Creating North-South balance

Dorothy Nyambi
Dr. Dorothy Nyambi

MEDA aims to involve the Global South by empowering local partners and clients

Balancing the current North-South power imbalance is a key principle that guides MEDA’s new strategic plan.

This includes creating grass-roots projects and shifting to increased local decision making.

The move means more independence for local partners and clients. The benefits of this important work will be revealed overtime as the plan enfolds.

“We need to change as a sector, as MEDA and be deliberate about it,” says Dr. Dorothy Nyambi, MEDA’s President and CEO. “The North-South shift is about respect — respecting all voices and opinions, especially those on the ground who have the best solutions for their problems.”

Mike Miller

“One of the steps will be finding new connections and partnerships,” adds Mike Miller, senior director of resource development. “We need to reach out to the people who share our common origins and ancestry in North America. MEDA can do this.”

Miller also believes that the power to decide will eventually lead to more local funding too. “It’s inevitable,” he says. “And we want to be intentional about it.”

“A prerequisite for an effective shift is for MEDA to have the right policies and procedures,” Nyambi says. “We want to share power and that means shared accountability.”

She wants to ensure that MEDA takes the steps to be ready so that the country directors are working within the protections and parameters to which everyone agrees, and time is taken so they are set up to succeed. Nyambi believes MEDA needs to preserve the quality of its work, maintain its professionalism, and affirm its brand.

During this journey, MEDA will be thoughtful in its planning to provide the tools required in a professional manner.

“The funding architecture also needs to shift,” Nyambi says. “It can happen organically or iteratively through small changes. When these opportunities come, we must embrace them.”

She also wants to tap the grassroots and their ability to design their own projects. Given that the majority of MEDA’s funding comes from institutional donors, Nyambi knows MEDA cannot do this alone.

Government funding comes with strings. Nyambi and Miller know that there is a delicate effort to harmonize agendas.

“When we accept government investment, we are careful to focus on meeting its aims, while proving our concept and bringing other agencies along,” she explains.

“It’s a very competitive funding environment across North America, Europe and Australia. When we succeed, we have an opportunity to act differently by being inclusive and respecting a diversity of voices (from the Global South) in determining what we do.”

Co-operation Canada, which is the advocacy agency for Canadian organizations doing long-term international development and humanitarian assistance work, is pressuring government to reconsider and change how projects are funded.”

It’s also happening in the United States through organizations such as Humentum and interaction and BOND in the United Kingdom. MEDA is working with its private individual and foundation donors to shift project funding dynamics in current fundraising practices as well.

While working with women, youth and other marginalized people has always been important to MEDA, its new strategic plan is even more explicit about ensuring their voices are truly heard and no one is left behind.

For Nyambi this translates to respect for all voices.

“We also need to alter how we design projects and how we communicate and define who are our partners,” Nyambi says. “We need to open up space for partners in the Global South to be vocal and active participants in designing and implementing the projects. Only then will our efforts be authentic.”

Nyambi knows this is not easy and will take time to allow people to trust the process. Once partners trust our intentions in the Global North, we authentically demonstrate we are ‘listening and hearing,’ the power shift can be more stable and long-lasting, she said. “This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Nyambi said. “As MEDA pursues longer-term plans, we maintain the short-term wins but eventually we hit our stride and with time shared accountability becomes the norm.”

As a result, MEDA’s country strategies are evolving to conform to the new plan. The organization is fully aware of international development norms that can create roadblocks but hopes to overcome these challenges. Institutional donors invest within a framework and MEDA becomes accountable to certain defined goals.

“This dynamic can distract us from achieving progress,” Nyambi says. “It’s a mistake for international development organizations, MEDA included, to close their eyes and ears to clients to placate donors.”

One hopeful sign for the sector and MEDA recently, is billionaire Mackenzie Scott (ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos) who is committed to investing more along these lines.

“Philanthropists can be convinced,” according to Nyambi. “The no-strings-attached approach of leaders like Mackenzie Scott will allow many charities in both the global north and south to build sustainable programs for decades to come.”

Nyambi is also quick to add that accountability is still the foundation of any relationship. However, Canada’s accountability laws for charities are woefully out-of-date. Written in the years following WWII, the rules for direction and control of charitable projects means trust becomes harder to achieve and a culture of ‘saviorism’ perpetuated.

She hopes that Canadian politicians of all stripes can find a common purpose around this and change it for the better as soon as possible with the ongoing push from the Global South to ‘de- colonize’ international development.

Nyambi also assumes that MEDA can and should broaden its donor base beyond its current pool to include donors from the Global South.

“Our strategy affects every MEDA department, office and project,” Nyambi says. “Our resource development team needs to grow our donor base in the North with diversity and inclusion in mind and also engage with supporters from the South too.”

Nyambi also notes the marketing and communications team will be busy reinforcing our brand and telling our story, aligned with our strategy. The finance and legal team will prepare and place the controls, checks and balances that are needed so that partners in the Global South can be both more independent and more accountable.

Nyambi emphasizes that transparency is key because regardless of origin, North or South, everyone at MEDA is committed to good stewardship of funds.

MEDA’s people and culture team will build an inspiring global workplace. These leaders will weave MEDA’s values into all its activities and create the conditions to pursue MEDA’s mission and realize its vision.

The programs team will design, execute, and evaluate our field initiatives to confirm they meet our new strategy. The innovation and impact department ensure that data is shared, so clients understand and know how they can use the data and information obtained to continuously learn, improve, and make decisions.

MEDA’s technical specialists in impact investment, inclusive financial services, environment and climate change, gender equality and social inclusion, and market systems will learn, share, and continue to be guardians of our expertise.

“Our expertise has a global ethos,” Nyambi says. “We will begin the tough but vital power-sharing conversations and open up the dialogue for better and stronger solutions to emerge.”

MEDA’s journey also involves its board, ensuring that the trustees are fully informed as they embrace the strategy. The board will also continue to manage risk to achieve the desired results within an evolving culture that is inclusive, acceptable, and reflective of where MEDA is going.

As MEDA pursues this strategy, it will take everyone to reflect on what this means for them as individuals in order to embrace the North-South shift, she said.

“This shift will create locally driven outcomes, building trust through open ears and open hands,” she said.

For Nyambi, this is the best way to live out MEDA’s core value of respect.

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