Partnering for greater equity and impact
This year, the GenderPlus Summit will explore the nature of global development and humanitarian partnerships — and will examine ways of breaking down harmful power dynamics to achieve greater equity and impact.
FHI 360 asked three of our partners to share their thoughts on equitable partnerships, including how to achieve them and whether they lead to better results.
Sharon Bhagwan Rolls is the regional manager of the Shifting the Power Coalition in the Pacific Islands; Alinafe Malonje, based in Malawi, works with Transform Education and is the co-founder of the Wona Collective; and Prakash Tyagi is the executive director at Gravis in northwest India.
Here’s what they had to say.
What do you think equitable, inclusive, accessible and intersectional partnerships look like?
Bhagwan Rolls: These are powerful words, and they describe a feminist approach to leadership. When you bring diverse groups together, it’s still a work in progress because we all come from different cultural, traditional, socioeconomic and political backgrounds. Even when we come together as feminists, we’re all still different women.
We also have to recognize different intergenerational experiences. As older women, how do we start to talk about equitable power-sharing with young women and women of diversity, including women with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ community?
In terms of intersectionality, I look to the humanitarian-development-peace nexus approach. This nexus is our lived reality. We don’t talk about peacebuilding today and development tomorrow. In our region, the climate crisis is critical, peacebuilding is a daily reality, and humanitarian action is something as simple as supporting a mother who needs two packets of milk — it’s not just large scale.
Malonje: Equitable partnerships happen when grassroots activists and feminists are involved in decision-making. It’s hard to find a funding partner that understands we know our needs best … we often have to bend to the will of donors and big organizations. This isn’t sustainable. In the end, you’ve received money and you’re checking boxes, but there’s no actual impact.
Tyagi: The first element is mutual trust. If there’s no trust, partnerships will not be equitable. The second element is that the vision needs to be shared. It’s OK to have different approaches, strategies and methodologies — as long as the vision is shared. It’s OK to travel two different paths to reach the same destination. The third element is that partnerships need to be participatory and all different groups must be represented. There should also be flexibility, tolerance and willingness to make changes as things change — because they will.
What evidence and wisdom exist that more equitable partnerships help catalyze greater results?
Bhagwan Rolls: We have all sorts of wisdom and evidence we can show from within the women’s movement. But I’d like to flip the question, because I feel this question puts pressure on us as the movement. We should instead be asking member states, governments, development agencies and donors what evidence they can show that the way in which they have not been funding us has worked. If the majority of your money is going into militarized spending, how is that working? Let’s ask development agencies and donors to tell us what’s worked for them, because maybe then we will have a better common understanding.
Malonje: Malawi’s first lady recently brought together grassroots organizations and INGOs to the State House to present on their work. I saw many smaller organizations share how they identified barriers and tackled the problems the best they could.
A big lesson from these presentations is that smaller grassroots organizations are doing such impactful work, but they need to be able to partner with larger organizations to have a wider reach.
Tyagi: The work [my organization] Gravis has done with community-based organizations has been exemplary. The process of empowering women and girls starts in communities. Through these partnerships, we have seen women and girls become very effective contributors to drought mitigation programs — drought is a very significant challenge in this area — and also in climate change adaptation.
What are the biggest barriers to achieving transformational partnerships?
Bhagwan Rolls: We need to redesign the table to make sure people are present and heard. And it shouldn’t just be women waiting to be invited to official meetings. Government ministers and officials work for the people, and they must be accountable to the people and come to their spaces to sit and listen.
Malonje: [A] huge barrier is funding. To receive funding from bigger organizations, grassroots organizations need certain financial systems and structures that are hard to get when you’re a startup. It would be better for larger organizations to help these organizations put these structures in place, instead of expecting them to already have them.
Tyagi: Communication gaps are a common barrier. They may occur in any partnership, regardless of the intentions and track record … [and] the digital divide is very real — especially for women and girls.
It's important to connect the dots between community views and global programs and policies. Marginalized voices must be given opportunities to speak for themselves. Only then will long-lasting and sustainable solutions be found.
At the summit June 6–8, Bhagwan Rolls will speak during the session “Weaving Together Intersectional Feminist & LGBTQIA+ Priorities: A Conversation.”
Malonje will moderate the fireside chat “The Roles Power and Privilege Play in the Fight for Inclusive Education”; speak at the plenary talk “Exploring Feminist and Inclusive Approaches to Equitable Partnerships & Movement Building”; and facilitate a small group discussion called “Feminist School.”
Tyagi will speak during the session “Women and Girls’ Led Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction” and at the fireside chat “Climate Change, Resilience Building, Inclusivity and Equitable Partnerships.”
Photo credits from top: Shifting the Power Coalition, Transform Education, Gravis