Today I’m launching a new series called Name & Praise. A counterpoint to naming and shaming, this series will focus on highlighting examples where people or organisations have demonstrated a commitment to creating more equitable relationships between Southern and Northern actors. In a nutshell, it shows the art of the possible.
In a previous post, I talked about the importance of monitoring partnerships to ensure they remain equitable in the long-term, not just at the beginning or as a one-off. It is easy to commit to doing this on paper, especially when a programme or initiative first kicks off, but I recently came across an organisation that has developed an interesting system for approaching partnering in a more systematic and sustainable manner.
In its work across various regions of the world, World Vision uses partnering ‘health checks’ to regularly assess its range of partnerships, comprising a mix of Southern and Northern actors. The three principles that underpin this are transparency, equity and mutual benefit. With these principles in mind, World Vision has developed 10 areas that form the basis of the health check. These 10 areas cover the realisation of the three principles, the quality of facilitation and communication, tangible results and relevance of vision, and building on complementarity and diversity to the growth of mutual loyalty and care.
I find this approach intriguing, because while our logframes or monitoring systems are comprised of indicators measuring progress against a range of programme-level results, rarely do we see a focus specifically on measuring the quality of partnerships, and whether or not they are and continue to be equitable.
This 2013 guide by World Vision invites more holistic thinking about what each stakeholder brings to the table, and encourages simple but meaningful questions as part of regular health checks, such as: “Is everyone, regardless of social status or size of organisation they represent, able to contribute at collaboration meetings?” Such considerations may seem small, but they really do matter. Beginning in 2009, World Vision also undertook an extensive internal training programme on partnership brokering that served to reinforce the practical elements of working in this way.
I spoke with Ian de Villiers, Senior Partnering Advisor at World Vision International, who took me through how the health checks work. At the heart is partner well-being and ensuring that Southern actors are not in any way diminished through the work being done – this requires an ongoing examination of potential power asymmetries and due consideration of sustainability.
“The human factor matters”, says Ian. He went on to use one of the best analogies I’ve heard in a while: “Not caring about the overall wellbeing of a partner is like going to the gym and only doing biceps curls – it’s not good for a person to have over-developed biceps but a puny body.”
Another fundamental aspect of partnering is co-creation. This was preaching to the converted, but I asked what tangible differences could be seen when co-creation was embedded as a principle, i.e. how this idea might be ‘sold’ to others. Two things, according to Ian: first, greater ownership over the project by different partners, who feel far more bought into the process, and second, World Vision has increasingly become a “partner of choice”.
The purpose of Name & Praise is to demonstrate that it is both eminently possible and also beneficial to create more equitable relationships between the Global South and North – the health checks are a practical example of how the rhetoric of partnership can be turned into reality.