By Craig Owen, WCVA International Manager (previously Campaigns Coordinator for Oxfam Cymru, and Oxfam International Tsunami Relief Programme).
“International Cooperation, the shaping of our common future, is far too important o be left to governments and experts alone.”
Willy Brandt, “The Independent Commission on International Development: A Programme for Survival”, 1980
As the Welsh Government published their grant bid for the ‘Wales for Africa’ programme this August – long awaited by civil society organisations and those active in internationalism – debate is lively about how a future programme might best be focused.
Online discussion thus far, stimulated by an excellent blog post by Associate Professor Ele Fisher, has focused on how Wales for Africa could be more recognised in international development circles. But is it ‘international development’… or is it actually an international volunteering sector, with a strong ‘communitarian’ element, and if so what difference does this make? Should our reference be the UK / DfID approach, or does Wales have more in common with European approaches – in particular, emerging thinking around the ‘Fourth Pillar of International Cooperation’, which explicitly focuses on the role of burgeoning ‘citizen initiatives for development’? And how should the government’s Wales for Africa programme (and perhaps more importantly, civil society’s response to it) be framed, in order to be more effective – and better understood?
A Radical Re-framing
One could posit that Wales for Africa is actually not a governmental international development strategy in the sense that the wider international development ‘establishment’ see it; but a support mechanism for Wales’ civil society movements, through global citizenship and volunteering, to participate in international cooperation – with shared aspirations to contribute towards ending poverty (the MDGs). The challenge – quite apart from these words meaning little to Joan on the street – is that the language of Wales for Africa over the last few years, and therefore the focus of critique, has been framed firmly in international development.
This is because, to the ordinary volunteer or person on the street, the great goal of ‘making poverty history’ is what motivates them to give their time, money, energy, commitment and passion. The public pressure for the Welsh Government to create ‘Wales for Africa’ in the first place emerged directly from communities’ involvement in the 2005 Make Poverty History campaign. It reflected the desire of ordinary people to do more than just sign a petition; and the desire of civil society organisations ‘beyond the development sector’ to offer tangible skills and knowledge.
Over recent years, this has started to be recognised as what some call a ‘distinct Welsh model’ with an approach that has been coined as ‘communitarian’. It is about harnessing the power of community-based civil society links, connecting professionals such as health, teachers and environmental workers as well as members of the African diaspora, Fair traders and equality activists, to support each other on a ‘community to community’ basis – not just communities of geography, but communities of interest, knowledge and expertise. Rather than professional staff in country offices, it is volunteering and cooperation through direct contact with local in-country partners.
Making Poverty Personal
As BOND’s own research on public attitudes to global poverty has found, the mainstream international development sector has left the public behind in understanding of poverty issues – and as research led in Belgium & Holland has identified, this has been paralleled by a burgeoning movement across Europe of small scale, private, voluntary and citizen-led initiatives, as people seek to make a more personal contribution in an ever-globalising world. In the Benelux nations this has been dubbed ‘the Fourth Pillar’ of development cooperation – and it is all about relationships. It should perhaps be emphasised that these initiatives exist throughout England too – it is just that there is no (properly resourced) support infrastructure for them, nothing to steer them towards good practice, or away from bad practice which can therefore flourish undetected.
Networks in Wales that have blossomed have to date been primarily been ‘identity driven’ (ie by the inputs of the Welsh participants who make them up, such as health professionals, diaspora or community linkers), rather than ‘outcomes driven’ (i.e. by the change they are seeking to create). Consequently, individuals across Wales have very different interpretations of why they do what they do, and what they believe Wales for Africa is (or should, or could, be). There is a great opportunity here for civil society to shift the narrative, defining real goals and priorities, and redefining ‘effectiveness’ against the outcomes we collectively seek to achieve.
Back to Schools (of thought)
One can identify three distinct schools of thought across the ‘Wales for Africa sector’:
- Global Citizenship – education, awareness raising, and engaging people with global issues
- International Volunteering – active, experiential involvement and skills / expertise exchange
- Development Cooperation – mutual support and building capacity of southern partners
Let’s explore these pillars.
A driving force of the Welsh Government’s narrative around Wales for Africa is to engage ‘more’ people with global issues. Perhaps the most stunning demonstration of this is Wales’ becoming the world’s first Fairtrade Nation in 2008 – a cumulation of many thousands of individual achievements by campaigners, schools, community networks, local businesses and institutions. But this also encapsulates a staggering array of schools activity, awareness raising, local events, debate, media coverage, fundraising, casual volunteering, creative arts and community outreach work that infiltrates almost every community across Wales in some way or other.
Global Citizenship in itself is not a driving force of other governmental international development strategies – this tends to fall under schools policy, in the domain of development education and awareness raising. Following the last change of UK government, DfID deprioritised awareness raising initiatives in the UK, considered to dilute the remit of a ‘development agency’ (indeed, DfID Minister Andrew Mitchell viewed it as no more than brainwashing to support the government’s development commitments).
But in Wales – whilst arguments for stronger Welsh Government schools policy are backed up by a recent June 2014 Estyn Report into ESDGC – global citizenship is also a motivation behind the government’s support for work with Africa. It is part of a wider narrative about Wales’ place in the world, a distinctive nation and culture with values that are complementary but not the same as ‘Britishness’; a leader in sustainable development, a good place to visit and to do business, a nation where relationships are important. Encouraging people to engage with the world through Wales for Africa seeks to broaden horizons, knowledge and aspirations. Just think what could be achieved if all of these exciting and disparate activities could be better supported and joined up.
Welsh health professionals delivering training with Liberian nurses, are giving their voluntary time and energy. Welsh citizens from the African Diaspora are volunteering their knowledge and connections. Environmental workers are volunteering their expertise to conservation or clean energy projects. Ordinary citizens participating in exchange visits are building long-term relationships and friendships that many southern partners value highly indeed, as a refreshing change from the ‘transactional’ nature of many vertical development programmes. International volunteering is perhaps the cornerstone of the Wales for Africa programme.
Development practitioners hold valid concerns around parochialism, poor practice, and grasp of ‘do no harm’ principles whilst volunteers (and hosting African partners) are going through these life changing learning journeys. A similar debate around ‘Voluntourism’ in the USA highlights great gaps in ‘thinking about linking’. But this is precisely where Wales for Africa’s resourcing can make perhaps the greatest difference.
It is easy to forget that Oxfam started out as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief… a small, amateur, voluntary organisation on a learning journey. With the right nurturing, acorns grow into great oak trees.
The Welsh Government do not have devolved powers to directly fund poverty project partners in the south – this is the domain of DfID. But they do have competency to support professionalization of Welsh organisations, and of the (very small number of) people employed across Wales’ international sector to date, all are employed to support and advise Welsh volunteers and organisations to involve more people in delivering better projects.
The challenge I would opine for the next phase of Wales for Africa is to shift towards support that is tailored to the very different types of volunteering contribution that Welsh individuals make. The support needs (and risks) are greatly different between a casual volunteering role such as local campaigning or fundraising, semi-structured volunteering such as charity trusteeship or a 2-week exchange trips to Africa; and a structured placement such as internships of ILO, VSO or UNA Exchange. Delivering cataract surgery in a remote rural village presents a whole basket of risks that are not mitigated by the ‘intent to do good’, and for which proper support and training are essential. But a volunteer is less likely to do much harm running a fundraising tombola – although support and training in how to communicate poverty issues might deepen people’s understanding and propensity to support African development.
Development Cooperation (vs. International Development)
One of the most visible elements of Wales for Africa since 2007 has been the expansion (or perhaps more accurately, raised profile) of organisations actively in Wales Africa linking exchanges and mutual project development – community links, health links, diaspora links, school links. As mentioned earlier, the ‘identity focus’ on Welsh networks has perhaps excluded some organisations who don’t identify with these (such as, ironically, small international NGOs) – and confused those with multiple identities (such as community links with health and fairtrade projects). Perhaps the most important need for Wales for Africa programming going forward, is not to ‘label’ organisations with an identity, but to recognise and support them for what they are.
The greatest opportunity here, is to elevate the involvement of some of Wales’ leading organisations. Many linking groups are primarily focused on volunteer exchanges and learning; but some have gone on to develop projects that, through cooperative working, are truly building the capacity of their African partners and supporting delivery of cutting edge, effective, small scale community development work. But these organisations face a massive jump between the ‘small grants’ level (£2-4k) of community linking funds, and those of international development project funders such as DfID, Comic Relief and Lottery which tend to be £100k upwards, with a laser sharp focus on poverty reduction rather than more general ‘cooperation’ and capacity building activities. Again, there is an opportunity gap here.
Professor Fisher’s article highlights the ‘grand project’ of global development that is moving increasingly towards big players, multi-billion budgets, aid choice, infrastructure projects – and how this may open an opportunity for Welsh organisations to move into the ‘community level gaps’ that emerge. With £600,000 – is there any added value in Wales trying to play on the grand development stage? The whole WG Wales for Africa budget could be spent on 2 water boreholes in the Sudan, or a couple of miles of road in Angola, that could indeed benefit thousands of people and seem more focused. But against many hundreds of others playing on this stage, with vastly more resources and experience, it is difficult to see what ‘USP’ Wales could add to this mix.
But Cooperation is another ‘development language’ that is the focus of many European and Scandinavian development agencies, carrying with it a whole load of different connotations. Cooperation implies more ‘equity based’ relationships, which would go a long way towards addressing concerns about paternalistic attitudes and charity dependency – and would align Wales with wider European models of practice.
Learning from European Cooperation
Three ‘pillars of development’ are universally recognised:
- Multilateral institutions (such as the IMF and World Bank),
- Bilateral aid (government to government)
- Non Governmental Organisations (such as Oxfam, Christian Aid or many charities).
Approaches that do not fit these models, such as volunteerism and community linking, struggle for credibility with an International Development practitioner community who can see these as an amateur infringement at best and a major threat to practice at worst. However, across Europe, there have been recent shifts towards recognising a ‘Fourth Pillar’ of Development:
- ‘Citizen Initiatives’ in international cooperation.
Individuals, private initiatives, community groups and small voluntary organisations, independent of both the state and multinational NGOs, have been a rapidly exploding movement across Northern Europe in the last few years , and international cooperation agencies in France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany are exploring how to engage with this untapped energy. The first mapping exercise of which (titled ‘The Accidental Aid Worker’) was published in January this year by Leuven and Nijmegen Universities, as the platform for a first European Conference on the topic.
Flanders, a devolved state within Belgium with strong parallels to Wales, have had a devolved Flemish International Cooperation Agency since 1993. They have now grown, with a budget of E31million, to a point of directly funding south-south cooperation projects; but retain a strong foundation and support across Flemish Civil Society through core funding 11.11.11 , the ‘Fourth Pillar Support Platform’. This services more than 550 Flemish citizen initiatives through training, advice and information exchange – a not dissimilar function to the Wales International Development Hub.
That Wales could learn from these models is undoubtable; but perhaps there is more to this. Is Wales for Africa actually more akin to European models of international cooperation? And could civil society and the Welsh Government position our future scheme to be a lead player in this emerging arena of thinking and practice?
Joining the Dots: A Radical Redirection that builds on Wales’ Strengths
So, more of the same, slight change or radical redirection? Is it too idealist to seek all three – a radical redirection that builds on Wales’ strengths?
My ‘radical redirection’ would be to shift the language and thinking of Wales for Africa to explicitly recognise and build joined-up programmes around the three pillars of global citizenship, international volunteering and development cooperation. One could reinforce this by committing roughly equal resources to each pillar. This would chime with calls from International Development practitioners to commit more dedicated resources to well-established Welsh organisations with strong southern partners (the international cooperation pillar), whilst balancing the recognition that there are other players in the sector whose contributions, through more focused support to Global Citizenship and International Volunteering, will lead to a truly holistic Wales for Africa programme for the future.