When I first came into post as executive director of ChildHope, in 2011, I had a meeting in a Shoreditch sourdough pizza place, one that has long since become insolvent, with one of our trustees who’d recently joined ChildHope too.
We chewed over the changing development world and, with the freedom of having just arrived and our optimism not yet tainted by the realities of the day-to-day, dreamed up ways to make the world a more equal place.
We’d both been attracted to ChildHope by its dedication to establish development programmes using local expertise, led by communities’ experiences and ideas. Driven by an urge to secure a better future for seriously exploited and abused children, the leaders of ChildHope’s partner organisations worked long, hard hours to invest in this change, often making huge personal and financial sacrifices.
Recognising value and opportunities
Who wouldn’t be able to see the value of these partners’ work and recognise them as champions in the world of children’s rights? How great would it be if we could work with them to share their knowledge of working with children to improve their lives?
Even better if we could find a way to use all of this to make money for our development programmes in a different way. Working together across countries and continents to strengthen a body of knowledge in child-focused programming. Selling our expertise and investing profits back into our programmes.
Sadly, back in the real world, where results frameworks, compliance, accountability, reports, assessments and audits were all heavily weighted towards financial due diligence, there was little room for dreams. Protecting children was less of a priority than protecting public money.
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ChildHope, like many other organisations, exhausts its resources on daily delivery and responding to requirements. These pressures leave few organisations with space to breathe, let alone dream. And the competition that has been generated by fewer resources, with more hoops to jump through in the process of securing precious funding, hardly conjures a community spirit. Our dreams remained confined to our imaginations.
This changed in 2018. The safeguarding revelations that hit many organisations in the development sector woke everyone up to the importance of ensuring the children and adults we work with are safe and protected. Suddenly, the expertise that had previously been sidelined was very much in demand.
If we didn’t act now, it would never happen.
Building the South2South Safeguarding Consultancy
We secured a one-year grant to work with six of our partners in Africa and Asia to develop an international safeguarding consultancy. The partners’ commitment and enthusiasm to work together was beyond expectations and the investment was invaluable to build a solid platform, giving us space to breathe and turn our dreams into plans.
A year and a half on, the South2South Safeguarding Consultancy Network is formed and we’re doing business. We’re still growing and there are many challenges. The shift needed to make a group of international development professionals think like business consultants should not be underestimated. We need to learn to become tougher negotiators and insist on a fair fee for our work, if we are to make the money needed to reinvest in our programmes.
This means changing the mind sets of colleagues. We are still faced with people who question the expertise of our southern partners and place a lower value on their skills, experience and expertise than they would on a UK-based consultant.
And, in spite of everything that happened in 2018, few have the money to make the investment. Organisations can’t change their policy, practice, knowledge, culture and values via a half-day workshop at bargain-bin rates, but we get a lot of requests for this kind of magic solution.
Making a profit still feels like a distant dream but we are committed to the journey because, above everything else, we believe in the business we’re trying to build. In the development sector, we’re often asked “what does success look like?” If we can make our South2South Network a success, African and Asian safeguarding experts will be recognised as such, our programmes will be stronger, and many more children and adults will be safer. That’s what it’ll look like for us, and we think it’s worth all our efforts.
Find out how ChildHope and other organisations are using hybrid business models and partnerships to generate income at our Funding for Development Conference on 7 October 2019.