DEEEP4 – Advancing towards system change in the development sector

The Smart CSOs Lab proposes a radical reconsideration of NGO practices in order to stimulate a system shift towards a more just and sustainable world. This is quite a challenge for NGOs, busy with daily policy business, trapped in topical silos and steered by the aspiration of short term wins, when the inclusion of our momentary buzz words in an official policy paper becomes the success story of the year.

Getting out of the business as usual and starting to pull the “key leverage points” such as systems thinking, cultural transformation and building a global movement is a major strategic shift for most CSOs. At CONCORD, the European Development NGO Confederation, the DEEEP4 Project was recently set up as an action experiment to try out some of the Smart CSOs thinking in practice, and hopefully to scale up its experience in the wider confederation.

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Great Transition Story Strategy Guide

Tackling the current global ecological and social crises urgently requires a cultural transformation away from today’s dominant consumerism and nationalism towards a culture of wellbeing with simpler living and a sense of planetary solidarity and identity.

Civil society organisations (CSOs) have a crucial role in helping to bring about such a Great Transition to a sustainable and equitable future (more about the vision of the Great Transition in the annex). Yet, current CSO campaigns often fail to address the cultural dimension of the Great Transition. The shortcomings can be found at two levels:

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Campaigning for cultural transformation

A new experiment from Berlin

Last year our friends from Impuls (Agency for Applied Utopias) in Berlin started an action learning process with young campaigners (Kampagnenwerkstatt in German) to collaboratively design and put into practice a campaign that would experiment with new ways of supporting the type of changes needed for the Great Transition.

What we know from the Smart CSOs dialogue is that current CSO campaigns are mostly focusing on concrete and often very technical policy wins and are too often driven by short-term tactical considerations rather than by a strategy of long-term systemic change. In his recent book, What Money Can’t Buy, Harvard’s political philosopher Michael Sandel laments the vacancy in public discourse about the big moral questions that people really care about. As there are no signs from governments or political parties to fill this vacancy, it seems that civil society has a real opportunity to fill this gap and design campaigns that kick-start societal conversations and thereby play a role in a much needed cultural transformation. This is exactly what the Impuls campaign learning process arrived at.

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Storytelling for the Great Transition

Experience with Spanish development NGOs

Since the Cologne Storytelling Workshop last November with Jonah Sachs, I´ve had the opportunity to run a series of workshops with change agents from the Spanish Development sector.

Under the label ‘collaborative lab’, we co-convened a project with the Spanish Development NGOs Confederation (CONGDE), exploring new ways to empower their social base towards systemic change. The storytelling workshop was part of it and is well documented on the project website:

The aim was to provide new tools to civil society within the scope of the Smart CSOs leverage point CSO Strategies for Cultural Transformation towards the Great Transition. My main reflections were:

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Reflections from Greenpeace on the need for new strategies for a paradigm shift

It was March 2010, and our executive director, Kumi Naidoo, addressed his first executive directors’ meeting. It was just after COP 15 and we were all still not over its failure. Kumi expressed his concern: “We are winning many battles, but are loosing our planet”. His talk resulted in Greenpeace executive directors across the world addressing what we needed to do differently.

A number of initiatives were agreed directed at the way we campaign, the way we are organised, where we put our human and financial resources, etc. One of the initiatives was the way we address (or not) the dominant socio-economic paradigm, which is core to the problems we face today.

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The Widening Circles Campaign

The Widening Circle (TWC) campaign to enlarge and strengthen the global movement of global citizens is off to a slow but steady start. TWC builds on the existing work of many important organizations, initiatives, movements and grassroots efforts. TWC invites all who want to strengthen the global citizens movement, and all who recognize the need for new planetary institutions of global democracy, to widen our circles in a coordinated campaign.

The campaign is evolutionary by design, adapting to changing world circumstances and the input of new members as the circles widen. To this end, TWC is planned in phases — which each phase simply responsible for building the capacity to reach the next phase.

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