Pathways to Power Symposium: Reflections on #ShiftThePower


Stefan Cibian


Powerful life stories and transformative ideas make the Symposium a highlight in understanding and transforming the dysfunctional global aid and economic systems. Development assistance and community philanthropy are rarely brought together, although they are both practices aimed at improving the wellbeing of communities around the world. The Symposium succeeded in doing so by convening a good number of professionals from the two fields and showed how much development assistance could learn from the many practices in community philanthropy. In this short contribution, I highlight two key take-aways that stay with me after the event. The first relates to a key dysfunctionality of the aid sector and the second to prerequisites needed for indeed Shifting the Power.

The aid system is perceived to retain colonial and oppressive practices, that render it both misguided and ineffective. The significant distance between development policy prescriptions and local realities in many developing countries is showing both the unwillingness and the incapacity of aid institutions and organisations to detach themselves from western conceptual frames, modes of understanding, and knowledge in order to become relevant for local contexts around the world. It also shows the inability to connect to and accommodate non-western modes of thinking and being, in order to enable owned development to occur.

That significant gap brings another important drawback. It focuses our attention on development failure, dysfunctional communities, and dysfunctional global systems. It distracts us from actually seeing the strength, power, and engagement of local forms of community life that despite aid manage to maintain their respective communities in existence. That is why the GFCF’s initiative is timely and most like to lead to transformative outcomes.

Can #ShiftThePower happen? I think it already happens with every changed practice of professionals working in these two fields and with every encounter where inequality is transcended. Also, new generations embedded in a world transformed by technology expose an increased eagerness to transform traditional forms of organisation. Whether the new emerging system is one where power shifts for creating a more equitable world or not is still uncertain, it is however a great window of opportunity to #ShiftThePower.

Stefan Cibian Ph.D is Executive Director at Făgăraș Research Institute

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