Think Global, Act Local is a well-known slogan and call to action that asks us to be mindful of our collective impact. All Politics is Local is a truism that reminds us that citizens get most involved with issues that affect their daily lives. Local First has become common jargon in the development field to reinforce the values of local ownership over solutions and assistance programs. With all the (warranted) importance placed on this “local” perspective of bringing about change – what is the place for “global” action? What is the value of “Global Civil Society?”
We have been asking ourselves this question as our network celebrates our 25th Anniversary this year with the launch of our new brand: PartnersGlobal, (formerly Partners for Democratic Change International) consolidating our two hubs in Washington D.C. and Brussels. As a network now made up of 19 local autonomous organizations working for peaceful and democratic change, we have been jointly investing in local leaders, local organizations and local solutions since 1989. Beginning with our first member in Partners Poland, to our newest member in Partners El Salvador, we represent a rich diversity of local initiatives and perspectives; however, we also recognize the need to strengthen ourselves as a global platform. This is not always an easy undertaking when working across cultures, time zones and languages; but the evolving challenges to peace and democracy throughout the world require solidarity, cooperation and action from a Global Civil Society. Why is this global orientation so important?
- Global Impact by Connecting Local Expertise: Our 19 member organizations have worked on 5 continents and more than 50 countries. We have developed and then shared many programs with each other throughout the years: anti-corruption expertise from Romania, extractive industry conflict resolution from Peru, participatory budgeting from Jordan and countering violent extremism from Yemen. We conscientiously translate our national expertise and experience into global knowledge, and continually reflect together to transform our work.
- Providing Moral Support and “International Cover:” I have mentioned in previous blog posts how lonely and difficult it can be to run a local NGO dedicated to democracy and peacebuilding, and the importance of a global community of practice to offer solidarity. In times of violent civil conflict or political turmoil, it can be particularly important for a local organization to be affiliated with a strong global civil society network to provide needed political cover (and even protection). In such complex contexts, as different as Albania to Colombia, our PartnersGlobal members have had access to technical, moral and political support when they need it most.
- Forging Partnerships: Being well-organized as a global network allows PartnersGlobal to leverage partnerships at an international level to bring mutual benefits locally. We are able to partner in many countries at once with multinational companies like General Electric, who want to invest broadly in the rule of law and sustainable economic development. We can leverage our deep and broad network expertise in mediation programs to support the global strategies of private foundations like the JAMS Foundation. PartnersGlobal is bringing together diverse professionals from the entertainment and advertising industry to support messages of peace and reconciliation for audiences in conflictive environments. We need to do more partnering across sectors and across borders, and a global civil society platform allows this to take place more effectively.
- Networks of Networks: PartnersGlobal members are participating in many other international and regional networks throughout the world to collectively promote our values for multi-sectoral partnerships, strong civil society, accountable governance and conflict sensitive development. By spreading out our participation in these forums and then sharing back with our Partners’ family, we are able to amplify our reach. Partners Global members are present in: the Open Government Partnership, The Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, Transparency International, European Peacebuilding Liaison Office, Voluntary Principles International Secretariat, the Alliance for Peacebuilding, the Democracy and Human Rights Network, European NGO Confederation for Relief and Development and many, many others. Like others, one of our biggest challenges is managing our own internal knowledge and connections within so many international networks and initiatives, but over Facebook, emails and our bi-annual meetings we do our best to keep up with each other’s efforts.
- Pursuing Financial Sustainability: A 2013 global evaluation of our network’s model found that one of the contributing factors to the longevity of the local Partners’ organizations was precisely their participation in the global network. We do joint work through regional projects, hire each other as expert trainers and facilitators, help each other with business development, financial support and loans when needed, and translate new programs from one country to another. PartnersGlobal is now working with donors such as the Peace Nexus Foundation and the Seattle Foundation to expand upon the entrepreneurial model of market-based financing within our network. All civil society faces similar challenges with financial sustainability, but the members of PartnersGlobal are trying to address this problem together.
As we celebrate the International Day of Democracy on September 15, we are committed to the power of local action and local leadership to bring about democratic change, but do so together as a global family of like-minded professional organizations. On this day in particular, we remember our founder Raymond Shonholtz who 25 years ago came up with the original name, Partners for Democratic Change, and the delta as the symbol of Partners’ mission. We’ve often been asked throughout the years to clarify what we mean by “democratic change” – and while we have taken out this part of our name formally, we are unwavering in our vision and mission that remains as relevant today as it did in 1989:
Another saying often repeated within our network: The Only Thing Constant is Change. We know that change is a part of all human societies, and many of us have the sense that the rate of change is accelerating in our modern, globalized world. A few examples of this change in pace include: new privacy laws are needed to adapt to technological advances, new energy policies are necessary to address climate change, and new migration patterns are making us re-contemplate how to manage national borders and deeply-held identities. These changes are often playing out in tense, conflictive ways locally, but tensions and conflicts are not inherently bad. Rather, within a democratic society, leaders and individuals need the tools to negotiate competing interests and manage those tensions peacefully. Some refer to this as resiliency within society. With the alarming trend of increasingly closed political spaces in many parts of the world, we are seeing the opposite of societal resilience in the form of (sometimes violent) oppression and control of political dissent. PartnersGlobal believes that all citizens should have a say in the decisions that affect them, and should have access to political and legal processes for raising their concerns and resolving disputes with transparency and justice. This is what we mean by “democratic change” and Partners Global remains together to work for this vision in each of our countries and globally.