Rethinking and decolonising the global aid system.
In the grip of a global pandemic, the climate crisis, and the global Black Lives Matter movement, our failed global aid system is facing a long overdue reckoning. The humanitarian system is no exception. The continuous cycle of domination in which the white global minority decides and defines the future for the global majority must end. The Pledge for Change aims to re-imagine the role of INGOs in the global aid system.
Pledge for Change brings together key INGO leaders for honest conversations about their organisations’ role in maintaining neocolonial structures in the global aid system to create joint strategies and significant steps towards decolonisation.
Participants are expected to have a genuine commitment to anti-racism and decolonisation, and a genuine desire to be challenged and create change. Participating INGO leaders are responsible for working within their organisations to advocate for tangible change, build buy-in to the Pledge for Change commitments, and define how their own member organisations can resource and follow through on this necessary work.
Pledge for Change was spearheaded by Degan Ali, CEO of Adeso, an outspoken critic of traditional humanitarian and development aid, and Mary Ana McGlasson, Director of the Centre for Humanitarian Leadership, who supported Adeso in making Pledge for Change a reality. Within a year, several INGO leaders joined the initiative as they wanted to change the current workings of the global aid system.
Adeso has pioneered forward-thinking approaches for decolonising aid delivery for over 29 years and continues to impact the entire humanitarian sector. As a result, Adeso is well known for its leadership in the localisation and power-shifting movements. Degan Ali has been at the forefront of action towards decolonisation and anti-racism in aid.
Localisation does not cut it for us. It’s a term that’s loaded with all the wrong things that we want to dismantle. Our communities and countries don’t need to be localised. We don’t need the global north people to do something to us or for us. We need global north organisations to recognise their purposeful neocolonial role in perpetuating an aid system that is all about continuing the power dynamics that continue to keep us in poverty and in a position of need.
—Degan Ali at the 2021 Humanitarian Leadership Conference
Watch Degan Ali present at the 2021 Humanitarian Leadership Conference on the lack of the substantiative and transformative action since the Grand Bargain.
A public commitment to change
Participating humanitarian leaders are invited to a series of retreats for honest and open conversations about what makes this change both necessary and difficult. In addition, retreats focus on how INGOs can decolonise their businesses and create lasting change through a set of tangible pledges and commitments with clear targets.
Pledge for Change aims to foster allyship and develop mentorship and collaborative opportunities between participants outside of the initiative.
Pledges in development
Systemic change takes time. We hope to initiate this change through a series of strategic and measurable pledges for action. Current pledges in development include:
- Lexicon: Decolonise the language and terms currently used in aid and development work. Commit to dropping paternalistic and offensive terminology from written, oral and digital communication.
- Imagery: Cease all ‘poverty porn’ and use only strengths-based fundraising. Challenge stereotypes represented in images and apply justice and hope-based narratives. Invest in local talent to co-create the stories being told.
- Partnerships: Reducing direct implementation to allow for full partnership with local organisations. Providing core and unrestricted funding to local organisation partners.
Participating CEOs will agree on value statements or overarching statements and define what decolonisation means for INGOs. They will become advocates for larger, long-term ecosystem change. Each leader will be encouraged to create their own personal pledge to demonstrate how they will begin to work towards those values.
The humanitarians leading the change
The current group of INGO leaders committed to addressing systemic change and decolonising the aid system include:
- Danny Sriskandarajah, Oxfam UK (representing Oxfam International)
- Sofia Sprechmann, Care International
- Peter Walton, Care Australia
- Marit van Lenthe, MSF Holland
- Rose Caldwell, Plan International
- Julia Sanchez, Action Aid International
- Gwen Hines, Save the Children UK
- Tjada Mckenna, Mercy Corps
- Amanda Mukwashi, Christian Aid
- Christopher Lockyear, MSF Geneva
- Danny Glenwright, Save the Children Canada
Useful resources to understand why the aid system must be transformed
- Stop Filming Us Officiële Trailer
- #PhilanthropySoWhite 2021
- It’s time to end aid agency child sponsorship schemes, The New Humanitarian (April 2021)
- An open letter to International NGOs who are looking to ‘localise’ their operations
- An open letter to our fellow activists across the globe: Building from below and beyond borders
- What’s stopping localization in the humanitarian sector?
- “Why local expertise is key to PATH’s new strategy” Devex July 19, 2021
- COVID, colonialism, and a call to shift power
- Offering aid without development is costing lives in the global south | Letter
- Foundations launch $30M storytelling initiative for global south By Stephanie Beasley // 30 July 2021
- Equal Writes | Your Web Ally For Gender Equality
- Deconstructing Development Discourse Buzzwords and Fuzzwords
- The damage aid workers can do – with just their words
- ‘Development’: A visual story of shifting power – FP2P
- Which awful Devspeak words would you most like to ban? Your chance to vote on the Terrible Ten – FP2P
- A Decolonial Approach to Education and the Law (with Foluke Adebisi) | OHRH
- Decolonization, Decoloniality, and the Future of African Studies: A Conversation with Dr. Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni
- Localisation of Humanitarian Aid The 8-point Charter for Change
- Guidance note on partnership practices for localisation