From Innovation to Transformation: How RINGO is Revolutionising Global Civil Society

From Innovation to Transformation: How RINGO is Revolutionising Global Civil Society

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“Launching such an initiative [RINGO] was brave. The way it was done was participatory, it was fun, and it was insightful. And what came out of it already shows how relevant this is. So, I am looking forward to continuing being part of this journey.” 

-Wolfgang Jamann,  Executive Director of the International Civil Society Commission (ICSC). 

For years, civil society organisations (CSOs) in the global south have decried the power imbalance within the global civil society.  

They have called for a shift of power and resources from donors and international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) to the south so that local CSOs can gain the ownership and autonomy they need to drive development ‘for the local people,’ ‘of the local people’ and ‘by the local people.’  

This has triggered many conversations in the third sector as actors embark on a journey to find a lasting solution to this.  

The birth of #ShiftThePower movement in 2016 at the Global Summit on Community Philanthropy is one of the critical approaches perceived to challenge the power imbalance between donor and recipient, as the universal remedy for improving the effectiveness of aid and transferring agency to the ‘local people’.  

However, while this is contributing to addressing the problem, there has been the need for a more radical and systematic approach to investigate, examine and test the very structures that underpin the power struggle in the sector – A more disruptive approach that can transform how aid giving and development are done. It is against this background that the Re-Imagining the Role of International Non-governmental Organisations (RINGO) project was born in 2020.  

Developed by Rights CoLab and the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI), RINGO is a global, cross-sectoral initiative which is thoroughly examining the purpose, structures, power, and positioning of international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) on a global scale. 

Fundamentally, the project is finding ways to disrupt existential power imbalance pertaining to ‘who has’ capacity, knowledge, and expertise in the development ecosystem. It seeks to change the narrative of the north providing capacity building, knowledge transfer and bringing expertise ‘to’ southern civil society.  

It is also thoroughly examining ways to enable and mainstream a justice and solidarity-based approach that changes the way INGOs think about their success and shifting power to local activists and CSOs.  

Also, RINGO is co-creating partnerships of genuine solidarity between international actors and local civil society, where risk is shared and continuously navigated and negotiated by all stakeholders, including funders. 

Unsurprisingly, RINGO has gained great momentum after two years of implementation. The first two years of implementation, which constitute phase one, unmasked some critical problems in the INGO sector and the programme has since been looking for ways to address these challenges.   

One of the problems identified, which persists, is that INGOs are perceived to be holding too much power and resources and at the same time, are a key blockage for change, holding onto power and protecting their coveted positions in the international system. 

In addressing these challenges, the partners over the past two years, launched the RINGO social lab which created eight prototypes tailored to transform the global civil society by impacting structures of INGOs, examining their funding and accountability models, and understanding and aligning what solidarity means to local organisations.  

This will break development barriers and disrupt “stiff and obsolete” structures and weave into the sector a new change in thinking, where INGOs become vehicles of global solidarity.  

RINGO’s Success to Date  

Out of the eight prototypes, it is exciting to note that we have tested seven of them and are now exploring ways to apply them within the wider INGO system. This has been a great learning experience for the partners.  

Deborah Willig, Director of NGO Futures at InterAction, and RINGO prototype team member has recounted some of her experiences being a part of this transformative journey.  

“My highlight from RINGO so far has been the opportunity to collaborate across organisations, countries, and roles to chip away at some of the world’s most intractable challenges to creating a better world. Having a team to do it with, with diverse minds is fulfilling and creates such better solutions,” she said.  

The creation of the prototypes has provoked some important conversations in the third sector on a myriad of topics purported to challenge the status quo and shift existing paradigms. 

It was therefore not surprising when the maiden RINGO learning festival held in November 2022 to unpack the narratives of the prototypes, saw over 1000 civil society actors register to take part in the different sessions. This is a bold step in the right direction. 

The successful four-day event witnessed a global audience including Northern and Southern CSOs, donors and development actors fully engage in 24 live sessions of stimulated conversations. The recorded versions of these sessions have also seen 715 views on YouTube (as of February 2023). Even more exciting is that 70% of the audience engaging themselves in the RINGO conversation off-live are new.  

This, to us, means only one thing—that, there is a dire need of disruptive mechanisms to shift paradigms in the INGO sector for a more cohesive and egalitarian global civil society. As promising as it is, RINGO has an ambitious plan to be a “game changer.” 

At a partners’ strategic meeting held in Accra in January 2023, Deborah Doane, convenor of the project noted that RINGO is giving CSOs in the global south a sense of hope and has the potential to build a harmonised and transformed global civil society in the next ten years. 

“RINGO is catalyst for transforming global civil society. Our dream is to have a more harmonised civil society in the next ten years,” she said.  

Executive Director of WACSI, Nana Afadzinu is strongly optimistic about the prospects of the disruptive project.  

 “It has been a learning process. One which is building solidarity globally. It has been remarkably interesting, engaging and a challenging process for a systemic change to address power imbalance within the international development system,” she said in an interview held on the sidelines of the strategic meeting. 

Phase one of the project set a daring tone to anchor the change that is needed within the civil society ecosystem. In fact, the initiative has received global applaud and support.  

Our first research work got responses from 600 national and local CSOs globally as highlighted in our 2021 report titled ‘ Fostering Equitable North-South Civil Society Partnerships: Voices from the South’ 

We have had twelve global convenings and 72 coaching sessions as part of the Social Lab convening and coaching initiatives whereas we have received 47%, 45% and 8% for global north, south and diaspora representations, respectively. 

To ensure we build a more robust support system for the project, eight organisational partnerships including Partos, the Centre for Humanitarian Leadership, Disrupt Development, and the Council on Foundations, as well as strong relationships with CIVICUS, the Global Fund for Community Foundations (GFCF) and the Pledge for Change continue to enhance the potency of the initiative.  

These partners have understood the importance of RINGO and the need to rally support for it. 

The RINGO Social Lab has received input from 95 change agents from across the ecosystem. This includes local and national CSOs, social movements, large INGOs, bilateral and independent funders, researchers, academics and think tanks as well as independent consultants and social enterprises, constituting a rich repository of knowledge. 

We have successfully assembled 35 RINGO speaking engagements, six funder action pods, one southern action pod (hosted by GFCF), issued and dispatched five RINGO community newsletters to a mailing list of over 1000 subscribers, composed four RINGO podcasts as well as two ‘open house’ events with over 275 attendees.  

RINGO is a leading globally coordinated cross-sectoral effort to revolutionise the sector by interrogating the purpose, structures, power, and positioning of INGOs. 

From Innovation to Transformation – Phase two of RINGO in the Offing 

Because transformation is a gradual process, RINGO is on a journey. A ten-year journey that will revolutionise and reform global civil society. 

Though it was originally designed as a two-year process, intended to close in December 2022, the challenges identified in the global civil society require a lot more work and time. The RINGO process has accordingly been tailored to adapt to the evolving challenges. This requires more work. 

Phase two, which opens a new chapter of RINGO effective 2023, will see initiatives that will augment the impact of the project. The drive for transformation remains high!  

“We want to see more impact and better results in the next ten years. Deborah Doane, project convenor said at a partners’ strategic meeting on Wednesday, 25 January 2023 in Accra. 

The next chapter of RINGO will see WACSI leading as a convener and being supported by all the other partners including Rights CoLab and Reos Partners 

“WACSI’s expertise and experience in working with civil society groups in West Africa makes it well-suited to lead this important initiative,” Nana Afadzinu, Executive Director noted. 

Charles Kojo Vandyck, Head, Capacity Development unit at WACSI, a key member of the RINGO core team highlighted the learning experiences gained by WACSI while playing a pivotal role in the first phase of the project.  

“It has been an empowering opportunity for us to be involved in RINGO. It has given us visibility for the work we do.  

 RINGO also exposed us to new skills, spaces, and interactions on particularly important conversations on development and civil society in general,” he said.  

According to him, leading this phase of RINGO is a profitable one for WACSI as the project’s overall goal aligns perfectly well with the Institute’s strategic ambitions. “For years we have been spearheading discussions on localisation and #ShiftThePower as a way of driving people–led development,” he added. 

RINGO will therefore position WACSI at the core of efforts geared towards promoting local leadership, localisation, decolonisation among other new development innovations aimed at improving the global civil society ecosystem.  

About the author

Gideon Ahenkorah

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FIIFI BOATENG

Fiifi is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Communications and Information Officer at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. He joined the Institute in December 2020.

NANCY KANKAM KUSI

Nancy is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Programme Officer in the Knowledge Management unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. She joined the Institute in January 2021.

AGNES ADWOA ANIMA

Agnes is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Head of the Administration unit in the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2021.

DORIS ODEI

Doris holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social sciences (Economics and Sociology) from the University of Cape Coast. She is passionate about impacting young lives hence co-founded Impart Foundation. A non-profit organization which seeks to empower young lives through education, technology and entrepreneurship.

PRINCE AKOWUAH

Prince Akowuah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Assistant in the Translation Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.

MAXWELL APENTENG

Maxwell Apenteng is a Ghanaian and joined WACSI in September 2010. He provides gardening and janitorial services at the Institute.

GEORGE ADU-MINTAH

George Adu-Mintah is a Ghanaian and currently the Protocol Assistant/Driver at the West Africa Civil Society (WACSI). He joined the Institute in October 2006.

IBRAHIM KWAKU GBADAGO

Ibrahim Kwaku Gbadago is a Ghanaian. He joined the Institute in 2008 and provides janitorial services and assisting the institute's errands. Before joining the Institute, he worked at the Palestinian embassy in Accra, Ghana.

RUTH YAKANA

Ruth Yakana is from Cameroon and currently the Receptionist at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.

BETHEL KWAME BOATENG

Bethel is a Ghanaian. He provides technical and IT related support to the Institute. He joined the Institute in October 2006.

WHITNAY SEGNONNA

Whitnay Segnonna holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Management from the University of Benin. With 2 years of experience, she has a strong knowledge of organizational and project management. Combined with her bilingualism, she is very passionate about her work. She joined WACSI as Project Assistant on Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) for the Capacity Development Unit.

STELLA YAWA WOWOUI

Stella Yawa Wowoui holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Translation Studies. She has a perfect grasp of both French and English, as well as an intermediate level in Spanish. She is currently working as a Project Assistant on the Techsoup Project.

KWAME ASANTE

Kwame is an experienced IT Consultant/Software Developer. He is skilled in Web Applications Development, Digital Security, Database Management, Digital Marketing and Brand Management. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology and is a Microsoft Programme Alumni. He is currently serving as a Marketing and IT Officer on the Techsoup Project.

GRACE AKPENE ZIGGAH

Grace Akpene Ziggah is a Togolese and currently the Logistics Officer and also assists in administration duties at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in June 2009.

LILLIAN DAFEAMEKPOR

Lilian Dafeamekpor is a Ghanaian and currently the Assistant to the Executive Director at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.

JOHN P. FRINJUAH

John P. Frinjuah has expertise and interests in civil society, international development, democracy and governance, conflict, crisis, and security. He has extensive experience working with civil society and international development organizations where he supported and managed research, programmes, and provided technical assistance on a variety of themes around public policy, governance, and development. He is an alumnus of the University of Ghana and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy - Tufts University in the United States, with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from two institutions respectively. John speaks English, French and several Ghanaian and regional West Africa languages.

GERVIN CHANASE

Gervin has extensive international development experience, including 5 years of policy advocacy and capacity building of grass root organisations. He has implemented over the years a combination of agriculture value chain, livelihood, food security and governance and rights programmes.
Prior to joining WACSI, Gervin worked on two USAID projects focusing on agriculture value chain development and governance in northern Ghana
Gervin holds a master’s degree in development & Governance from the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany as well as a Masters in Global Studies from the Universities of Vienna (Austria), Leipzig (Germany) and California (Santa Barbara), USA. He is passionate social justice and inclusion.

LEANDRE BANON

Leandre Banon, Beninese, joined WACSI in September 2014 as Capacity Development Programme Assistant. Since then, he has worked in various units within the Institute to support operational and institutional capacity strengthening programmes for civil society in the region. Currently serving as Capacity Development Programme Officer at WACSI, his main responsibilities involve designing, planning, implementing and monitoring capacity development programmes for civil society constituents and grouping across the West Africa. Leandre is a certified Change the Game Academy Programme Trainer. His background lies in the areas of economics and development planning.

SAMUEL APPIAH

Samuel Appiah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Officer in the Finance and Administrative Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in May, 2016.

JIMM CHICK FOMUNJONG

Jimm Chick Fomunjong, Cameroonian, joined WACSI in May 2018 as the Head of the Knowledge Management and Communication Units of the Institute. He has over ten years’ experience as a journalist and a development communications expert. He has a vast experience in supporting African organisations to strengthen their internal and external communications, building and sustaining relationships with the media and, leveraging on the power of social media to promote their mission. He is also excellent at supporting organisations to set up and operationalise functional communications and knowledge management systems. He has a deep passion and expertise in supporting Africans and African civil society organisations to document their praxis, share and learn from experiences documented from the African civil society sector.

FRANCK A. SOMBO

Franck Sombo is a development practitioner with the drive to lead self and others to influence productivity and efficiency. His work involves supporting organisations to develop strategic plans, design monitoring and evaluation systems, develop and use relevant performance measurement tools to track progress, assess organizational growth and institutionalise learning. Franck has eight years of experience working with WACSI where he currently serves as the Head, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning. His academic qualifications include Masters in Organisations’ and Projects’ Management, and in Business Sciences and a High National Diploma in Finance and Accounting.

Franck is a Fellow of the International Program for Development Evaluation Training (IPDET) and a graduate of the Graduate Training Institute (GTI) - Ghana with specialization in Strategic Management and Corporate Leadership. He has a rich experience in Project Management, Capacity Development, Strategic planning, Data Analytics, Monitoring and Evaluation, Training and Facilitation, Mentoring and Coaching among others.

OMOLARA T. BALOGUN

Omolara is a development practitioner and advocacy strategist with over 15 years of progressive experience in development programming targeted at strengthening civil society in West Africa.

She joined WACSI in November 2009 as a Regional Advocacy Consultant and later became the first Policy Advocacy Officer of the Institute in 2010.

She was promoted to Head of the Policy Influencing and Advocacy (PIA) Unit in 2015. As the Head of the PIA unit, Omolara offers strategic direction to the Institutes’ ambitions to connect and convene groups of organised and organic civil society actors; and influence regional and global discourses on crosscutting policy issues including—civil society regulations, sustainable development goals, civic space and enabling environment, aid effectiveness, gender equality, and civil society accountability.

Previously, Omolara served as a Programmes Associate with the Women in Peace and Security Network-Africa (WIPSEN-Africa), where she worked with her team to design and implement pan-African programmes on—multidimensional peace support operations and gender mainstreaming in security sector reform in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

She also served as a Service Development Marshal at TVQ Consulting Group, a customer service firm focused on designing strategic customer relationship and business growth plans for private and public financial institutions in Nigeria.

Omolara is a social justice advocate, a network weaver, and a convener. She has a postgraduate degree in Peace and Conflict Studies; a degree in International Relations and History, from the University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria respectively.

She also holds executive certificates in Behavioral Science in Public Policy from Harvard University Executive Education in Cambridge and in Citizen Advocacy from the Coady International Institute, St Francis Xavier University in Canada.

KWABENA KRODUAH

Kwabena Kroduah is a Ghanaian and currently heads the Finance Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in January 2008.

CHARLES KOJO VANDYCK

Charles currently serves as the Head of the Capacity Development Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). Charles has over 10 years of experience working in international development and social justice issues in Africa. Charles has expertise in strengthening civil society and public agencies including the design and implementation of governance and leadership programmes, development of knowledge pieces and policy advice. Charles was the founding Board Chair of Innovation for Change (i4C)-Hub Afrique, as well as the founding member of the International Consortium on Closing Civic Space (iCon), an initiative of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC. Charles currently serves as the Member of the Governing Board (Coordination Collective) of Africans Rising. He is a Member of the Development Studies Association, United Kingdom. Charles is a 2017 Stanford University Fellow for Nonprofit Leaders and a certified Change the Game Resource Mobilisation Trainer.

NANA ASANTEWA AFADZINU

Nana Afadzinu is a Ghanaian and currently serves as the Executive Director of the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2010.