Long Read

Global Leadership: our collaboration with our in-country partners

If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Simavi strongly believes in working in partnerships. This enables us to make a greater impact. In response to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 17, we invest in strengthening the means of implementation and in global partnerships for sustainable development. Since 1925, Simavi evolved from the shipping of medicine to taking up more supportive roles towards our in-country civil society partners as part of the more complex and dynamic international collaboration.

Simavi works together with Non-Governmental and Civil Society Organisations (NGOs and CSOs). Our in-country partners are at the frontline of the work we do. We currently have 50 established and long-term partnerships on the ground in 10 countries. They are our veins into the communities, they have eyes and ears on the ground. Our partners have been able to build trust, both with communities and other stakeholders such as district governments and other duty bearers. Working with in-country partners, enables us to respond to the needs of the women and girls we aim to reach. Our in-country partners are able to amplify the voices of women and girls as rights holders, to express their needs and tackle the barriers they face to be able to live a healthy life.

Furthermore, each of our in-country partners has a specific expertise in the fields of WASH and, or SRHR, on women-centred programming, and in other areas. With that, they partners play a key role in the design and implementation of our programmes, they implement our programmes, monitoring and evaluation, as well as national and international lobby and advocacy.

Working together, leading together: From ‘Southern leadership’ to ‘Global Leadership’

To ensure we stay relevant beyond our 95 years’ anniversary in 2020, we continue to reflect on our roles and partnerships. We have agreed with our in-country partners that Simavi will rethink the way we develop our partnerships. Over the past years we have naturally and gradually moved to a situation in which we co-create programmes with our partners. In such processes our role is very flexible. When needed we lead, but increasingly our in-country partners lead and we support proposal development with specific expertise.

We know that in some areas we are ahead of other organisations in the way we collaborate with our partners. However, we acknowledge that we can do better in ensuring equal partnership principles, joint decision making and mutual sharing and learning. Some of our partners are interested in and ready to lead big programmes or alliances and lead the development of new partnerships. Other partners are not yet interested or might not yet feel they have the capacity to do so.

In April 2019 Simavi organised its first Simavi Summit, a conference at our Amsterdam offices to facilitate exchange of knowledge. Representatives from 30 in-country partners from nine countries participated. We explored the interest among our partners to take up different roles in the future, and we asked them about their needs and what they expect from us. As part of this process, we discussed the concept of Southern leadership with partners, some of whom thought that the word Southern in the term Southern leadership has a rather negative connotation as it still implies an unequal power relation between ‘North and South’, which led us to agree on using the term ‘global leadership’ instead of Southern leadership.

Global Lea

Inspired by this remark, Simavi is currently developing a vision that explains what global leadership means to us and how we can move away from development aid and collaboration based on dependency and unequal power relations (to international collaboration). We are not there yet. Global Leadership requires changes the way we work, and a powershift towards our in-country partners. Our partnerships should be collaborations between different, yet equal, organisations that have great potential to further complement and strengthen each other, working towards more equal power dynamics, structures and the ability of all partners to influence the outcomes of decision-making. In the newly developed strategic partnerships we took the opportunity to reflect and transform.

‘Simavi has worked in partnerships with civil society organisations for decades. Throughout those years we have moved away from the traditional donor–recipient roles and towards more equality in our partnerships. We aim to transform power imbalances and disruptive norms, values and practices at all levels. This is not a quick fix, nor a one-size-fits-all approach.’ – Esther de Vreede, Director of Implementation


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