Where will we go from here? Reflections from the starting line.

Global Leadership Academy
3 min readSep 25, 2023
The journey has just begun (Photo by Matt Duncan on Unsplash)

We have arrived at the precipice. What comes from this point on will be a shared decision — do we leap off the edge, do we step back from it, do we build a bridge to the other side.

Over the last 18 months, a small group of people at AVPN has been tinkering with an idea — what if we collapse all the layers of resource, information, language and knowledge asymmetry in the philanthropy eco-system and create a space where all of these (and more) flow freely? Would this be welcomed, is it necessary, does it exist (except we don’t know about it), will it bring us closer to the change we seek?

We have invested in this process because it is clear the current systems are not working fast enough or hard enough for tangible, long-term socioeconomic and environmental change. When the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were first revealed, William Easterly famously said they were so vague, the acronym “might as well stand for “Some Development Goals.” “ The SDGs were an attempt to double-down on their predecessor, the Millenium Development Goals, which were also a doubling-down on previous U.N Goals. The disillusionment of those who have been in the field through these efforts has only solidified over time. Today the annual SDG funding gap has close to doubled to an estimated USD 4.2 trillion, developing countries are facing unprecedented borrowing costs, and many governments are in deep debt. Closer to the ground, non-profits and community-led organisations struggle to find funding and support, and have started to compromise on their autonomy in order to keep supporting the communities they care about. We need to change this status-quo in order to achieve the systems-level change that we seek.

In 2022, Guardian columnist George Monbiot wrote in an article about extreme weather change that mainstream environmental movements had been “playing patience” while “power has been playing poker”. The same could be said in many other contexts — economic inequality, access to jobs, gender at the workplace, health & nutrition. The implicit sentiment is that systems change is too big, too difficult and will take too long. That people are more comfortable with small steps. But those of us working in the philanthropic eco-system would probably agree with Monbiot — “the problem is that incrementalism is too small an ask.” If we go slow, we will never be able to shift norms, we will always be fighting against the headwinds of opposition, we will always be adapting.

Today is the start of a journey. AVPN has invited leaders from eight countries including Indonesia, Brazil, South Africa, India, Japan, Singapore, Germany and Brussels to discuss how we can start the movement for change together. We will spend this week discussing how to shift norms towards collective learning — from South to South, South to North, as well as North to South. We will consider what we need to learn, unlearn and probably even relearn, in working towards a shared desire for change. We will explore what it means for those who have not traditionally had a voice at the decision making table, to suddenly have one. In reverse what it feels like for those who traditionally have had the loudest voice, start to share that space.

No one at AVPN has the answers, nor do we have authority on where this discussion leads. In the preparation for this first shared moment, we too have questioned every prevailing process, methodology, assumption and approach in order to create an environment where everyone feels welcomed equally. Was that the right approach — I don’t know — but it was one way, and we will share that experience as we seek collective wisdom this week on how we move forward together

-Reflections of Roshini Prakash Nair, Chief Knowledge Officer, AVPN

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Global Leadership Academy

The Global Leadership Academy aims to transform current learning and power dynamics within the impact space in the Global South