Change the Game Academy is supporting local organizations to amplify their voice in local advocacy efforts, signaling the increased attention paid to local game changing capacity and home-grown civil society development. The question that came to my mind is: "Is the game really changing and if it is, who are really changing the game?". What is certainly changing is organizations advertising each other's approaches. ICCO introduces the Change the Game Academy of Wilde Ganzen on its web site as follows: "Change the Game Academy is an innovative program that helps civil society organizations all over the world, mainly in the global south, to learn to raise funds locally and to mobilize other kinds of support". This is not just a nice guesture of a like minded agency, but it is the result of Dutch organizations working together in alliances as a means to access co-funding from the Dutch government in what is called a strategic partnership. So question is: who is changing the game here?
Global civil society
Civil society is under pressure globally as Siri Lijfering reports in the same edition, as she is quoting the State of Civil Society Report of CIVICUS. Civil society has been understood as the arena between the public, the private (market) and the informal (family) domains where people advance common interests (Heinrich 2004:13). However, it appeared tough to quantify this space, despite attempts with a Civil Society Index. More recently the CSI has been replaced by a worldmap color coding civic space using five broad categories: closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed and open. It resembles the way in which FEWS-net tracks food insecurity around the world and helps in having a birds-eye view of civic space and where it is mostly contested. The word that features frequently in the CIVICUS report is 'power', fitting the concept of countervailing power that is often associated with civil society. However, as is illustrated by the narrative reporting on the state of democracy, (part 3 of the report) the likelihood of civil society being seen as supporting opposition forces is quite high.
Our turn to eat
The underpinning 'Theory of Change' is best illustrated by the book "It's our turn to eat" written by Michela Wrong in 2009 and recording the story of whistle-blower John Githongo in the run-up to Kenya's elections in the end of 2007 (then Minister Agnes van Ardenne from the Netherlands reportedly being the only donor freezing aid over corruption concerns in 2006). From this book and its successive reviews and talks it is clear that donors are often as much part of the problem as they could be part of the solution. As the CIVICUS report illustrates, in Europe similar challenges are posed to democracy with right-wing groups capitalizing on feelings of loss of control, diminishing prospects for a meaningful life and fearing loss of identity. Added to that is a substantial European bureaucracy which is portrayed as a predatory force, that would not be inclined to sufficiently serve the interests of its individual member states. Question is of course: Are European policies predatory or do they serve a common interest that cannot be dealt with by individual states? The British people must realize by now (probably too late) that the latter also is at stake.
This same question will need an answer in settings in developing countries. Whose interests are being served? How is power being granted and how is it being used? This should also be asked about the added value of foreign agents (governments, companies or NGOs alike) in developing countries. Diplomatic missions clearly have a mandate to advance the interest of their governments and supporting their citizens working in the country concerned. However, what about the development wings residing in these same diplomatic missions, directly benefiting from diplomatic protection. Will they be able to see beyond their national interests and advance the interests of the target country with intervention strategies that serve their host countries' interests? Or has the aid agency turned into a trade agency where favors to governments in terms of development funding are exchanged for favorable trade deals? Can trade and aid really go together? And what to think of other nations with similar objectives having their entrepreneurs and citizens also benefiting from globalization and business opportunities abroad? It is indeed high time for the game to change. Van der Velden compares the current pack of development agencies to the orchestra on the Titanic that keeps playing while the ship is sinking. Van der Velden points to the need for innovation and the lack thereof with mainstream development agencies that still live by old paradigms. Learning and adaptation capacity is limited while according to van der Velden in essence the question that needs to be addressed is one of bringing together power and servanthood. As long as money exercises power over recipients of aid real reciprocity won't be an option, as also illustrated by the story of Ellen Mangnus in her column in the same volume where she discusses the financial support she still provides to her research assistant in Mali (while the job is already done). In order to break this deadlock van der Velden points in the direction of social impact bonds which would increase ownership for local aid agencies or social entrepreneurs. Question is: What remains of international development cooperation if it becomes evident that advancing local interest can only be done when local ownership is fully exercised? Indeed it becomes a privilege to be allowed to witness local innovation, entrepreneurship and development that is anchored in local capabilities and opportunities. Another question that comes to my mind is: Can we still speak of truly endogenous development or have external forces already been imprinting their 'development' trajectories onto local people group's?
Changing the terms of trade
Lastly, I won't see landlords giving up their privileged positions easily. In-equality is already as much built-in at national levels as it is globally. It is national governments that are often exploiting their own peoples, residing within their national boundaries and depriving them from their ancestral lands while tresspassing customary rights, making deals with predatory foreign investors, using scorched earth tactics while benefiting from impunity. The only power that can persuade them are the powers of market forces. If conscious consumers no longer buy their products they have to wield power. Elephants and rhino's will stay alive if Chinese demand for ivory would stop. Wars in central Africa will no longer be fought when only conflict-free coltan will be allowed access to the global market. Poor people will stop cutting trees if they are able to generate their energy or household income from more sustainable resources. For this global change of mindset the terms of trade should be re-established at a global level, induced by the sustainable development goals already agreed in New York. Results based financing should inspire sustainable trade deals and aid with lasting impact, thereby maximizing efficiencies in reaching them as time for change is running out.
Van der Velden observes four challenges: 1) North-South thinking still dominates the discourse while challenges have become global (climate change, stress migration, insecurity). 2) Underestimating local capacities for change 3) Lack of reciprocity in partnerships 4) Lack of expedience (or Theory of Efficiency), which according to van der Velden could be developed by increasing direct support to local agencies. While I support the first two challenges, I would argue that the other two challenges only go to illustrate the presence of the denounced North-South thinking. What is required in my view is quality global connections, preferably triangular of nature. Where the China-Africa axis is kept in-check by proper EU-China and EU-Africa relations for example, all combining sustainable aid and trade lenses. It should help deal with power differentials caused by differences in knowledge and expertise which are distributed over the various nodes of the network through triangulation and will need to be geared towards the preservation of the planet for future generations. This would require inclusion of actors of all hemispheres while acknowledging that resources to achieve the objectives are by nature shared resources (be it natural, financial, social, physical or human capital - compare the DFID Sustainable Livelihoods Framework, 2000).
Power and servanthood
This indeed requires a coming together of power and servanthood as is also the plea of van der Velden. I have seen such attitudes develop from relative close range with various agencies, including with Wilde Ganzen. Especially the younger generations are much more able to cross boundaries and collaborate, beyond organizational and institutional boundaries. Voices from the south are amplified to the north rather than the other way around. It is the realities that people are facing on the ground within the confinement of unfair production systems that is reaching the consumer nowadays mainly through their peers in networks that link them up locally as well as globally in close collaboration with media organizations. Peter van Lieshout in his advice to the Dutch government entitled "Less Pretention, More Ambition" already concluded in 2010 that the question about how investment in civil society contributes to development remains largely unresearched. However, I am pretty sure that one of the proxies to measure the strength of civil society is the number of quality connections between civil society actors and their international peers not marked by a contractual arrangement but rooting in a common drive for change. A localization agenda while global changes are sought after seems to me counterintuïtive to this ambition, despite the laudable purpose behind it. Increasingly we should stand togerher as civil society partners across the globe and call our governments to account and put pressure on industries through influencing consumer behavior. In turn this will lead to better global development outcomes which should be measured in terms of efficiency and effectiveness in the light of the global development goals as agreed in New York in 2015. I am glad to increasingly seeing diplomats wearing the sustainable development goals pin on their chests rather than their national flags. I hope that results based financing will indeed be expressed in terms of contribution to the realisation of these global objectives. As Rheticus, a 16th-century mathematician and cartographer, stated “if you can measure something, then you have some control over it.” Or as management guru Peter Drucker later stated slightly popularized: "What gets measured gets done."
Freely you have received, freely give
At a very local level in my home church I am happy to already witness traces of reversed 'aid', with Indian pastors coming over to the Netherlands in the coming month to teach our youth workers and share some of their experience with community outreach. This may sound a bit strange to secular ears, where misplaced fear of abuse of official development aid for purposes of proselytism abroad is nowadays replaced by fear of proselytism by foreign powers to spread their religion into our society in the Netherlands. Can you imagine how Dutch churches these days are in need of 'support' from their brothers and sisters in India to re-assess their own religious assets and re-value concepts like being a good neighbor, rather than sticking together as faith communities and taking care of one self and one another while forsaking the community they are part of?
I would therefore like to encourage Ellen Mangnus to continue her support to her Malinese research assistant when it continues to support his/her development and strengthens the mutuality of their relationship if she is willing to also receive the many blessings bestowed upon her in exchange for her financial gift. I recall my Indian friend telling me years after my parents donating a fridge to his family that he had prayed for me every day since. I wonder whose gift was greater.
- On May 24 Vice Versa organizes a debate on Changing the Game - details will follow soon -