An Inquiry into Local-Global Solidarity

An Inquiry into Local-Global Solidarity

Since the late 90s, the phrase “think globally, act locally” has been used in a range of contexts from environmental activism, to education, to ambitious business strategies for some of the most recognized brands. More recently, the idea seems to have undergone a rebranding, and “localization” is now the phrase of the day and, just as before, it has wide-ranging appeal. Including in the philanthropy sector.

Localization is being used by more and more organizations as a way for citizens around the world to respond to the growing climate crisis. It is also being adapted by many smaller philanthropies, where a “we live here, we give here” motto is used to encapsulate a philosophy of place-based giving at a hyper-local level. This idea of localization has also been used in some cases to push back against more traditional humanitarian approaches, arguing that traditional aid models create an influx of outside assistance that disempowers those most affected.

But is an ethos of localization truly the right direction for philanthropy?

Given Partners Asia’s mission to enhance human dignity, equity and well-being for marginalized and disenfranchised populations in Southeast Asia, and our strategy of doing that by connecting local leaders with global resources, it’s a trend we’ve been thinking about a lot. And one we believe leaves a lot of questions unanswered. 

Questions such as: How local is local? What of those of us whose places of origin are distinct from the places we now call home? What of our connections to diasporas? And what is our responsibility as citizens of industrialized countries who have so clearly enjoyed the benefits of economic globalization

Corrina Grace, a Partners Asia collaborator, wrote about this recently in an article published by Giving Compass. She proposed that the local-global proposition is no longer relevant to the world we live in, and goes on to present an alternative framework for people who are looking to make a difference – wherever in the world that may be. 

So how does that framework apply to Partners Asia’s own approach and philosophy? We explored this with Corrina in more detail. Read on to find out!

1. Find your connection

Corrina argues that finding your connection is an important starting point, one that can help shift your support from a place of charity (built on the idea of “us” and “them”), to one of solidarity (built on a relational understanding that we are all connected).

We know this connection is vital! Many of us from the Partners Asia community support this work because of important connections to people and place. Whether you are part of a global diaspora, hold sacred memories of special places in the region, or are called in through your spiritual practice – we are all connected in some way.

Each of us linked to the other, this creates a precious web of human relationships that is central to allowing us to support our partners and do this work. It also greatly influences how we work. In the words of Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano,

“I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.”

So who are we learning from? More on that in the next point.

2. Prioritize Proximity

As Corrina’s article states, proximity matters when it comes to creating change! Yet we know that this is still largely missing in the international development space. As Mark Lowcock, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, explained “Despite good intentions, the … system is still set up to give people in need what … donors think is best, and what we have to offer, rather than giving people what they themselves say they most need.”

At Partners Asia we know that local actors, like community leaders and local organizations, must play a central role in shaping solutions. We firmly believe that local leaders are best positioned to deliver impact because they are deeply rooted in the communities they serve. They know best about what’s needed on the ground, they are the closest to the issues and they have the relationships to get things done.

That’s the power of proximity, and it’s a central tenet of all that we do. 

3. Strengthen Civil Society

Across the globe, civil society spaces are shrinking and democratic practices are increasingly under attack. And Southeast Asia is no exception to this trend. Within this context, the role that local NGOs and community-based organizations play in strengthening civil society cannot be underestimated.

This is where Partners Asia’s Theory of Change really comes into effect. We know that in order to create long term, systemic change we have to do more than just give away grants. It’s also about nurturing deep, equitable partnerships, and weaving networks of allies working for change. This holistic approach is designed to nurture shared learning, exchange and collaboration, while supporting locally-led organizations to develop the power and influence to drive decisions that impact their communities. 

Are you excited about being a part of this community? If so, why not share this blog with your friends or family and start a conversation about what local-global solidarity means to you. 

Funding Local Leaders and Building Resilience in the Face of Climate Change

Funding Local Leaders and Building Resilience in the Face of Climate Change

Over the last few years, there has been greater recognition that addressing society’s most deeply rooted inequalities requires moving power and resources into the hands of local leaders and directly to the communities those resources are intended to benefit. But this shift represents more than just a philosophical or ethical position. In fact, it may be the most strategic shift that philanthropy has seen in the last 100 years. One deeply tied to our collective ability to survive and thrive in a rapidly changing climate. Yes, investing in local leaders and locally-led solutions is about a fairer future. But it’s also about survival.

The pandemic brought into sharp focus some critical flaws in the development ecosystem. As large organizations began evacuating their international aid workers back to their home countries and closing down offices, vulnerable communities were left alone, creating life-threatening gaps in support at exactly the moment it was most needed

For those of us who’ve been advocating for more equitable and inclusive partnerships that lift up local voices it was a small, if bittersweet, victory. Deeply entrenched in the communities they serve, local leaders are better equipped to respond with flexibility and agility to rapidly changing or unexpected shifts in the ecosystem (like a global pandemic or sudden military coup).

They have deep knowledge of the systems they’re part of, and are better positioned to change and influence those systems. And perhaps most importantly of all: When the going gets tough, they aren’t going anywhere. Local leaders don’t just have skin in the game, they have their lives on the line. 

But despite clear evidence that local organizations are much better equipped to provide agile, innovative, and contextually appropriate responses, data shows that only around 3% of international humanitarian spending goes to local and national groups. 

Those who are funding these kinds of local leaders are individuals and organizations who are challenging the status quo and flipping the power on traditional development dynamics by building fair, equitable, and dignified partnerships with locally-led groups. 

“Our support means our partners feel more secure in otherwise tenuous circumstances,” said Patty Curran, executive director of Partners Asia. “And when they feel safer, they’re able to remain strategic, resilient players in the bigger picture – which is vital if they’re to continue building a better, freer future for the people they serve.”

Building Resilience

A resilient response is one that is flexible and emergent – everything that our traditional development system is not. Individual and community resilience, built on a foundation of purposeful partnership, is critical as we face a rapidly changing climate. 

Natural disasters and extreme weather events bring about localized crises that disproportionately impact poor and marginalized populations. We can no longer afford to use the top-down, externally driven approach. As events become more frequent, we will be asked to do more with less. Worse, as the costs of adaptation and mitigation in wealthier countries escalates, funding support to developing countries will likely taper out. We must do what we can now to help communities build resilience. We must build on the power of partnerships. With increased investment in building genuine local participation, and a concentrated effort to shape a system where local communities are empowered with the capacity to address the challenges that impact them, a pathway forward – even in the face of a rapidly changing climate – may be possible. 

Get Involved

  • If you’d like to support local leaders and locally-led efforts in Southeast Asia, contact Partners Asia.
  • Further afield, Fieldworks helps organizations who want to nourish locally-led change in the Global South to find reliable information on local partners.
  • And if you want to learn more, this Starter Kit from the Direct Philanthropy Initiative is designed to help any funder – regardless of size – to shift power to local hands, work with the most effective movement leaders, and build long-term community power from the ground up.

This article was also featured by Giving Compass on their online platform.

By Corrina Grace, Partners Asia Social Innovator

Direct Philanthropy – A Toolkit for Donors

Direct Philanthropy – A Toolkit for Donors

Increasingly, the philanthropic sector is being challenged to recognize that the how of creating change is as important as the what. It’s a call that invites us to look beyond good intentions, and examine the ways in which those with resources engage with other stakeholders — like grantees, partners, and communities – to create change. It’s an invitation to consider aspects such as how to deepen trust, advance equity, shift power, and build mutual accountability between funders and practitioners. 

This call represents a substantial shift away from the business-as-usual approach. And while changing the status quo may be highly desirable, it’s important to recognize that it isn’t always easy. The existing paradigms can be so ingrained into our thinking, practices, and behavior that they are often invisible, even while influencing the choices and actions we make every day. It’s one of the main reasons why closing the gap between theory and practice can be so difficult, which is why we put together the Direct Philanthropy Toolkit.

The Direct Philanthropy Toolkit, created in collaboration with the wonderful creative talents of AGO, is part of a broader initiative sponsored by Partners Asia called the Direct Philanthropy Initiative (DPI). The purpose of DPI is to help people and organizations who want to be a part of philanthropy’s big shift to become more adept at building deep and equitable partnerships with inspiring local leaders and local organizations. 

The toolkit is full of tools and tactics to help you make concrete plans for building more dignified and equitable partnerships. Whether you are an individual philanthropist, part of a larger institution, or somewhere in between, you’ll ideally find something that works for you. Because in the words of Jack Kornfield, Spiritual Leader and Emeritus Board Member at Partners Asia, “The things that matter most in our lives are not fantastic or grand. They are the moments when we touch one another.”

Before you jump into the toolkit you can take a short, online quiz to see if direct philanthropy is the right approach for you. If the answer is yes, then read on to find out more!

A Sneak Peek into the Direct Philanthropy Toolkit

LEARNING: A lot of waste and missed opportunities happen when funders misunderstand context or local needs. Unpack why and see how you can address it with these Seven Learning Strategies for a More Humble Philanthropy.

SYSTEMS CHANGE: Systems change is the holy grail of many change initiatives. Systems thinking tells us that to respond to a challenge, you must aim at the root causes, be adaptable, adopt a holistic approach, and be patient. But a lack of trust frustrates every one of these principles. To overcome this, we’ve mapped trust practices to the four principles of systems thinking.

AGREEMENTS: Traditional funding agreements often ignore the unspoken power dynamics between a funder and a local organization. A grantmaker comes to the table with resources, therefore wielding more visible (and invisible) power. While a nonprofit needs access to resources, which often pressures local leaders to bend to funder demands, rather than being empowered to follow their own mission. Here’s a different perspective on grant agreements through the lens of power dynamics.

IMPACT: Impact has traditionally been defined in rigid ways, and measurement practices aren’t always driven by a clear mission. Unpack what impact can look like in practice, how to redefine it moving forward, and what tactics to bring to the table.

While we do love a good checklist, changing your mindset isn’t just a quick, one-off project. If you want to keep learning more and gain access to other tools and resources to help you on your direct philanthropy journey, join the DPI community.

This article was also featured by Giving Compass on their online platform.

By Corrina Grace, Partners Asia Social Innovator