This year, our Learning and Exchange Forum 2021 went digital! How could we have imagined that it would bring us even closer? The event brought together our Members and partners to discuss how to co-create transformational and innovative partnerships.


The COVID-19 crisis has reinforced the interconnectedness of our world. A benefit of this new digital setting is the increased potential to connect with people around the world. Thanks to that, we were humbled to be virtually joined by speakers from Africa, Latin America, and Asia, as well as our Members from all corners of Europe.





Why Innovative Partnerships?

Over the last year, the European Commission has been moving towards an approach based on partnerships with countries and regions beyond Europe. We had the opportunity to look at international partnerships from our own perspective as civil society organisations.

We envision international partnerships as innovative partnerships. Any innovative process must have learning at the core, to collaborate, negotiate and strive for a better world together, as Ana Patricia Fonseca, President of Plataforma Portuguesa das ONGDs, said during the opening session. Learning from one another, sharing our experiences and acknowledging each other is the only route to co-create a better future for all.

Collective takeaways

Our kick-off sessions on neocolonialism, power and mutual partnerships set the tone for the work ahead with the main take-away: equal partnerships are based on mutual exchange and capacity sharing!

In doing so, they challenged us to rethink the role of power in building and managing partnerships. As civil society organisations and NGOs, challenging neo-colonialism and structural racism in the aid sector is not a one project thing. It takes time! It requires moving away from centralised power towards empowering communities and citizens’ movements following the principles of an innovative mutual partnership.

And what does that look like, you’re wondering? Our discussions were captured at the moment to provide a visual summary of how we understand innovative partnerships:

During these two days, we shared case studies on innovative partnerships from a feminist perspective, on development cooperation through images and frames, and on joint storytelling.

Using the feminist perspective, we reconceptualised how INGOs should engage with social movements while respecting and acknowledging their local leadership, or “passing the microphone,” as a way of decolonising partnerships.

The way we tell stories also matters. We were encouraged to reflect on where is the line between raising awareness and patronizing or perpetrating stereotypes. Finally, we could see how positive framings and images can actually help to challenge the dominant narrative between the Global North and the Global South. 

Our sessions also highlighted the importance of inclusive and decentralised ways of working within a partnership. Our speakers highlighted the importance of designing and sustaining inclusive ways of working that have independency, mutual accountability and openness being at their core. Additionally, our speakers shared how decentralised ways of working link to the co-creation of innovative partnerships.

All in all, the Learning and Exchange Forum 2021 offered rich opportunities to learn from and acknowledge, as well as an important opportunity to re-evaluate our own mindsets and ways of working. With so much to digest, there is still a long way to go!

Thank you to all our speakers and participants who made this event so fruitful. We are already looking forward to our next opportunity to convene, learn and evolve together!

You can find our list of speakers here.


Until next year!