faced many of these same questions as we looked to expand the reach of our entrepreneurial training workshops for people living in poverty. Of course we want to scale up — our curriculum has been proven to work, and we want to share it with the world. But we also can’t pretend we have all the answers. We spent over 15 years honing our entrepreneurial training program in Uganda — with the women we trained increasing their incomes by 211 percent on average — but we also know that what worked in Uganda won’t necessarily work in Cambodia, India, Brazil and so on.

With this in mind, we’re growing through an emerging social enterprise model called social franchising, in which we train local leaders to deliver our programs in a way that makes sense for the people in their communities. Representatives from more than 160 organizations across 25 countries have taken the training so far, with over 352 SBS Lead Coaches now certified to implement SBS in their communities. 

We also look to support collaborative models that support and uplift local and national organizations. For example, we’re among the locally-based groups participating in the Uganda Local Coalition Accelerator (ULCA), made up of 14 organizations operating in the Ugandan capital city of Kampala that came together to meet the acute needs communities were facing amidst the pandemic. Brought together by the Share Trust, the local organizations in the ULCA have co-designed and co-implemented programs including emergency cash relief initiatives and awareness campaigns to get kids to return to school.  

We’re also a member of Catalyst 2030, which started as a conversation among like-minded social innovators in July 2019 and launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos the following January, with the aim of advancing the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). That was mere weeks before the coronavirus pandemic began spreading around the world. In response to that need, and the backslides on the SDGs that accompanied the pandemic, Catalyst 2030 quickly grew into a global movement that gave rise to dozens of collaborations among local groups on issues like coronavirus response, natural resource preservation, education and the new world of work. 

Models that bring networks of local organizations together in this way open up the door for greater capacity and the opportunity to co-design real systems change that works for communities. 

That we are stronger together than we are individually is something we’ve always known. Our ancestors passed the sentiment down from generation to generation — from the African proverb, “If you want to go far, go together,” to the traditional motto of the United States, “E pluribus unum” (“Out of many, one”). And this is somewhere we can get back to — if we learn to listen to one another and truly collaborate, instead of try to compete. 

Let’s discuss more at the 2022 Skoll World Forum! 

The 2022 Skoll World Forum will convene local leaders and large organizations to discuss the biggest challenges we face today — and how we can tackle them together. Local leadership is an underlying thread in the 2022 Skoll World Forum program, with topics of conversation including how to deliver more equitable healthcare by empowering frontline providers, how to ensure climate commitments reach frontline communities, and how to translate donors’ pledges to promote racial equity into real change on the ground. 

We applaud the 2022 Skoll World Forum for hosting these crucial conversations, exploring models outside the traditional aid community, and lifting up the local leaders who are spearheading real change today. 

The 2022 Skoll World Forum theme of “Face/Forward” is all about making strides toward systemic change, and we’re beyond excited to engage in this conversation. Join us at the 2022 Skoll World Forum April 6-8, held virtually and free for all.

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