The RINGO project, Re-imagining the INGO, has been a long time coming. The core team were happy to finally launch the project on September 8th in a lively webinar attended by over 150 people. You can watch the video of the launch for insight into the context and process of the project.

Charles VanDyck revealed some preliminary findings of our research, exploring the views of southern CSOs vis-à-vis their relationships with INGOs. The results from an initial cohort of over 450 respondents who regularly partnered with INGOs found that 58% had relatively weak relationships with INGOs and that COVID-19 has “negatively” affected collaboration. A majority — 66% — stated that partnerships with INGOs are not mutually beneficial, and a larger majority still — 77% — stated that their perspectives are not incorporated during project design and implementation. All wanted something more or different from their INGO allies.

Entries into the chat function were extremely lively and rich (see the anonymized responses), revealing a huge desire to work more rapidly towards the transformation of the sector. It felt as though people were finally able to air what has been on their minds for some time. It was refreshing. What stood out was an appetite to be ambitious, putting everything up for grabs: addressing the power, funding, and size of INGOs and the system in which they work. Overall, there was acknowledgement that difficult decisions may be needed:

 

“[We want] INGOs that genuinely subscribe to their mission — to work themselves out of a job. And less focus on corporate/growth principles. Drastic change to funding flows. A lot more listening and less telling.”

In order for this project to be really different (and not just another nice attempt on ‘the talk’), organizations will really need to make brave and unpopular commitments and change.”

 

We were challenged as well, in our scoping for the project:

 

“We all agree they need reimagining — but what if we reimagined how change would happen in society without INGOs? Will there be space for INGOs to explore that too?”

 “It’s too reductive to think ‘international = bad; local = good.’”

 “I certainly don’t want to demonize INGOs. I don’t think that is constructive. In China, where I work, INGOs have played an important role in shaping and supporting local civil society. China’s Foreign NGO Law, one of the most comprehensive laws passed in any country regulating (and restricting) INGO activity, has seriously undercut the influence of INGOs and has really hamstrung the development of an independent civil society in China… we do need to push them to do better.”

 

Most of all, people echoed our ambition to have a civil society that works together more effectively — an “integrated” civil society as my colleague Tara Rao suggested, or as one participant said, “no more ‘local’ partners, but common work.”

And we know that innovations are already happening, which we intend to capture. Partos’s Power Awareness Tool and The Equity Index are just two examples. But tools are just the starting point: “I’m thinking about whether tools can really deliver on what is needed — which ultimately is about political and social transformation. Are we taking a technical approach to what is essentially a much messier political problem…?”

And with this challenge laid down, the hard work really begins. So what are our next steps?

First, we’re starting to talk to potential facilitators who can manage a complex online systems-change process! Watch this space for a full brief in early October. In the meantime, please get in touch via email if you’re interested and we would be delighted to have an initial conversation.

Second, we’ll be recruiting core participants to come on the journey with us. Please fill out the Google form if you want to join. We’ll be inviting people to fill out a full application in the autumn.

And third, we are also hoping to meet with interested funders who want to join us on this journey. Email deborah@rightscolab.org if that’s you.

To find out more about the project, see https://rightscolab.org/ringo/