Afrika Kontakt's Partnership Approach

1. Introduction

Afrika Kontakt (AK) has transformed over the past couple of years as captured in our most recent strategy. The fact that we are now mobilising more in Europe and engaging in new kinds of partnerships has led to a strengthening of AK’s political profile in particular. This updated partnership approach reflects the new framework for current and upcoming partnerships and serves as a tool for translating our strategy into practice.

AK is a solidarity movement, and it is therefore key for us to create projects with our partners that are based on the needs and struggles that our partners face in their own context. It is therefore not possible to write our partnership approach in the form of a simple checklist for AK’s working groups to follow. Instead, the partnership approach needs to acknowledge and reflect that every partnership is unique, and will thus contribute with something different to the common struggle.

In sum, the aim of the partnership approach is to outline the most important aspects of building, developing and ending partnerships. It emphasises AK’s expectations to our partners as well as what our partners can expect and demand from us. In that sense it can also be used as a mandate for our working groups when working and negotiating with partners.  The most important aspects of the partnership approach are its annexes. This is where you will find tools, stories, checklists, and questions for reflection, all of which will inspire, help and guide the activists through different phases of a partnership. The annexes are dynamic and will develop in an open process over time in order to constantly meet the needs of the AK activists in navigating and improving our partnerships.

 

2. The Purpose of AK’s Partnerships

AK aims to mobilise people in Denmark as well as internationally against a capitalist system that creates and upholds structures of inequality. We see our critique of the system as political because we want to challenge the power dynamics, and bring sovereignty and decision-making authority back to the people. Partnerships and collaborations with like-minded movements and organisations across the globe are fundamental for the achievement of AK’s vision and mission. No one can shift power dynamics alone, and thus we wish to fight for alternatives that are thought of and supported by a broad popular movement.  Our projects and collaborations revolve around the following purposes:

  • To support and work with social movements to strengthen popular organisation, mobilisation and struggles for social justice, and make apparent the ties between structures that generate inequality in Denmark and globally.
  • To ensure that the struggle against global inequality takes a point of departure in the realities of those people affected the most to develop and present climate just and people centered alternatives to the existing capitalist/neo-liberal world order. 
  • To assist in the production, accessibility and reach of critical knowledge as a prerequisite for the development of critical communities capable of holding the political and economic elites responsible.
  • To obtain and exchange knowledge about the context, realities and struggles of our partners to campaign, push, reveal and influence relevant governments, institutions, the private sector and civil actors.

 

2.1 Principles and values guiding our partnerships

AK’s work is guided by a number of values, as set out in our strategy. Some of the most important values related to the way we identify and collaborate with partners will be sketched out in the following.

2.1.1 A shared strategy for the common cause  

The point of departure for our collaboration with partners must always be a shared strategy of what we want to change together and how. For various reasons, AK must play an active role in this beyond just providing the funding, administering donor projects and teaching partners to administer funds.

Firstly, Inequality is always inherent in projects where financial flows run from one organisation to another. With the obligation to monitor that project funds are implemented and managed according to donor requirements, AK also faces this inherent power asymmetry. Key to a successful partnership is to acknowledge this inherent inequality and not to let our privileged position hamper the solidarity in partnerships for common struggles.

Secondly, donor projects can be very schematic and somewhat rigid in their focus on implementation plans and log-frames. This mode of project design is not always conducive to the work AK and partners do in focusing on long-term structural changes. Therefore, we do not want to get too caught up in delivering the correct results and only satisfying donors. Instead, we must always keep our eyes on our common strategic goals in the partnership, while getting better at navigating the context. In that way, we might even be able to challenge donors and their views on “development”.

Lastly, AK defines itself as a politically driven solidarity organisation, which is reflected in our strategy. We must put ourselves out there and take active part in the struggle against global inequality, corporate impunity and climate change.

2.1.2 Global reach and political content

We want to target the root causes of oppressive structures, and know it takes profound and global analyses to do so. Our partnerships all differ and the ways they address these challenges have multiple forms. We believe that the way to changing global structures is through local struggles for justice that can be related to the global political context. In the following section, we define our understanding of what a global reach in the partnerships mean, and provide a series of recommendations for further inspiration.

First of all, AK’s work is thematically structured around four focus areas. These are guiding principles for what, with whom and how we collaborate. The strategic focus areas are all global in reach and with clear political arguments for alternatives to the existing world order. Thus, by using these as guiding tools you will be able to assess to what extent your activities have a global reach.  We do not strive to set up projects crossing borders of nation states, unless this has a relevance to the specific project/partnership.

A global analysis does not necessarily have to be outspoken by our partners prior to our collaboration, but must be expressed in a common strategy for the partnership. In such, the context and nature of the partnership and the methods and approaches chosen in the specific collaboration is vital for linking our work to global issues. To AK, the baseline of the partnership is to have a common political understanding and strategy for change, including a potential for global reach now or in the future, and that through the project the partnership will move towards a stronger position on one or more of the strategic focus areas.

Example: Global reach in a partnership

When the South African government institutionalised large-scale industrial fishing as the primary source of fishing in the national economy in 2005, they introduced quotas, which only benefited the major players on the market. Small-scale fishers and other actors benefitting from their activities completely lost their fishing rights and thereby their main source of income. The AK Fisheries group initiated a partnership with Coastal Links, in a very locally based project, where most of the small-scale fishers did not relate their struggle to the global issue of Ocean Grabbing. As AK and the partner initiated the collaboration they decided to deploy a method that aspired to challenge the structures rather than adapting to them, and it thus became apparent that the fishers’ struggle is closely related to the global struggle against privatisation and resource grabbing. Instead of introducing the fishers to alternative income sources, such as eco-tourism, AK and the partner created a project focusing on pushing for fishers’ right to fish through systemic change. This brought about a clear political profile and in time also a global reach to the partnership, as Coastal links is now a key member of the global network World Forum of Fisher Peoples.

2.1.3 Feminism, anti-racism and privilege awareness

AK is committed to working towards an increased awareness of our individual and collective privileges, caused by colonial and capitalist structures that profit from creating social hierarchies. By identifying our privileges, we can position ourselves strategically in the common struggles with peoples in less privileged positions globally; on the one hand, this means raising money to partners, on the other hand taking risks and putting ourselves on the line in the work we do. Somebody in a more privileged position can often take on more risks than somebody in a less privileged position.

We believe that actively listening to our partners and their needs is key to finding common analyses and strategies and thereby knowing what role AK and AK activists may take on to become better allies and to avoid mirroring colonial and neocolonial practices. We have a great respect for the lived experiences of people, e.g. one cannot know what racism feels like if one has not experienced it in their own life, and this is also why we must practice active listening in our partnerships as well as in our own organisation.

AK has identified feminism as a key value. We perceive feminism as a value system and a method to oppose capitalism and patriarchy, though bringing feminist practices into our work and partnerships is something we still have to, and constantly will, develop. We work towards making feminism apparent in all the work we do, such as when we analyse the root causes of inequality and poverty or when we develop projects and campaigns with partners. To AK the struggle is not about pushing women to the level of men, as is commonly suggested by the mainstream gender equity school. We want to go beyond having quotas of women in boards or equal participation in project activities; we want to see a showdown of the structures and dynamics that give priority to one gender, one class or one color of skin.

 

3. Dynamics in the partnership

As stated earlier, AK is very concerned with the build-in inequality in collaborations where financial flows run from one organisation to another, and we are well aware of the power gap that exists between us and some of our partners. This chapter seeks to assist us in shrinking this power gap by clearly defining what our partners can expect from AK as a partner, and what AK can expect from our partners in return. We think that transparency and honesty are the first steps towards minimising the power gap.

3.1. AK’s work methods

AK’s partnerships take different forms. The following is a summary of some of the characteristics our partnerships may possess - remember that many of these easily overlap and change over time.

3.1.1 Externally financed projects:

These partnerships typically involve AK and one or more partners in the country where the project takes place. Historically, the focus area has been the African continent; however we are open to other contexts. The focus within these partnerships is typically on capacitating and supporting the partners with mobilisation, organisation and advocacy in order for them to push and further develop their struggle against structures of inequality. A common characteristic of these partners is that the people they speak on behalf of are also represented within the organisation.

Examples: We have externally financed projects with AAAJC in Mozambique who fights land-grabbing because local communities have been forced to move and been deprived their rights due to large scale mining projects by multinational corporations. Another example is La Via Campesina, who unites to fight for Agro-Ecology as an alternative model to the dominating agro-business tendency, as part of the struggle for climate justice. We also support members of the democracy movement in repressive regimes such as Swaziland and the liberation movement in Western Sahara, where financial- and geopolitical interests from other countries slow down the process of change.

3.1.2 Externally financed campaigns:

Here partnerships are usually based on a common cause with the objectives to create awareness and make people take action around a specific issue. The responsibilities for content, strategy and execution of the campaigns are distributed to varying degrees amongst the participating partners, depending on the collaborative set-up. Key to success in these partnerships is the alignment of strategic goals and objectives for the involved partners. That is to say, the partners must have a shared analysis of the issue at hand and a common strategy for how best to push for change.  

Examples: One campaign theme AK has worked with together with our Partner UESARIO is EU’s financial involvement in the occupation of Western Sahara, with the aim of holding companies and states accountable for breaking international law. Another example are campaigns focusing on the consequences of comprehensive free trade agreements such as TTIP and CETA, with the objective of creating a broader awareness of the severe consequences of these agreements to create a popular opposition and make politicians take a stand against them.

3.1.3 Externally financed network activities

In a globalised world where capital flows, companies and power structures cross borders more than ever before, there is an apparent need to organise the struggle against them in a similar way. In addition, we often see how movements and organisations face similar challenges and work with common and overlapping transnational themes. Therefore, it is crucial to collaborate across borders and sectors. AK prioritises this, and we want to participate and facilitate such efforts.

Examples: AK organises partnership seminars where all of our partners are invited to strategise together on how we can approach our operating environment, learn from each other, coordinate campaigns and efforts and develop new ways of collaborating. We also take part in regional and global network activities such as the SADC people's’ summit, the Nyéléni processes and climate summits. Such network activities are not only confined to partners abroad. We also join forces with other Danish organisations and form networks around common themes such as Food Sovereignty and unjust trade policies with the purpose of knowledge sharing and developing common campaign strategies in order to boost impact.

3.1.4 Case based support to urgent struggles

Sometimes our existing partners, or groups that we emphasise with, are in a state of emergency i.e. due to a harsh operating environment, which calls for immediate action. This can lead a group within AK to take action and raise funds for the specific needs and/or raise awareness among key stakeholders i.e. through events, crowd funding and approaching small scale funders. As with many of our activities we do not have strict procedures for how to approach this kind of work, which is one of the characteristics of being activist based, but this does not mean that we don’t draw on previous experience.

Example: At AK’s participation at the SADC People’s Summit in 2016 we met Amadiba Crisis Committee, a South African activist group who had fought against mining companies operating in their land for centuries. This struggle was harsh and one of the leaders had recently been executed. The current leader was now under a severe security threat and needed 24-hour security protection. AK activists raised money and awareness about the issue in Denmark. We thereby managed to secure her security until the release of a report, which points out their opponents and how they operate making it too risky for them to target her.

3.1.5 Strategic political partnerships

Being a political solidarity organisation, it is vital to have allies and partners that we can exchange knowledge, experience and political alternatives with. Such activities do not require formalised and/or financially based partnerships. They are formed on loose structures, where we draw on each other’s capacities, networks and share knowledge when needed. Once again, we do not have formalised procedures for such collaborations besides from this document and our strategic documents guiding our work. A starting point for collaboration is naturally to make sure that we share political visions and strategies for change.

Example: AK’s strategic partner The Transnational Institute (TNI) is an international research and advocacy institute and network of ‘activist scholars’ committed to building a just, democratic and sustainable world. AK often uses their publications for inspiration for instance on how to approach the issue of land-grabbing. TNI has also been part of AK’s activist schools and thereby the two organisations have gained knowledge and shared experiences in relation to how we can challenge the dominant neoliberal model for global development and forward alternatives. The themes we work with include, Food Sovereignty, feminism, alternative trade mandates and inclusion and acknowledgement of small-scale farmers and fishers in the global food system. 

3.1.6 Tactical temporary collaborations on specific topics

AK is not an island, and even though we oppose the existing world order, we occasionally do collaborate with those that do not share our worldview. Such collaborations must always base on a thorough strategic cost-benefit analysis, whereby we ensure that the end justifies the means. One way is to make sure that AK’s involvement is not used to legitimise policies or actions that contradict our political vision or strategy. These collaborations are mostly case-based and not formal in nature.

Example: AK joined forces with various youth leagues of Danish political parties, including the liberal-conservative party Liberal Alliance, for the execution of a conference about Western Sahara. The purpose was to create awareness and push Danish politicians to take a stand against Morocco for the liberation of Western Sahara, and having as many youth leagues on board as possible was an important means in reaching our goal.

 

3.2. What can partners expect from AK?

AK is first and foremost a political ally, and the baseline for all our partnerships is therefore a shared political agenda and a common goal for what we want to change together and how. We are part of various solidarity movements pushing for system change towards a more just world. The following points are for inspiration to show what partners can expect, when entering into a partnership with AK. Please note, some of these points will be more relevant to some and less to others, while some partnerships will add other expectations,

  • Dedicated political solidarity work, which includes strategising together with partners on how we achieve common goals. It also includes capacity sharing with partners on organisation development, democratisation, mobilisation and advocacy. 
  • Will to create bridges between our partners and relevant decision makers and power holders in Denmark as well as other inter/national activists and movements.
  • Experience and success with raising money from the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the EU. We do not want to raise money at any price, if the strategy behind does not support AK’s own strategic objectives.
  • Frequent and close communication with our partners, preferably both with employees, leadership and activists, with mutual updates on our struggles, projects and sources of inspiration, as well as on how to support each other's work.
  • Volunteer activists who are keen on understanding the context and struggle of our partners, and who prepare for cultural encounters by knowledge sharing on cultural norms and practices in the partner’s environment.
  • Voluntary driven organisation that is in a constant process of learning. This means strong dedication but also a rather unstable workforce. For instance, it can be frustrating for partners to always have new people visiting form AK. Voluntarism is a principle that challenges cultures of professionalisation in the struggle for social change.
  • A focus on internal capacity development and on strengthening our own mobilisation ability.
  • An awareness of our positions in those power structures that surround us and our partners and a will to avoid reproducing patriarchal and neo-colonial structures. We strive to do a constant effort in this regard but must recognise that our position can make us blind. We hope to learn from our partners and strive to listen to and accommodate critique continuously.
  • An organisation that knows that the risks of being politically active varies depending on the context you operate in. We will do all that we can to insure the security of partners in terms of means of communication, legal support and whatever we can do from our position.

 

3.3 What does AK expect from partners?

Our partnerships have different forms, but all our partnerships are mutual and both parties have to contribute to the partnership. AK typically enters into partnerships with organisations who,

  • Share our political analysis and actively work to change the existing neoliberal structures that uphold structures of inequality. This can be either at local, regional or global level.
  • Legitimately represent those people that they speak on behalf of. This means that we only support partners who actively ensure or want to become better at ensuring that people who suffer from the existing structures of inequality are given a voice.
  • Understand the ‘rights based approach’ as more than just making people aware of their individual rights. We support partners who fight for their social, economic and political rights as a collective effort, and who use mobilisation and organisation as key elements in building collective movements that call for alternatives, i.e. through civic and political education, campaigns, information sharing and strategising. As such, the ‘rights based approach’ cannot stand alone as method, but rather be a tool to mobilise.
  • Work to challenge the structures of inequality as a collective effort as opposed to serving individual and immediate needs. This means that our partnerships typically focus on how we can bring the issue of rights to a collective level. Members must join the fight for alternatives, not because they can gain something from it on an individual level, but because they can see that the collective push for change is the only sustainable solution.
  • Are active in the sense that they know what they want to do as an organisation, and that they have ideas of how to reach their own objectives. AK does not support initiatives that require us to come up with the entire concept. However, we always enter partnerships and projects with a collaborative spirit where we develop ideas on a shared basis.
  • Like AK, our partners are also embedded in existing power structures. We expect our partners to be aware of their positions, reflect on and challenge these continuously. This is relevant in terms of internal power structures in our partner organisations, the context they operate in but also includes a will to challenge AK and the dynamics in our common partnership.

 

4. Opt out

There are numerous initiatives, activities and approaches that AK does not support. This section is not meant to sketch out all of these, as we prefer to define ourselves in terms of what we do as opposed to what we do not do. However, some discussions have been raised several times by partners and ourselves over the past years, and we find it important to address these once and for all. The following are arguments for why we do not support certain things.

4.1 Service delivery:

Service delivery is a rather common approach in the “NGO industry” where organisations provide a service to “poor” people in “the Global South”. This could be health clinics or the building of wells to access clean water. It can also be income-generating projects, which seeks to teach people how they can set up a small business and support them through micro-finance.  AK does not support such activities due to various reasons:

  • Service delivery does not challenge the existing unjust power structures. Instead it legitimises existing unjust power structures by filling the ‘inequality-gap’ for the power holders, who are in turn not held accountable for their shortcomings. We believe that service delivery is the responsibility of the ones in power. This is why we prefer to build capacities within communities so they can define and demand their own needs towards the power holders.
  • Service delivery is neo-colonial: There are elements of neo-colonial structures embedded in doing service delivery. First of all, it reinforces unequal power structures between the provider (as active) and the receiver (as passive) and thereby it reproduces a divide between ‘us and them’ ‘North and South’, ‘Developing Countries and the West’. Additionally, service delivery reflects the ideas that the giver has about what the recipients want, as opposed to a bottom-up approach whereby people and communities themselves define what their needs are.
  • Service delivery is a myopic quick fix: Service delivery tends to focus on the individual as the main receiver, and attending to her immediate needs as opposed to supporting the collective in securing long term structural changes.

This being said, there might be instances where AK will consider doing service delivery. For instance, if we want those people most affected by the unjust power structures to be on board in our work, we also have to make it possible for them to actually participate. Therefore, we might use service delivery as a strategic element to ensure their participation. However, we always want to make sure that it is the common cause that is the main driver for participation, as opposed to the individual gains from the service delivery initiatives.

4.2 Per diems / sitting allowances:

Paying people to take part in activities is a common feature in the established “donor industry”. This has created a culture whereby everything comes at a cost. Essentially, it undermines politically motivated participation, and for AK the issue is subsequently clear-cut. We do not want to reproduce this tendency, and this is why we never pay out or support projects, where sitting allowances / per diems are paid out to participants solely because they take part in an activity. We have heard partners complaining that it is hard to mobilise people to participate, if they are not being paid. The conclusion to such a statement must be that the partner has not been able to formulate the vision and mission of the struggle in a successful way and their mobilisation efforts thus need to be redefined. Consequently, AK activists neither receive per diems.

That being said, we do understand that people have to travel long distances and that they cannot afford to buy food. This is why we do support paying out transport reimbursements and providing meals at events where this is the case. We also pay per diems to AK activists and AK partners traveling outside their home country.

4.3 Paying salaries to AK’s activists for partner-related work

Being run by activists on a voluntary basis is key to AK’s identity and the organisation is 100% dependent on the activists. We believe that having activists doing the work will insure the political motivation and drive. At the same time none of AK’s activists work with projects or partners because of the money, which makes the collaboration more equal. Also, key to having a strong activist base is the notion of equality and transparency. Therefore we do not pay salaries to activists for work done in relation to projects with partners. 

4.4 Organisations that lack transparency and democratic structures

We can accept that transparent structures and procedures is something some partners need to learn and develop. We are aware that for some partners a hostile work climate requires that information is held confidential. However the principle of constantly upholding transparency and democratic structures is key in the struggle against those structures of inequality that feed on corruption.

 

5. Problems and conflicts - how to act?

How do we approach and prevent conflicts in our partnerships? Firstly, it is important to have a shared understanding of roles and responsibilities. Likewise, it is important to be open about our own weaknesses from the beginning to ensure that partners do not expect something they do not get and vise-versa. Key to prevent conflicts is also to know the context and the partner well – invest in building a relation between both parts. It is not necessarily strong personal friendships, but a good relation creates trust and makes it easier to talk about the things that might be difficult. Knowing the context is important to understand why the partner thinks and acts as they do. This partnership approach is one tool in ensuring this, together with our Strategy and other documents describing who we are, what we stand for and how we approach the work. But there are also other ways of preventing conflicts, the following are points for inspiration and reflection that will be useful to consider in most partnerships,

5.1 What to do when the partner does not live up to the financial requirements from the donor of a project we have together?

AK has a Manual for Finance and Administration, which describes in great detail how to comply with the most common donor requirements. It is a prerequisite for all partners to read this as part of the startup process of any externally financed activity. And we always recommend that AK goes through the manual together with the partner in order to find shortcomings and weaknesses.

In case of shortcomings and weaknesses it is always important to contact the AK secretariat that will be able to assist in how to overcome problems. Such initiatives could be 1) to assess the severity of the shortcomings 2) give guidance on how we can solve the problems 3) speak directly with the partner 4) visit the partner for further control and provide training 5) make use of AK’s external trainers 6) make use of local auditors who can shed light on the issues at hand.

5.2 How can we use the Agreement of Cooperation as a tool to prevent and handle conflicts?

The Agreement of Cooperation is a document, which is signed by AK and partners at the entry of all externally financed activities where the partner has responsibility for the handling of funds. This document is strictly formal, and reflects both AK’s requirements and the requirements of the donor. The Agreement of Cooperation is quite useful in extraordinary circumstances, as it clearly stipulates the rights of AK and of the partner in situations of conflict as well as in situations where one party wants to leave the activity at hand (i.e. project, campaign). The Agreement of Cooperation also stipulates clearly how corruption is interpreted and what consequences corrupt behavior has.

5.3 How to end a partnership?

It is always difficult to give clear guidance on how to leave a partnership, since the reasons for leaving differ. In case a partnership ends due to serious breach of formal agreements or corruption we have no other option than to end the partnership on the spot. But if a partnership is approaching its end because of differences in priorities, strategies and objectives we have to make sure not to leave the partner in a position where the results we have achieved in the past will be lost. We therefore always recommend having a phase out project with the objective of securing new funders to ensure the sustainability of the work we have built together. Key to success is of course to prepare the partner well in advance and to be open about our differences, priorities and strategies.


Nyhedsbrev
Tilmeld dig og modtag Afrika Kontakts nyhedsbrev