1. What is RINGO?

The RINGO Project is a systems change project that seeks to transform global civil society to respond to today’s challenges. We are hosted by Rights CoLab, a network of global social change leaders.

2. How will the RINGO project work with existing initiatives?

We are looking to add value with this project, not to duplicate, repeat or take away from other initiatives. We want RINGO to build on and learn from other things, and help to amplify and accelerate those that are genuinely transformative. We are currently drawing together a full set of relevant research and writings on this subject, so that we can learn from and sign-post other thinking. We are also drawing up a ‘dashboard’ that will log all the efforts we know about by INGOs and others to shift and transform their practices.

3. What do you mean by transformational?

The project will look at radical and power-shifting experiments taking place within the sector. It will consider INGO collaboration, policy (both internal and external), and funding models, which will be shaped and tested through prototypes and the successful scale up of successful ones. More information can be found here.

4. How do we participate? (Southern and Northern CSOs, INGO, Funder, Network, Academics etc.)

There are many ways that you can get involved. Here are a few:

1) If you are part of a radical transformation process in an INGO/NGO then you might be needed in an Action Pod at a later date, to capture real-time learning. You can tell us about your process here.

2) If you are a funder then you could invest in this exciting and important project to help forge the future of global CSOs. You can also join the Funder Action Pod, being hosted by the Council on Foundations. – please get in touch here if that’s you.

5. You only have 55 individuals in the Social Lab – what about the wider sector?

The Social Lab includes a broad range of stakeholders, but we will also draw from the experience and thinking from a wide range of actors beyond the Lab, and ensure their views are drawn into the process. We will also be reflecting on the real time experience of NGOs as they go through change, through the action research process. We will be communicating regularly to keep the wider sector informed about how the process is evolving and to share the learning that is emerging from our process, via blogs and podcasts.  Our Action Pods are also expected to engage the wider sector, as these grow and develop.

6. How will the process be facilitated?

We have partnered with a globally representative facilitation team – Reos Partners – who have experience in steering systems change processes and using a mix of innovative methods.

For now, we are working entirely online. Reos are facilitating the thinking and processes of the Social Lab, in collaboration with the core RINGO team.

7. Is this an anti-INGO initiative?

No. We want to explore what is needed in global civil society in the future. There are no pre-prescribed answers and it may or may not relate to the current dominant INGO model.  Our starting point is that we still need connection at the international level, but we make no assumptions about what that should look like. We also see that whatever emerges, it needs to complement and ensure stronger national and subnational civil societies too.

8. Isn’t this an overly long and expensive process? Is there a risk of it becoming a drain on resources in the sector? Are we going to miss the opportunity to make change in real time?

We are keen to keep this process light, fit for purpose and current. We are intentionally not setting up a new organization, but an innovation space that is nimble and time-limited where results can be embedded elsewhere after the life of the project. We are purposefully doing this work now so that we take advantage of the current disruption already happening in the sector — as a result of COVID, Black Lives Matter, and massive shifts in Aid.

9. How did you select the Advisory Board and the Core Team?

The Core Team came together as colleagues working on various projects who are passionate about civil society, but collectively believe that step-change is needed in how it functions, especially at the INGO level. We come from a range of backgrounds in civil society and from different regions.

The Advisory Board members were identified for their specific experience, skillset and perspective from different parts of the sector and from different geographies. They each come with incredible track records as individuals and are being asked to be on the board as such, although recognizing that a number of them do currently sit within relevant organizations.

10. What do you mean by ‘Prototypes’ and how will these be selected?

A prototype will be any project that the core group of participants identifies as highly transformative for the sector and civil society overall: it could be linked to a funding or governance innovation, for example, or something else. Advisory board members will also help us to agree the criteria for any prototypes emerging from the lab.

11. Why make the INGO the focus of the process, when in fact it may not be the right framework going forward [and is losing power]?

In spite of the mounting critiques of INGOs, there continues to be a role for a globally connected and multi-lateral civil society, able to build shared knowledge, expertise, and momentum towards global change. Research we conducted in 2020 showed that southern CSOs recognize the potential and need for INGOs but that the active relationships with INGOs are not currently working. Of the over 600 organizations we surveyed, 85% acknowledged that existing partnerships with INGOs were not mutually beneficial, but favoring northern INGOs instead.

RINGO is about asking what we need at the global civil society level in order to address sustainable development and social justice. Many in the #shiftthepower movement often talk about INGOs as being blockers to change. They are a significant part of the system that can enable or prevent change, often the dominant group receiving funding from government, and acting as a conduit to other CSOs. Thus, whilst INGOs are our ‘unit of change’, we see a dual purpose, addressing how we shift more power and resource to national and local civil societies and away from a centralized INGO model that doesn’t reinforce the same issues under a different guise. Equally important, is to see more power in the international system ascribed to local actors, amplifying the power they already have, but that has been otherwise marginalized in the current system.

12. Is the Social Lab skewed towards the ‘North’ and existing INGO voices?

The Lab gathers together ‘the system’ of INGOs in a microcosm of 55 people. When curating this group, our aim was to gather a broad range of participants from different geographies, types of organizations, and representing different races, genders and so on. Participants have been asked to participate as individuals, and do not represent their organization (for those from or affiliated with organizations). It is by no means a perfect collective in terms of diversity, but we believe it sits somewhere between a reflection of the system as it is currently, and the system we hope to see in the future. You can see more on Lab membership here.


Go back to RINGO project page.


Photo by Hadija Saidi on Unsplash