ICSW 2017: New ways of cooperation for civil society

What is the way forward for civil society partnerships?

What is the way forward for civil society partnerships? This question was a driving factor for Partos to visit the International Civil Society Week of CIVICUS. 800 Attendees from 108 different countries came to Suva (Fiji Islands) to participate during the conference, which was held from 4-8 December. Partos organised a workshop about news ways of cooperation.

The International Civil Society Week (ICSW) had three overarching themes: Our Planet (climate consequences), Our Struggle (activism), and Our Future (new roles and cooperation for civil society). Together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, CIVICUS, Africans Rising, and the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) Partos organised a workshop on new ways of cooperation.

There is a strong belief that in order to tackle the global challenges that we are facing, we need more equitable civil society partnerships based on solidarity, trust and a clear division of roles. Instead of being equal partners, civil society actors within the development system often end up in funder-implementer relations. Is the current system of development cooperation creating inequality in cooperation between organizations in the global North and South? And, how could it be different? Jelmer Kamstra from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs presented the tensions between the two existing paradigms in the current system. Social transformation on the one hand, acknowledges civil society as an independent ‘agent of social change’ and employs a an accountability mechanism based on flexibility and trust. Managerialism, on the other hand, works with civil society organizations for the delivery of services on the basis of value of money, and an accountability system that is based on log frames and control. Understanding these two paradigms and the tension that arises when either of them is not applied appropriately, helped the audience to reflect upon inequality in civil society partnerships and the way forward. What needs to be changed in the system and what should we do differently.  See for the full report and a link to the presentation by Jelmer Kamstra the website of The Spindle, Partos’ innovation platform.

Some take aways from the workshop:

  • Less donor dependency via enhanced voluntarism and own resourcing
  • Start at local level and constituency as to develop legitimacy and resources
  • Citizen engagement in CSOs through some kind of active democracy
  • More money for (Southern based) national CSOs
  • Flexible funding channels for CSOs
  • Partnerships as exchange of services/information not only funding
  • Donors should also be accountable

Some impressions of the other discussions at ICSW:
Climate change and social injustice is the consequence of the present economic and political system ánd of a civil society that fails to advocate for a more fair and sustainable economic system. The ideological debate is dominated by neo-liberalism, Alt-Right and populist movements.

Civil society organizations are often regarded as being part of ‘the elite’ , managers of funding instead of being agents of social change. We should re-engage with own constituencies.  No longer should we work with the narrative about ‘charity’, but come with a new narrative  about the future we want, for our country and for our world.

Cooperation between the well-established CSOs and the informal movement is a challenge and a chance. Global civil society needs its institutionalized actors, as much as it needs its spontaneous social movements. If the established CSO are to reconnect with grassroots activism, they will need to challenge and reframe their relationships with donors and states.

For more information on the discussions of the ICSW:

 

 

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