Background and Disclaimer
The language we use has always mattered to SAS+. Language can reinforce or disrupt power imbalances. It is the framework in which we organize our work and the pathway in which we reimagine a more just and equitable future.
In the early days of our project, we defined terms such as ‘local’ and ‘responsible transition’ that were used frequently in our work. Six years later, we recognize that language changes – and we want to continue to learn and work to shift power in the language we use, and how it is used. We also recognize that our language will continue to evolve, and therefore, we will revisit our terms and definitions on a biannual basis.
SAS+ is a consortium of three Northern INGOs, and therefore, there are potential issues with and barriers to us fully crafting liberatory language due to our lived experiences and biases. We acknowledge that even the terms and definitions below have their potential problems and limitations, however they are the terms we are working with to define our experience and our work. Due to our limitations as well as the evolving nature of language, we are working with our partners to gather feedback, and also continue to invite feedback from those of you who have found this page.
- How it relates to transitions
- Words we avoid related to it
1. LOCAL ACTOR, PROXIMATE ACTOR
- ‘Local actors’ recognizes the diversity of people working in their communities or at the sub-national or national level. It encompasses individuals, communities, networks, and practitioners working in organizations, private entities and governments that set their own agendas, develop solutions, and lead to make those solutions a reality.‘Proximate actors’ acknowledges the problematic nature of the term ‘local’, and describes actors who are most closely affected by the issues being discussed.
- SAS+ acknowledges the term ‘local’ has different connotations in different contexts and is a contested term, and we aim to use it sparingly. Instead, as often as possible, we try to name the specific country, language, ethnic group or nationality of the person being discussed.
2. LOCAL ORGANIZATION, ORGANIZATION IN THE COMMUNITY THEY SERVE
- ‘Local organization’ is used to refer to CSOs or NGOs in the ‘Global South’ or ‘Majority World’. This encompasses organizations that work at the community, sub-national and national level.‘Organization in the community they serve’ is a preferred term to ‘local organization’ due to the problematization and lack of specificity of the word ‘local’.
3. LOCALLY LED DEVELOPMENT, COMMUNITY-LED DEVELOPMENT
- ‘Locally led development’ is an approach or process in which initiatives are owned and led by people in their own context¹. Locally led development is characterized as local practitioners operating at various levels in their context: community, sub-national, and national.‘Community-led’ development is a development approach in which local community members work together to identify goals that are important to them, develop and implement plans to achieve those goals, and create collaborative relationships internally and with external actors—all while building on community strengths and local leadership.²
- Donors and INGOs are increasingly committed to supporting locally led development and local actors continue to speak up on the power imbalances of the development sector and the need for greater accountability to local communities. However, examples of mutually agreed transition strategies, collaborative decision-making and transfers of power are rare. SAS+ aims to inform better policies and practices and to empower internal champions at INGOs and CSOs who advocate for and manage transitions.
4. GLOBAL SOUTH, MAJORITY WORLD
- ‘Global South’ refers to both historically colonized countries as well as countries with internalized colonial mindsets. It is not always reflective of the hemispheric south (i.e. Australia isn’t considered the Global South though it is in the Southern hemisphere).‘Majority world’ highlights the fact that the majority of the world’s population lives in the ‘Global South’.³
- We avoid: Third world, developing countries
5. GLOBAL NORTH, MINORITY WORLD
- ‘Global North’ refers to historically colonizer countries and countries with colonizer mindsets that lean wealthier and whiter due to their exploitative past.‘Minority world’ is used to refer to countries traditionally located in the ‘Global North’ where a minority of the world’s population resides.4
- We avoid: First world, developed countries
6. RESPONSIBLE TRANSITION
- Responsible transition refers to a jointly led, planned and gradual process of transfer of technical and procedural ownership from an international to local level, while maintaining some form of relationship. Responsible transitions can happen at an organizational, programmatic or activity level. Responsible transitions focus on achieving a shared vision of transition that sets up local actors to sustain and grow their impact.
- We avoid: Exit, which refers to the complete withdrawal of an international organization or program from a context without a transfer of ownership or a relationship maintained with the local entity.
7. TRANSITION THINKING
- Transition thinking is relevant whether a direct transition is being planned or not. It is something anyone can do, regardless of role in order to live into the values of local leadership. It involves the intent to be led by local actors, organizations, and communities, to prioritize strong relationships, make joint decisions that are rooted in a shared vision for success, work in a spirit of complementarity, and critically think about the end of a program/partnership before it starts.
8. MUTUAL CAPACITY STRENGTHENING, JOINT LEARNING
- Mutual capacity strengthening or joint learning can be described as a “process of strengthening skills, knowledge and network contacts in which all actors, regardless of their country of origin, participate as equal partners.5” Mutual describes how partners embark on a process built on trust and respect that results in strengthened capacities.
- Capacity strengthening and learning during programmatic and organizational transitions should be considered a joint process. And, one that not only addresses a diversity of needs but also acknowledges the context and power dynamics surrounding a transition. International and local organizations learn from each other during capacity strengthening processes, and, as a result, grow and change.6 In cases of responsible transitions, there is room for both the international and local partner to be transformed.
- We avoid: Capacity building, capacity development
- Historically, decolonization is the action or process of a state withdrawing from a former colony, leaving it independent. Processes of decolonization understand that colonization is more than just a physical project – it has cultural and psychological components which determine whose knowledge, voice, culture, language, society, education and more is privileged. Decolonization involves seeking restorative justice through cultural, psychological and economic freedom. Decolonization is the process of deconstructing colonial ideologies regarding the superiority and privilege of Western thought and approaches.7
- SAS+ sees responsible transitions in alignment with decolonization efforts, where transitioning can support power shifting, but not without intention.
10. SHIFTING POWER
- Shifting power or #ShiftThePower is used to emphasize the need for change from power being at the hands of donors and international agencies to people, organizations, and communities who are most proximate to the issues and who represent the majority world. It involves shifting mindsets, relationships, norms, paradigms, policies, money, and more. Shifting power is about true and equitable partnerships that require the action of everybody for sustainable solutions within the development, peacebuilding and humanitarian sectors.
- Transitions are not always synonymous with shifting power, and can be carried out in ways that reinforce existing power imbalances, which is why SAS+ tools and resources integrate lessons learned around power shifting in transitions.
11. LEARNING PARTNER
- As a learning partner, SAS+ tailors support to each partner’s individual needs. We do not provide “solutions” or “one size fits all ideas” to opportunities and challenges partners face in transitions, but rather we offer lessons, resources, and evidence of good practice to support partners in making informed, collaborative, and responsible decisions. We walk alongside partners in transition and learn alongside them, incorporating that learning into work with other partners.
12. FINANCIAL SUSTAINABILITY
- Financial sustainability refers to the ability of development actors to generate and manage financial resources in a manner that ensures the long-term viability and effectiveness in achieving positive social impact. A development actor that is financial sustainable will be both financially resilient to both external and internal shocks, and it also has a minimum threshold of organizational longevity, i.e. can maintain active operations longer than other similarly sized organizations in the same geographic context. An organization that is financially sustainable tend to have revenue streams from multiple non-interdependent sources including a significant degree of locally-sourced funding.
¹ https://bond.org.uk/resources/becoming-locally-led-as-an-anti-racist-practice-a-guide/ and https://www.peacedirect.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/PD-Policy-Position-Defining-local.pdf
5 https://fairgreenglobal.org/uploads/publications/fgg-mutual-capacity-development.pdf page 5
7 https://bond.org.uk/resources/becoming-locally-led-as-an-anti-racist-practice-a-guide/ and https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/the-wrap/2022/08/11/Decolonising-aid-racial-justice-humanitarian-reform