North South Exchange

EMOTIVE is an initiative of OXFAM NOVIB that promotes North South cooperation between and among civil society organizations. The EMOTIVE intention is ‘to facilitate learning for Dutch organizations to learn from people and organizations in developing countries, from their work forms, and specific projects’.

This article mirrors on my personal experience of the exchange programme between Training for Transformation (TfT) and Context, international Cooperation (in short: Context). The article provides a brief of the exchange process, and a historical summary of the organizations that participated in the exchange. Further, the piece also highlights the socio economic factors that motivated TfT to participate in the exchange. I conclude the article by underlining some of the most significant lessons and recommendations that could improve future exchange programmes.

Exchange process
The TfT and Context exchange programme was carried out in two phases: First phase, two representatives from TfT South Africa visited the Netherlands. During their visit the two interacted with Context staff, facilitated two one day workshops with selected civil society delegates, and with participants of the Context Master Class at Utrecht. The purpose of the workshops was to share the TfT facilitation tools and methods.

Second phase, two colleagues from the Netherlands visited TfT in South Africa. During which they facilitated sessions on social business with 24 participants of the TfT 2012 class drawn from eight countries; South Africa, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Portugal, Nigeria, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

Context, international cooperation and TfT Synoptic Background
In his (2011) article ‘Social Business a Novel Approach to Social and Political Change’ published in book ‘New Approaches to International Development Cooperation’ Fons van Velden summarised the primary purpose of social business as an act of bringing about change in the lives of people, promotes change and power equation. He also notes that social business intends to generate revenue through business enterprise to support social mission. Context’s mission is to improve the performance of individuals, organizations and businesses that deliver social change. Context is made of professionals who use social business principles to promote social change in order to combat poverty, resist exclusion and encounter violations of human rights. Van Velden is the founder and director of Context based in Utrecht in the Netherlands. For more information check their website:

TfT is a development training approach that seeks to promote a new level of leadership in development education whose theory is grounded in practice. TfT was initiated through development education leadership training in action [DELTA] during the 70s in Kenya by Anne Hope and Sally Timmel co-authors of the four TfT manuals ‘Training for Transformation; a hand book for community development’. The training is based on these four manuals and hosted at The Grail Centre Trust based in Kleinmond South Africa. TfT seeks to empower teams of trainers from development organizations with skills, tools and methods that enhance their capacity to enable communities own and control development programmes that impact their livelihoods. The first TfT diploma course was launched in 2002. Since its launch 333 development practitioners from 21 countries of Europe, Asia, America and Africa participated in the courses. For more information visit the TfT website

South Africa a developing country and the fate of NGOs
Funding from developed countries into South Africa started diminishing since 2007. The reduction of funding could be attributed to two factors; a) South Africa is ranked among developing countries, consequently developed countries shift from development to investment. b) The world economic recession impacted negatively on South African Non Governmental Organizations (NGDs) because most of their operations were 100 per cent dependent on external aid. Notwithstanding the fact that NGOs contribute up 30 per cent of civil service work, especially in advocacy and campaign for social justice, the government budgets could not support these institutions. The financial crisis of NG0s was underscored by chairperson of the Western Cape NGO coalition David Classen when he said that, ”there is a looming crisis in the civil society sector in South Africa if nothing is done urgently we may see key organizations in the sector suffer catastrophic consequences in the next year if not earlier. This is already happening.” Even if TfT did not close down, it was not spared from the effects of the crisis.

TfT was 100 per cent sustained through external funding from developed countries. The DELTA process was launched through the Catholic Church with support of catholic founded donor organizations from the north. A study carried out by Francis Mulwa after ten years concluded that the TfT DELTA process had reached 3 million people in Northern Kenya. Four reasons could have attributed to the rapid spread of TfT; a) TfT was rooted in the church, both lay people and priests attended the training. The church is a place of hope for the majority of the rural people especially in Africa. b) The training was fully sponsored organizations had to second people to attend the courses. c) The training combines theory and practice. Participants are assigned to apply the learning in their work within the organizations and communities. d) The training facilitation is dialogical it taps on the knowledge and skills of the participants. After more than 30 years of development education, TfT experienced the first financial plunge in 2007. It is against this background that when an opportunity for exchange with Context was communicated, I envisioned a learning experience that would inspire TfT to explore strategies to generate income through its services.

The conceptual framework of TfT
TfT model is influenced by key insights from Paulo Freire’s philosophy of adult education. He suggested that development can be best practiced if practitioners take time to listen to issues that trigger people’s emotions. ‘Feelings are facts’. He emphasised that the challenge for development activists is how to engage people in dialogues that increase their capacity to identify problems and find solutions. ‘Reading their reality and writing their own history’. Freire notes that humans are not empty objects to be filled with knowledge by those that claim to poses or own it. They are subjects who are capable of acting upon their realities and changing their situation for the better. He also pointed out that education is an expression of freedom as such it is not neutral, education either liberates or keeps people functioning within the system. The synergy between TfT and Context is the drive for alternatives that economically empower people and enhance their capacity to participate in decision making structures and process that impact their lives.

Renowned writers and thinkers such as Steven Covey and Adam Kahan support Freire’s insights by underlining that people need to find their voices, identify their source of ‘power’ and ‘love’. Covey defined ‘voice’ as purpose or calling. He suggested that when people find their ‘voice’ they uncover their talents and maximise their potential. Adam Kahan emphasises the need to bridge ‘power ‘the energy to act, with ‘love’, the ability to connect with others. The three authors seem to imply that people have within them unlimited potential. We can only facilitate processes that assist them to find their purpose, unleash their potential, intrinsic wisdom and knowledge as they unfold into society. This notion of belonging is succinctly articulated in Ken Wilber’s book ‘a brief history of everything’ (1996) whose proposition is that humans do not only unfold but they also enfold from the outer society and environment to nurture their internal growth. Wilber notes three levels of belonging as; a) ‘I’ consciousness and, b) ‘We’ the space community of spirit that pivots on morally and culturally accepted worldviews. c) ‘It’ the domain of objects and things…’ He warns that to neglect the development of individual consciousness is the same as to curbing individual inner growth, and consequently the growth of the organization, community and society at large. My comprehension of this process is, that life is a dance of the tensions between the individual and the collective in search of identity and calling. I do believe that the search for meaning could inspire partnership between and among organizations from the North and South. The exchange process may challenge organizations to unfold into and enfold from each other’s practice. My suggestion here is that the motivation for cooperation between organizations emanates from the willingness to learn, embrace and celebrate diversity as they journey.

The preceding background outlines the basis of my discussion reflecting on the experiences in the search for appropriate responses to the TfT financial challenges. Contentious discussions were characteristic of the team conversations with regard to financial sustainability. The decisions ranged from cutting the number of international facilitators, and approaching sending organizations for contributions towards the training of their staff. The former was compromised, but the latter was not easily acceptable ‘the organizations are poor’ ‘if we put a tariff to the course we will leave the main beneficiaries on the periphery.’ By 2009 we had no option but ask sending organizations to cover all the transport costs. The pleasant surprise for us was that the organizations paid. Thereafter we introduced a tariff for board and tuition to which organizations still paid. This response was encouraging to investigate the potential that TfT could have as a social business in development education. It was for this reason that TfT was inspired to participate in the exchange programme entitled ‘Communities of Practice‘, with Context.

Commendable benefits from the exchange TfT include; i) Re packaging TfT into Introduction Courses. The income secured from the Introduction Courses is used to support the staff and subsidize participants from organizations that are not able to pay but focus on community empowerment programmes for socio-economic and political justice. ii) Organize cluster funding for countries within the SADC region. This is a process during which TfT develops proposals with country teams to be supported by development agencies to participate in the Courses. iii) Increase tariffs TfT courses for organizations that can pay. iv) TfT participants who attend the social business session in 2012 (that was contributed by Context) applied social business principles in their organizations’ work. For instance Women on Farms Project in the Western Cape engaged farm women in income earning activities through organic gardens. (See the quote.)

‘I now sell some of the vegetables that I grow to pay fees for the education of my children. My health has improved I do not have problems with high blood pressure because I eat healthy food from my garden.’

NGOs in the South especially Africa’s budget for development aid from North was reduced probably because the funding wells of the North are drying. Perhaps we need to ask questions and see if we can live into answers. Is there a new way of establishing development co-operation between the civil society organizations in the South and the North? What are the synergies that draw the organizations together? What bridges do they need to cross? What are the experiences and gifts they bring to the table to share with each other? Could the experiences be shared as income earning activities?

One among the underlined purpose of the North south civil society dialogue held in Nairobi 2007 was defined as; ‘linking citizens of North – South through development education’. My interpretation of the experience is that the process could help participating organizations to learn from each other’s practice, share skills, methods and tools.

Breman (1997) cited in van Velden’s ‘New Approaches to Development Co-operation’ noted that development aid given to the poor countries in recent decades was a bridge between two errors ; colonial and a world economy fashioned after capitalism. Writing this article after the global economic crisis, I am prompted to think that Breman might have been grappling with the impact of development aid on the future of NGOs in the South vis –a – vis North. My supposition could be totally wrong, but I challenge us to explore Breman’s ‘between errors’ of our times.

Maybe we need to investigate some of the observations that Moyo (2009) made in her publication ‘Dead Aid’ that in the aid process ‘poor people from Africa are seen as children who cannot do things for themselves unless they are guided or shown ‘how to’ by people or organizations from developed countries. Not undermining the impact of development aid in social sectors such as education and health which is highly commendable especially in Africa. Moyo’s suggestion may be presented as a threefold biological metaphor; a) develop ‘poor people’ from b) poverty ‘childhood’ into ‘adulthood’ prosperity. NGOs in Africa are challenged to explore new ways of being, seeing and doing development outside the cage of development aid. We need to question our actions juxtaposed to Moyo’s critic of ‘AID’. How equal are the cooperation initiatives between North and South organizations? What are the pillars of these corroborative efforts? What are parameters and indicators of the partnerships between North and South NGOs in the practice of development cooperation? For instance, In TfT and Context exchange programme?

The contractual agreement was between the North and funding partner who also happened to be from the North.

The terms of reference of the process were also drawn between the Northern organisation and the funding partner in consultation with the Southern partner.

The Northern partner was accountable to the funding partner.

The Southern partner was accountable to the Northern partner.

From the above I am reminded of van Velden’s (2011) suggestion that, “The concept of development, and its related policies and approaches, as held by Northern hemisphere agencies is closely linked to the historical and cultural context of the North. The contemporary dominant development paradigm is a direct emanation from modern Western pattern of thought and action, and is often rooted in deep belief of the supremacy of people in the North.” From the underlined conditions of the exchange the Southern partner TfT could not be perceived as a peer participant. The dilemma for me could be further discussed through conversations guided by some of the following questions; how could the exchange process be redesigned and redefined as a peer learning? Are there any key lessons from the process that could enhance the capacity of the organizations to learn from each other? How can we live ourselves into finding answers?

Possibilities for the future
I feel compelled to suggest that the missing link between ‘aid’ and ‘development’ could explored through insights from Peter Block (2009) ‘Community the Structure of Belonging’ in this book Block proposes that possibilities help us to tape on the gifts that every person could bring to the table, by bringing the gifts to the table we form associations and define new relationships. I would like to put forward in this piece of writing that civil society organizations could also be defined as ‘communities of intent’. It is the ‘intention’ that leads to the formation of NGOs. From this point of view NGOs, might be defined as ‘communities’. The conceptual intentions of civil societies from the North and South could possibly be corroborative. However, we are cautioned by van Velden’s (2011) that, “agencies (in this article refers to NGOs) from the North and South have very often not succeeded in working together as equal partners.” Further, he referred to various studies pointing out that development cooperation has more limitations than suggested in official languages. My experience of the exchange could be concluded by underscoring the following significant learning points:

From the engagement with Context TfT is repackaging the training approach. The Introduction Courses are offered to organization for negotiated and agreed prices. This is a new approach of doing TfT calls for further conversations with Context on tariff setting with larger institutions such as churches.

The process is as important as the product for this reason exchange programmes need to create more space for conversations, clarify roles and responsibilities.

Although communication through internet saves time, documents such as contractual agreements should be shared between partners.

Both TfT and Context had profound development expertise to share, the partners could have benefitted from sharing expectations of process to establish common understanding prior to the exchange.

Time and labour are important assets of the organizations, there is need to establish understanding of the implications for exchange process within environment of each participating partner.

While the North South exchange was very stimulating, more critical reflection is needed on the power relations between North and South, and the concept based on equity.
Kleinmond, May, 2013
Block P. 2008.Community the Structure of Belonging Berrett-Koehler Publishers San Francisco, CA

Covey S. R. 2004 8th Habit from Effectiveness to Greatness, Simon Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, 11th Fl New York, NY 10020

Freire P. 2000 Pedagogy of the Oppressed Bloomsbury Academic 175, New York NY 10010

Kahan A. 2010 Power and Love Berrett Koehler Publishers San Francisco, CA

Moyo D. 2009 Dead Aid Farrar, Straus and Giroux 18 West 18th St New York

Van Velden F. 2011, New Approaches to Development Co-operation, Context International Development Cooperation Utrecht

Wilber K. 1996 A brief History of Everything Shambhala Publications, Horticultural Hall 300 Massachusetts Avenue Boston, MA 02115


By Talent Ntombi Nyathi