By Dominic Haslam, Sightsavers, Director of Policy and Programme Strategy
Anyone who has hung around with me for long enough in the last four years knows well just how central a role Beyond2015 played in my professional life in that period. I apologise now to all those I bored rigid!
So I was delighted to be asked to write a blog about the experience, in response to the comprehensive evaluation that, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably read.
That delight lasted until I was asked to focus on partnerships, the issue that, to quote the report has “almost unanimous agreement (as) among the most challenging and complex aspects of the campaign overall”. In 800 words max.
So I apologise in advance to anyone I miss out, simplify or otherwise offend. It’s not my intent, but if nothing else, my experience with Beyond2015 taught me that it is possible to offend even when all your energies are focused on trying to bring people together for an aim they broadly all share. At the start let me say I’ll focus on the ones that didn’t work so well, because let’s face it: that’s probably a better read.
But I do want note before that the positive partnerships for me goes far beyond the brilliant working relationships we had with CAN-International, IFP and Participate. It included national, regional and continental networks that played a vital role in the work of Beyond, and that brought it increased credibility. And also in terms of the excellent “critical friend” constructive relationships with those working within the UN system and within various levels of member states. I would include many of those individuals and groups, as partners, even if they could not be officially recognised as such. But onto what didn’t work so well…
Any effort to unpick Beyond 2015 needs to start from the understanding that its focus was its identity. So I don’t really agree personally with the view that it lacked identity when compared with others. Beyond had a clear purpose – to positively impact on the post-2015 agenda in terms of both its content and, most importantly, the inclusion of civil society in its formation. As I’ll develop below, that wasn’t the identity that some wanted it to have, but it was also its greatest strength.
Unlike many campaigns, it was clear from the start that it would finish in 2015 and wasn’t aiming to become the spokesperson for civil society in sustainable development into the future, nor claiming to represent all interests, but only those relating to the post-2015 agenda.
This was both Beyond’s blessing and its curse when it came to partnerships. A blessing, because those who were interested in working with us understood that we weren’t the new kids on the block trying to claim space or take over their existing political focus or membership, into the future. And that created a really strong and positive relationship with some of the networks mentioned above – and I really agree with the evaluation that these were relationships strongly based on human values of friendship and trust, and not only based on organisational values of intersecting interests or efficiency.
But I think our focus was also a curse for two reasons. Firstly, we were working at a different pace to other international membership structures and campaigns. So while we could put a lot of effort into partnerships at an early stage, there came a point where things would either work or not. And we had to make some tough decisions as an Executive Committee, to just say “we aren’t creating a lasting partnership, because we won’t exist in two years’ time, so let’s stop trying to make this work and focus our energy elsewhere”. Our influencing target was the post-2015 process and not global civil society structures and processes.
Secondly, I think our clear focus on facilitating global civil society influence on the policy agenda confused people who were used to global campaigns acting in a very different way. This may be a controversial statement to some, but Beyond 2015’s originators, facilitators and members didn’t want it to be Drop the Debt, Make Poverty History or Stop Climate Chaos. These all had or have their role to play in development campaigning. But Beyond 2015 was a policy campaign, not a public one. That frustrated some and in essence, that gap was what led people to create the Action2015 campaign and attempt to raise the issue up the public and media agenda.
When I first read the evaluation, I have to admit I was a bit annoyed by the conflating of some problematic partnerships, particularly GCAP and Action2015. But actually on reflecting, I do think the root causes were the same, that we were a strange creature in the civil society campaigning space – neither looking for a permanent role into the future, nor looking to grab public or media attention here and now. And for that reason I would hesitate before recommending that a future, similarly strange creature of a campaign does things differently.
Why? Not because it wouldn’t have been great if we could have found better paths together. But because, to be honest, whatever the faults and problems, Beyond largely achieved its aims. And it didn’t have the luxury of taking all the time in the world to make it work. It had one chance to affect a generation’s experience of sustainable development – or at least the part in it that this SDG framework will play.
You only have to read the Vision, Purpose, Principles and Criteria of the campaign against the agreed SDGs to see how much of the agenda in the end was influenced by the thinking of our members. And you only have to look at the engagement of civil society in the SDG implementation process now in terms of the rapid growth in membership of Together2030 and the interest in other initiatives led by CIVICUS, CAN-International and others. Beyond clearly played its part in that. And I, for one, would argue that this is because of the blessings that came with a clear and timebound focus and the power that brought to this unusual, and brilliant, campaign.
Director of Policy and Programme Strategy