Localisation: No 'World Work' without 'Inner Work'

The movement to shift power and decolonise the international cooperation sector has been recognised as an essential transition towards more inclusive partnerships and greater impact. Unfortunately, efforts to date have focused primarily on structural change, neglecting deeper reflections on privilege, power, bias, and prejudice. 


At a glance

In support of our sector, cinfo launched a series of collaborative workshops aimed at rethinking the approach of international cooperation professionals in the context of power shifts and decolonisation of the sector. These workshops sought to answer critical questions: 

  • How do individuals in the sector engage with their own identities and their impact on power dynamics? 
  • To what extent are these professionals equipped to understand and integrate diverse perspectives? 
  • What practical steps can they take to ensure that local ownership becomes a reality and not just an agenda item? 

This blog article builds on these explorations, focusing on insights from the second workshop, where participants engaged in thoughtful reflection on aspects of identity, privilege, and power dynamics. This workshop highlighted the critical role of transformative change in initiating systemic change. 

These insights also set the stage for our Immersion Day in November 2023, a pivotal moment in our journey to introduce a more systemic approach to transforming the field of international cooperation. 

In a recent blog article, we highlighted the importance of recognising the role of individuals in driving systemic change. In this article, we take a closer look at how individuals can actively serve as agents of change within their respective organisations. 

Three levers for systems change

The fundamental prerequisite for advancing more locally led practices lies in the need for a system’s change that promotes greater inclusivity and equity. Initial impressions may suggest that system change hinges largely on structural change, involving the development of organisational policies and practices, mostly because this type of change is easier to observe, more tangible and explicit. 

In order to achieve more implicit and deeper change, we must confront our beliefs and ideologies.

However, systems change involves several intricate ‘layers’, some less easily recognised. All systems are made up of a complex interplay of interactions, relationships, and power dynamics between individuals and challenging and changing the way we interact is a pivotal step towards transforming our sectors. However, when we consider what this means for us in our sector, these more implicit aspects are far more uncomfortable to confront. 

In order to achieve more implicit and deeper change, and ultimately transformation, we must confront our beliefs and ideologies. Regardless of structural adjustments, systemic change remains incomplete and unsustainable unless we also address power, bias and our relationships and question some of the mental models that have informed our behaviour and attitudes. 

To dismantle ingrained patterns, the first imperative is to embrace awareness and acknowledge discomfort.

Awareness as a key step in relational and transformative change

A proactive shift towards more equitable relationships and balanced power dynamics must serve to guide the evolution of localisation practice and policy. But how can we embark on this transformative journey? The critical first step is to cultivate awareness. Awareness is key because power is a complex construct that requires open dialogue and reflection. Like power, biases operate in intricate and nuanced ways. To dismantle these ingrained patterns, the first imperative is to embrace awareness and acknowledge discomfort. 

By reflecting on our own patterns of behaviour and thought, we gain insight into the depth of our prejudices. This self-awareness is instrumental if we are to move towards locally led practices. It serves as a starting point for unravelling the layers of prejudice and promotes a clearer understanding of what is required for transformative change. 

Leveraging social skills for transformative change

In the ever-evolving landscape of international cooperation, it is essential to turn our focus inwards. Developing and nurturing collaborative and social skills is critical to effectively address the challenges of localisation. These skills not only serve as powerful tools for personal growth, but also act as catalysts for positive change, influencing both how internal structures of organisations develop and interact within the wider landscape of stakeholders and communities that make up the international cooperation sector. 

Stay tuned for more resources

As our collaborative workshop series concludes, cinfo hosted its biennial Immersion Day on 03 November with the theme "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who Is the Fairest of Them All? Reflecting on Your Role in Locally Led Practice." Stay tuned for upcoming publications on this insightful topic.