Written by Mission Talent Team

How can NGOs and social movements work together to make real and long-lasting change?

Various protest signs of black fists in the air arranged against a wall.

As a global executive search firm, Mission Talent is in the business of having in-depth conversations with people from all over the world. In the spirit of connecting global leaders, we recently held a digital event on how NGOs and social movements can work together.

Recent social unrest has opened doors for change, but to remain relevant and impactful, NGOs must connect and keep working closely with social movements. This requires speed, agility, and vision, which can be hard to do within traditional organisational structures.

To discuss some of the challenges and opportunities that arise from working with social movements, we were joined by Anabella Rosemberg, International Programme Director at Greenpeace International in France; Avijit Michael, Executive Director at Jhatkaa.org in India, and Alejandra Bravo, Director of Leadership and Training at the Broadbent Institute in Canada. Here are a few of the themes that stood out from the very rich discussion:

“Enter and find yourself within, and find out what is your contribution, or step out.”
A social movement is defined as a moment with a huge level of action by people who are not usually activists. For an NGO in this space, it is challenging because there is the temptation to exert control and create structure. NGOs must manage their expectations, and decide whether they are part of the movement or not. They must embrace chaos and make themselves useful in a way that is movement generous, without the expectation of having a structure or any space for decision-making. 

“This isn’t just about recovery, but about rebuilding”.
COVID-19 has been a great revealer of what is currently wrong in our societies. It has brought out the best side as communities, but also highlighted social inequalities and discrimination all over the world. It has given us a rare opening to view what can be changed in society, and how it is possible to change the rules when needed if we work together. Social movements, across regions and issues, are coming together organically and they are connecting the dots that were missing before. In all of this, NGOs can contribute to social movements as allies, assisting in policy formulation, communications strategies or providing media and leadership training. 

“These crises give us opportunities to reflect on how connected we are to the societies in which we are trying to effect change”.
For NGOs to be relevant, they must become more reflective of society in terms of diversity and representation. NGOs need to challenge themselves to grow out of this current crisis. There is no “relationship” with a social movement as whole, but with people. Organisations were caught off guard on discrimination when Black Lives Matters erupted, and they should not have been. It happened because of a relational and representational disconnect. In order to build these relationships, organisations need to be transparent about what their interests are. They need to consistently show up without stepping in front and learn from the demands that are made from society in moments of eruption. 

“We need to move away from working issue by issue, campaign by campaign. It is not going to help us change the world.”
We must be radically committed to equity and not make people choose amongst their needs. By not connecting issues, we are doing just this. The anti-racism fight is not separate from the climate crisis. Communities do not experience one in the absence of the other. They experience everything at once. NGOs are making too many assumptions about what their supporters are experiencing without having engaged well first.

We’d like to thank our speakers for this rich discussion on this important topic. Please watch our social media for announcements about events in the future.

Photo Credit: © Annette Lemieux