From the 11th – 16th February 2013, 75 participants from IAS and partner organizations across Africa gathered in Arusha, Tanzania for the second annual Partner Network Conference. The topic was advocacy and networking – challenging and equipping civil society organizations to become better agents of transformation in local communities.
Participants came from different backgrounds and countries, ranging from South Sudan, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda to Chad, Somalia and Nigeria. Each came with a different history but all came with a common purpose – to explore how they could move toward their role as advocates for change. For some, this was a natural transition, one they had already started on, while for many others, this was new territory to be explored. As the week progressed, common ground was found, in exploring not only the how, but also the why.
IAS, as many of its partners, has a history of humanitarian service provision. In recent years, as the contexts that IAS and partners work in are shifting toward development, and as the impact of the work being done is assessed, the need for new approaches has become apparent in order to achieve lasting change. While service delivery is certainly a valuable role, impact will always be limited if this is not also accompanied by changes in the institutions that have the real responsibility to deliver these services. The Partner Network Conference sought to address this challenge, by exploring the different roles of civil society and questioning the effectiveness of these roles, by introducing participants to concepts and practical tools for advocacy as a means to make change.
Josephat Torner set the week off with a presentation that would leave few untouched, vividly illustrating not only through his words but through his own story as an advocate, the difference between advocating on behalf of others, with others, or allowing them to speak for themselves. This distinction echoed throughout the week, as Nicta Lubaale took participants through tools for community mobilization, challenging the current state of relationships where citizens have become beggars rather than right-bearers. He emphasized the need to reclaim citizen rights, to realize the role of citizens as principals who, in reality, have delegated elected representatives and Government agencies the power to act on their behalf as agents, not as their masters. The concept of a community charter was introduced, as a tool to bridge the gap and to create a joint framework for social accountability between communities and their elected representatives, empowering communities to claim their rights.