People reading board at BOND Conference 2019

3 reflections on today’s NGO sector

I joined Bond because of our members’ amazing work and progress on some of the world’s trickiest challenges.

One of my core values is “contribution” or making an impact and I want to be part of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the “decade of delivery”.

The UK sector is a beacon for development and humanitarianism, showing leadership like the UK’s creative industries. An outward looking set of organisations to be proud of and to nurture into the future. One that I could bring a fresh perspective to.

So in my first three months, what am I seeing and learning from the nearly 50 members, funders and other stakeholders I have met? How are my expectations and assumptions being affirmed or challenged?

Embattled, but never beaten

Firstly, it’s no secret that UK international development is in a tough place right now. We have been hit hard by the safeguarding revelations and are constantly being buffeted by challenges to the aid budget, DFID’s independence and public support for our cause. The sector feels embattled, but never beaten. It shows the strength and resilience needed from people working on the world’s hardest problems.

I have been impressed by the commitment to learn from the revelations around sexual exploitation in 2018. I’ve seen Bond at its best, bringing the sector together to drive progress on this commitment and improve practice across the sector. We need to maintain the momentum, to really tackle the power imbalances that underpin sexual exploitation and harassment, working with local partners, government and funders to do this.

We need a bigger shift

Secondly, there’s a maelstrom of issues facing the sector. This won’t be news to any of you – we discussed it at the Bond Conference and it comes up at every meeting. From politics to power, localisation to climate change, the way development is done is under pressure.

The level of disruption that we are experiencing is talked about a lot, but we need more concerted efforts to take control of that change as a whole. There are pockets like the Campaign for Aid and Development focused on mobilising public support and many of the Bond Groups.

But are we missing a trick here? When a sector is in flux there is a dynamism that can be harnessed for new opportunities across the whole system. Take the localisation agenda. This is imperative, even more so with the new secretary of state’s focus on the need for local people to take forward solutions that work for them. There are lots of agencies finding their own path. But if we want to really shift the power, we need to rethink our own power, and experiment and learn more collectively and urgently. As Amanda Mukwashi from Christian Aid said at our conference, “we can do the right thing, or the easy thing. We need real creativity in terms of transfer of resources”. For me that creativity is about making a bigger shift – looking at the system more fully and finding the acupuncture points that are going to unlock more profound solutions.

Tackling a triple emergency

Thirdly, I have arrived at a time when the challenges of climate change, environmental degradation, poverty and injustice are coming together in earnest. Having started my life in conservation and spent a good chunk bringing change to the energy and food system, my worlds have come together.

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This is critical for development and is central to the SDGs. Bond’s recent report highlights gaps where the UK government needs to prioritise investment across all the SDGs. I am impressed by the momentum that is building.

Bringing these agendas together can create genuine win-wins, as our recent podcast explored. I hope we can be joined up enough to respond to the triple emergency and work across and beyond the sector to drive the urgency, innovation and scale that is needed.

Looking forward

The first few months have been a whirl. I have appreciated the welcome from so many of you. I look forward to finding ways that Bond can support the big change that needs to happen to drive the sector forward.

At Bond, we want to support our members to work smarter so that you can spend more time and energy getting on with helping make the world a better place. If this is truly going to be a decade of delivery on the SDGs, we need all hands on deck. We need to focus on the power, the people and the partnerships to make that happen.