Some of the world’s biggest aid and development organisations have signed up to a far-reaching set of commitments to create closer partnerships with local and national organisations in a drive to shift more power, decision-making and money to the places worst affected by crisis and poverty.
The agencies, which include CARE International, Christian Aid, Plan International, Save the Children International and Oxfam International, believe being “locally led and globally connected” will mean bigger, longer-lasting impacts on people’s lives.
‘Only through such partnerships will we remove any dependency on aid and continue to build the strength of the communities we strive to support,’ they say.
The commitment to equitable partnerships forms part of a ‘Pledge for Change’ that follows a two year-long process convened by Adeso, a humanitarian and development organisation in Somalia. International non-government organisation (INGO) leaders in the Global North have heeded challenges from their counterparts based in the Global South as part of the process.
The Pledge for Change focuses on three key areas: equitable partnerships, authentic storytelling, and influencing wider change.
‘There are times when INGOs should complement local knowledge, expertise and relationships with our resources and skills, but we need to know when to step away as well,’ the pledge says.
It acknowledges that big international organisations competing for funds, facilities and talent can unintentionally weaken civil society in the countries where they operate: ‘In the years ahead, we’ll allocate more resources to help local and national organisations take the lead.’
The Pledge for Change also commits to ‘authentic storytelling’ that stops reinforcing harmful stereotypes.
‘We will continue to show the harsh realities of poverty, conflict, hunger and natural disasters because humanitarian crises should not be sanitised,’ it says. ‘But we’ll avoid exploitative imagery that portrays people as helpless victims. We will give credit to partners where it’s due.’
The Pledge for Change, which was developed in collaboration with sector leaders from the Global South, acknowledges inequalities in the system that date back to the colonial era. It requires large INGOs to ensure a more equitable approach and recognises the unique role local organisations play in aid delivery.
The chief executives who have signed the pledge say they will press for implementation across the sector, track progress and report it publicly to show how they are ‘walking the talk’ over the next eight years.
Find out more about the Pledge for Change here: www.pledgeforchange2030.org
Quotes from signatories:
Degan Ali, Chief Executive of Adeso:
We wanted the Pledge to be different from past processes for change in aid. First off, all activities were led by the global south – with Adeso convening the group and other activists giving feedback and sign-off to the pledges as they were being developed. Secondly, it started as a small group of CEOs that have a personal commitment to decolonization and who sought a space to imagine change with their peers. It was a manageable number of people to coordinate and all members really had a say in the final product. Finally, the accountability mechanisms will be designed by global south activists and organizations to ensure that INGOs are being held accountable to their partners and the communities.
Rose Caldwell, Plan International UK:
Locally led and globally connected is at the heart of Plan International’s new Global strategy “All Girls Standing Strong” and that because we know that localisation is essential to ensure we achieve a just world for all children. By setting aspirational targets, Pledge for Change is critical to ensure the change that is needed actually happens. It challenges us to deliver on our Pledge and encourages others to start the journey.
Loreine B. dela Cruz, Executive Director, Center for Disaster Preparedness Foundation (CDP):
The Pledge for Change is a historic milestone in the field of humanitarian and development. The bold step taken by leaders and practitioners to use their power to transform themselves and the sector, in order to build a stronger aid ecosystem based on the principles of solidarity, humility, self-determination, and equality.
The leaders and practitioners decided to accelerate the change taking different paths to achieve the collective goals of equitable partnership approach; of telling stories in an ethical and safe way demonstrating partners’ resilience and praxis; and wider influencing for change.
The ultimate measure and real achievement of this is making spaces and actions on the ground demonstrating the power shift to local actors and amplifying their voices and leadership in various platforms at varying levels.
Danny Glenwright, Save the Children Canada:
I’m proud to have spent my career working in the non-profit and media sectors focused on telling stories about human rights abuses and inequality and working strategically to address these issues and their root causes. Like many people who work at Save the Children, a passion for positive social change and an equally passionate frustration with inequality, racism, and oppression – and the slow pace of change to address these – is what drives me.
Our sector is at a critical juncture in its history: global disparities and social challenges are growing and expanding despite decades of work to address them – even as we’re more interconnected than at any time in history. At Save the Children Canada, we recognize that to sustainably and collaboratively meet these challenges, we must face up to our role in perpetuating some of these inequalities as well as our history as an international NGO based in the Global North, with all the privilege and power that entails. Collaborating with the Pledge for Change process is part of this and participating in it has contributed to our vision for a significant organizational shift to understand and transform unequal power dynamics in all we do.
Gwen Hines, CEO, Save the Children UK:
Signing onto this incredibly important pledge is another step in our journey of shifting the power into the hands of children and their communities. It is only by moving capacity, resources, and ownership to national and local organisations, that we will be able to achieve meaningful and lasting change for children and their communities.
Sudhanshu Shekhar Singh, Founder and CEO, Humanitarian Aid International:
During my career, spanning over three decades, I have seen several processes aiming at reforming the humanitarian architecture but not changing much in favour of local actors and the affected population. The Pledge for Change gives high hope to the community of local actors as this framework is based on clear and measurable indicators. The pledge holds the senior leadership to account for disseminating the commitments and track the delivery on the commitments. I particularly appreciate the decolonial approach and bringing back ethics in communication, which is not racist and respectful to the people we serve.
Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro, Secretary General of CARE International:
CARE International is delighted to be part of this critical and long overdue initiative aiming at shifting power to local organizations and adopting a truly ‘locally-led and globally-connected’ approach to humanitarian response and development. The Pledge for Change will help us learn more meaningfully and transparently from organizations from both the Global South and Global North as we continue to adjust a fast-evolving aid and development ecosystem. This has never been more important as millions are impacted by conflict, climate change and deep inequality. The global majority’s voices must be at the heart of decision-making – this is the main aim of this Pledge.
Danny Sriskandarajah, Oxfam GB Chief Executive:
If organisations like ours are to have the radical impact we seek, then it is clear that we must transform the way we work. It is vital that our sector leads by example in making sure that the way we work embodies the values we stand for. That means doing all that we can to nurture a vibrant and resilient civil society in the countries we operate and engaging our supporters in new ways that are based on solidarity across borders.
Peter Walton, CEO CARE Australia:
The Pledge for Change commitments are not only the right thing to do morally, they are also essential if we are serious about addressing many of the unprecedented challenges the world is facing. International aid needs this long, overdue rethink. It’s time to move beyond the rhetoric into genuine behavioural and systemic change.
Patrick Watt, Chief Executive of Christian Aid:
There is a huge unfinished agenda in how International NGOs exercise power, practice partnership, and portray people. Pledge for Change signals a real commitment to progressing that agenda, and putting more power and resources in the hands of partners, and communities affected by poverty.
Chernor Bah, Co-Founder & Co-CEO, Purposeful:
The global aid system is currently not reflective of our common humanity and solidarity – and it often ignores its history and complicity in upholding unjust and unequal power systems. This pledge articulates critical intentional thoughts, actions and behaviors that are past overdue to reform this system. If all actors abide by the pledge, it would be an important step to decolonize aid and create a more just and equitable development community. This is why Purposeful is proud to sign on and be part of this much needed process.
Mary Ana McGlasson, Center for Humanitarian Leadership:
The Pledge for Change is a critical milestone in moving the system forward from its current state of inertia toward more equitable and decolonised ways of working. The Centre for Humanitarian Leadership (CHL) is incredibly proud to have been a part of Pledge for Change in a supportive and guiding role since its inception. While CHL is not an operational actor, we wholeheartedly endorse the pledge as a lever for systemic change.