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Three lessons on shifting power in the age of Zoom meetings

08 January 2021

By

Kulsoom Khan

Three lessons on shifting power in the age of Zoom meetings

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3 min read

In 2020, the pandemic pushed technology to the forefront of our lives. Nonetheless, it also created spaces for new learning and approaches to our work.

For non-profits like us who partner with community-based organisations around the world, we had to adapt to new ways of operating to ensure that the voices of grassroots leaders and community members stay at the forefront of our work. Here are some of the lessons that we learnt along the way.

A boy participates in an APON Foundation program in Bangladesh. APON works with children, their families, and their communities to promote basic rights such as education, health, and hygiene for working children.

1. Shifting power is an intentional process and requires work

Shifting power to grassroots leaders, their communities, and the young people they serve is central to our work – but figuring out the best way to do this can be a challenge, especially during a pandemic.

When we held our first virtual South Asia partner convening focused on building community ownership around anti-trafficking, it meant that we could invite our global staff and partner organizations to attend. Without the normal constraints of traditional convenings, we could also host the convening in short sessions over multiple weeks.

We, however, realised that it was harder to adapt our design and facilitation methodologies even with all of these new possibilities. We had to ask ourselves, “How are we shifting the power through this convening, and to whom?” This question, asked at numerous points during the planning process, paved the road to more honest internal conversations and one more layer of understanding.

We assumed that we were shifting the power by inviting all staff members from partner organizations, but conferences can be daunting places for many to proactively engage, and mass invitations are not enough to guarantee active participation. If we really wanted the voices of the staff members from our partner organizations – and, eventually, the community members – to be heard, we needed to build their confidence in using Zoom, and give them opportunities to practice their presentations in small, safe spaces.

2. Invest in technological support to bridge the divide

Technology can unite us – but also remains a big divider.

While we were really excited when we could welcome more virtual participants than ever before to our workshops, we soon realized that participants in rural parts of India and Bangladesh struggled to gain decent access to stable Wi-Fi, and were using personal data plans to participate in the convening. This served as a lesson for us to take forward for future convenings: we have to ensure technological costs don’t remain a barrier to active participation. Too many grassroots voices struggle to be heard due to systemic barriers that take years to undo. Access to technology is an easier barrier to overcome and can be tackled through more dedicated funding for technological upgrades, which is particularly important as the nature of work has so rapidly moved online.

3. Reflect often, listen carefully, and adapt quickly

Each day of our virtual convening ended in a partner-led reflection on what worked and what could be done better. As we heard participants articulate the importance of trust, particularly in online spaces, as key to honest exchanges of knowledge and opinions, we made sure that there was ample time dedicated to small, unstructured breakout spaces for deeper discussions, more personal sharing, and trust-building activities. While we collectively reflected that online convenings are no substitute for in-person meetings, they can lead to lasting relationships built on shared values and a common purpose, when facilitated effectively.

Children raise their hands during an APON Foundation program. APON provides education to child laborers in Bangladesh.

GFC is focused on shifting power to grassroots leaders, young people, and local communities, and creating regenerative systems that change the philanthropic landscape. We recognize that shifting power – between donors and grantees, between adults and young people, between governmental and nongovernmental entities, among community members – requires intentionality and persistence. We believe that equitable relationships should be the foundation for any effective collaborative effort, now and in the future, as we all seek to create a world where all children and youth enjoy equal resources and opportunities in society, and live free from violence, discrimination, and exploitation.

References

A. Environmental Stewardship
To protect the environment, we organize programmes like mangrove nursery and Reforestation, Coastal and River Clean-Up, Community Based Environmental Solid Waste Management, Environmental IEC Campaign and Eco-Academy

B. Food Security and Sustainable Livelihood
To ensure a sustainable livelihood for the community, eco-tourism include Buhatan River Cruise Visitor Center Buhatan River Mangrove Boardwalk are run by the community. Others include Organic Vegetable and Root crops Farming, Vegetable and Root crops Chips and by-products Processing and establishing a Zero waste store.

C. Empowered Communities
To empower the community, we provide product and Agri-Enterprise Development Training, Immersion and Learnings Exchange Program, Earth Warrior Training and Community Based Social Entrepreneurship Training

Author

Kulsoom Khan

Kulsoom Khan leads Global Fund for Children?s strategic planning, grantmaking, and capacity building in Asia. Kulsoom has extensive experience in social innovation and a deep commitment to developing creative interventions for child protection and empowerment. Prior to joining GFC, Kulsoom led several initiatives at Ashoka, including managing global relations with Asia offices, developing the Global Fellow Security program, and expanding Ashoka in Pakistan. Kulsoom also helped launch the Child Rights Initiative with Vision, a Pakistani citizen sector organization that increases awareness of child abuse and develops child protection interventions, and she currently serves on its Board. She also serves on the Board of Accountability Labs, an international nonprofit that enables good governance by supporting active citizens, responsible leaders, and accountable institutions.

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