Seamus Jeffreson

Seamus Jeffreson

CONCORD Director

Article written by Seamus Jeffreson, CONCORD Director.

In January, I participated in the Forum Espace Humanitaire taking place in Annecy, France. During this meeting, delegates from the major French humanitarian and development organisations gathered to share views on today’s challenges of humanitarian and developmental action. The main aim of CONCORD’s participation was to bring a European and Development perspective to the discussion.  I participated in an innovative session with other network leaders (from US, West Africa, German, France) SHARING CONVICTIONS.

This session is not intended to address humanitarian issues or promote the work of any specific organization, but to be the occasion to share views around today’s challenges of humanitarian and developmental action, of human rights, and of the environment. What are these convictions? What are the hopes? What are the questions? What are the decisions? What are the choices of a leader of Relief and Development Network Organizations? This is a time to express one’s motivation, beliefs, as well as doubts and fears related to the challenges of the members of their organization. Pulling from these diverse point of views and individual subjectivities expressed by the speakers, leaders of humanitarian organizations can step into the discussions to exchange their views on future perspectives.

Four themes shared:

Campaigning for gender equality – during my student days, I was very motivated by and engaged in the campaign of solidarity with people struggling against Apartheid in South Africa. It seemed one of the most egregious manifestations of prejudice and racism that had no place in the world I wanted to live in.  The impact of the Harvey Weinstein affair in the entertainment industry, followed by the #metoo campaigns can be a game changing moment in the struggle for gender equality and women’s empowerment. This is very evident in international solidarity work where we are prompted by the SDGs to consider who is most ‘left behind’ by economic and social developments and in terms of basic rights to be heard and to participate.  I want my three daughters to have no barriers to reaching their full potential for themselves and for society.  This is also a struggle we need to wage in our everyday lives and workplaces – that there will be zero tolerance for sexual harassment and bullying and that we need to build a society of equal opportunities.

‘Be the organisation you want to see in the world’. (To re-write Mahatma Gandhi). How can we promote a new type of management and develop organisations more in line with the values we aspire to? A groundbreaking book by Frederick Laloux “Re-inventing Organisations” has inspired me and many colleagues working in civil society networks in Europe to look at management techniques fit not only for the 21st century but for the self-organised and self-energising networks we seek to promote and animate.

Networks and working in solidarity. One element of re-inventing our organisations is about valuing and encouraging self-organising and connecting like minded people and communities,  in our case at the European level.  CONCORD is a very asymmetric network with a very diverse membership (geographically, in terms of size, in values and priorities). In such a context valuing and investing in the work of the collective – the CSO platform in our case – is a constant effort and investment. All the different parts of the membership contribute something to the whole and make up part of the ‘ecosystem’ – together we are strong, but we need to understand how the network dynamic works, value it and invest in it. It is refreshing and energizing to exchange and share on these issues with the colleagues from the west African, American and French NGO platforms here today.

Europe – After two very rocky years in the EU with the vote of the UK to leave and the rise of nationalist/ nativist and populist parties, I remain motivated and galvanized to make the case for cooperation and solidarity among people and organisations in Europe. And in the work of CONCORD, to promote solidarity between European people and organisations and our counterparts in Africa, Latin America and Asia. To work and collaborate with people who come from a different place than you requires listening, humility, empathy – sometimes hard work but it can result in great joy and satisfaction. There has been a rather welcome ‘levelling out’ in our relationship with civil society partners in other parts of the world.  Where before we would comment on and seek to help other continents’ civil society – now we are asking for advice for ourselves on how to deal with populist leaders and media, political and legal threats to civic space and activity. Challenges that colleagues from other continents know only too well.