Atlantic Philanthropies (AP), an organisation that supports institutions to make progressive change over decades, convened a Scenarios Exercise with the Rural Poverty Cluster in South Africa, through their Reconciliation and Human Rights Programme.
The funding AP provides to various clusters will be ending in 2016. In preparation for this down spending, AP felt it would be valuable for each cluster to think about what opportunities and challenges lay ahead of them, specifically over the next five years, but also beyond the AP funding.
Atlantic Philanthropies convened a scenarios exercise with its rural poverty cluster in the Magaliesberg mountains in early November 2010, facilitated by Reos Partners, to explore possible futures together around the question: What might the medium-term future of rural South Africa hold? Top of mind for many participants was the question of how to strengthen rural voices which are not just quiet, but often – and as some contended, increasingly – actively silenced.
The group developed three stories about what could happen in the next six years. The three scenarios follow a similar landscape of (mostly) downs and ups, but from three distinct vantage points: the economic perspective (“exclusive growth path”), the NGO experience (“roller-coaster civil society”) and the role of the state (“government keeps the rural vote while passing the buck”).
The scenarios proved to be both illuminating and unsettling:
“I was quite sceptical, but I was surprised by how each of the scenarios captured some key thing that we would not have considered otherwise. Some strategic thinking emerged from each of them for me.”
“I decided to join a scenario that would stretch me, in an area that I’m not familiar with. I noticed that I am listening more deeply, and this makes me question the relevance of my organisation and the work we do.”
On the strength of these three scenarios, participants entered into strategic conversations. First, they considered what they would need to anticipate and adapt to should any of these storylines materialize. Then, the energy of participants was let loose on aspects they wanted to - and had leverage to - influence. Groups formed around questions of how to create sustainable rural social organisations, how to use new media and new technologies, how to strengthen rural advice offices, and how to survive Atlantic Philanthropies’ planned spend-down in the coming years. Lastly, a network was proposed to enable innovation for economic and legal empowerment of rural constituencies.
Atlantic Philanthropies’ (AP) also hosted a three-day Change Lab Process, facilitated by Reos Partners with its Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) cluster in the Magaliesberg in November 2010, in preparation for funding to this sector concluding in 2011.
The Change Lab Methodology uses a systems thinking lens, enabling participants to see aspects of the system they were not seeing before and to take responsibility through experimentation, learning and action. Participants went through the three phases of the Change Lab. During the first phase, using the synthesis report from the dialogue interviews phase the groups view of their system was reflected back (seeing together) the group then explored another system in an attempt to understand their own better, and were presented with the key ideas of systems thinking. The second phase of the Change Lab took participants into a deeper reflection about the cluster and questions they had about the future. Some emerging themes included: Understanding the dynamics within the cluster; Common identity versus common purpose; and Forming allies with other human rights organizations.
Participants hosted conversations on actions and ideas they had energy for, and by the third day, two main working groups had formed: Creating a Collective Space and the Community Foundation.
“We need to work together in ways that are true to ourselves and our organizations. Maybe we need avoid duplication and collaborate more. We need to pool resources.”
The first group committed to presenting the proposed philosophy around the collective space at the JWG meeting in February 2011, to ensure inclusivity, regardless of the outcome of the presentation.
The second group changed their focus to dealing with the funding gap between the withdrawal of AP and the establishment of the Community Foundation. Part of their commitment included do a sustainability analysis and research within the sector.
The strategic thinking provided by scenarios are the concrete output from the exercise, but equally important are the relationships built through the experience. Hopefully these relationships will be what sustain the work of this cluster.