CONCORD members gathered in Prague on 26 and 28 November to explore possibilities of a Cultural Shift in NGOs sector. In the current environment where Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are challenged, criminalised and losing support from their governments and the citizens, the aim of Learning and Exchange Forum 2018 was to explore how and to what extent CSOs need to change their culture and sharpen their values to remain relevant and true to themselves. Our Czech member, FoRs, supported the preparation of the event.
For the 3rd year in a row, the Learning & Exchange Forum is a key moment for CONCORD members to come together outside the policy-focused hub meetings, to exchange and learn from one another about how to tackle internal challenges to shine externally.
WHY a Cultural Shift?
In its new strategy, CONCORD has prioritised and invested in facilitating exchange within the network and among allies to help negotiate the paradigm shift towards sustainable global development. While civil society’s sector is facing a ‘disruptive change’ (see reference from the International Civil Society Centre in Berlin), CONCORD is convinced that it needs to be leading the way in negotiating this change.
One specific way of approaching this topic was to explore the implementation of the Istanbul principles on CSO development effectiveness within our confederation. CONCORD ensured the principles are better known and supported by its members to help each other to ‘walk the talk’ and lead by example in terms of governance, environment, participation and gender equality.
The event aiming at questioning how “do we practice what we preach”, was articulated in 2 parts:
- CONCORD took concrete steps to implement working practices that speak for our principles. By looking into how we implement gender equality, transparency and accountability, power balance…. within our own organisations, our members shared best examples and explored how to improve current practices.
- CONCORD also served as an exchange space for members and others to do likewise.
Creating a Safe Space
With relevant interventions from CONCORD’s members and Rocio Moreno, director of Accountable Now, the Forum opened on a political tone setting out the urgent need for a cultural shift within our sector due mainly to the complicated political context in which we operate and the disengagement with and towards civil society.
An important step was to create a safe space for exchange based on confidentiality and to involve participants actively. From the beginning, participants were invited to share their expectations openly. Little by little, individual stories were shared and an atmosphere of trust was created.
Participants were then given space to tackle individual issues such as gender and diversity, power balance in governance, safeguarding, neocolonialism or accountability in different workshops. Besides, CONCORD’s Czech member, FoRs who was hosting us, brought a national perspective into the discussion thanks to an evening conference on crisis communication.
Some space was left free for participants to decide and they were filled with groups’ discussions on whether civil society space was shrinking or changing as well as on power shifting to local actors. A third group did an experimental role-play on inclusion and diversity.
Next steps were brought out at different levels: for participants individually, with peers and within CONCORD. There was also space for participants to think creatively and put forward “crazy” proposals for next steps.
We can draw the conclusion that the Learning & Exchange Forum was an opportunity to initiate a conversation about cultural shift which will require further attention in future discussions and which we hope was the seed of a future plant for our sector.