Bond Annual Conference visual minutes for the Transform strand
Bond Annual Conference visual minutes for the Transform strand

5 takeaways from Bond Conference 2021

Over 3,000 people from over 80 countries joined us last week for our first ever online Bond Conference.

We had 99 diverse speakers from NGOs, donors, civil society movements and government who came together to interrogate the future of the international development sector in the wake of Covid-19 and the UK’s changing role in the world.

The week covered the systemic issues in international development by providing thought-provoking sessions to people all over the world. Here are some learnings we walked away with.

1. We have the power to change our models

Not only are our organisations going through change, but so is our whole sector, especially when it comes to funding. Integrity Action’s Jasmina Haynes and Send a Cow’s Rowena Warren shared how they are working to change business processes and cultures to adapt from how things have been done before.

We need to change how we work with government donors, by exploring new approaches to funding through social enterprises and innovative finance. Moving to online events can be successful for fundraising, so being open to adapting how we deliver activities will be vital for our future sustainability.

This also means exploring what evidence for programming and assessing success looks like. We need to decolonise evidence and evaluation by centring indigenous communities’ learnings, which may look very different to what we know. We don’t have to wait for funders or governments to change their requirements. We can start to change monitoring and learning in our organisations and work now.

2. Opportunities to influence lie ahead

On our Influence day, we heard about how to tackle the climate emergency together. “The scale of the change needed and the opportunities in front of us mean we are called to bring the best of ourselves to the table,” as Wanjira Mathai from World Resources Institute said

Even in difficult and uncertain times, we as global civil society were able to effect real change, as we heard in our session on campaigning during coronavirus. We must continue to advocate for change and recognise that civil society activism still has a vital role to play during and after the pandemic.

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We also explored the politicised language we use and colonial narratives we perpetuate. We must start painting a different picture of international development and those who we seek to help.

3. Everyone, especially leaders, must continue learning

On our Lead day, we were invited to dream of a different type of future from UNDP’s Aarathi Krishnan, Pontso Mafethe from African Women’s Development Fund and sustainable development researcher Jonathan Glennie: a future that is couched in fairness, justice and recognition of our problematic past. This vision is possible if we move forward in collective action.

We heard of the balancing act it takes for today’s leaders to look outside of their organisations while changing things from the inside. CEOs need to recognise that their leadership is personal: we can only change what we do if we change ourselves, because the way that leaders do things is dictated by the way they are as people. This came out in our safeguarding session, which highlighted that cultural change is a long road we must all walk, but we need to take the first step.

Ian Shapiro from Reall reminded us of a wise quote from Rumi: “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” We must all be open to life-long learning to have the impact that we want.

4. We need to reconnect in solidarity and act now to transform

We need to remember that we hold power, and that comes through in the work that we deliver. When we share stories and images from projects, we must remember that that content does not belong to us. NGOs are merely holding people’s stories for a time and we need to recognise the power we hold in that situation, so getting truly-informed consent is vital for more ethical storytelling.

Marking the year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, we opened up the conversation about racial representation in the UK development sector. It’s clear that we need to recognise that, as feminist activist Lusungu Kalanga put it, “it’s not enough to acknowledge there is racism and feel sorry, it’s about what we are going to do about it and how we will track this change”.

To truly transform, global organisations need to reconnect with social movements, civil society groups under pressure, marginalised and racialised communities, and people living in poverty globally. Only then can we realise a shared vision with solidarity at the heart of transformation.

5. We need to actively listen and understand

Our Listen day was devised and led by practitioners from low- and middle-income countries. We heard from communities in Mongolia, Nepal, India, Africa, Peru, Colombia and the Philippines.

Our host for the day was gender equality activist, Hope Chigudu, who reminded us that it is not enough to passively listen in international development. We must actively try to understand the experiences and expertise of communities overseas. We must listen with humility and acknowledge the power dynamics at play. We must also recognise that listening is a political power, recognising our privilege in shifting power and resources, despite the best intentions.

By listening well, we can build a future that embraces human rights, inclusion and community knowledge. We need to change our actions now to shape the future of development. As Arundhati Roy says: “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Check out the visual minutes for each of the five conference days here.