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RINGO: re-imagining INGOs and the role of global civil society

Reos Partners
January, 2023

Explore how the RINGO project aims to support INGOs (international non-governmental organizations) in delivering a better, more balanced civil society in which power and resources are more equally shared.

The Re-imagining International Non-Governmental Organizations (RINGO) Project is a systems change initiative seeking to transform global civil society to respond to today’s societal challenges. In partnership with Rights CoLab and the West African Civil Society Institute (WACSI), Reos Partners convened a unique Social Lab of global innovators who represent the system of global civil society (including local partners, funders, and INGO leaders).

RINGO is the first globally coordinated cross-sectoral effort to revolutionize the sector by interrogating INGOs’ purpose, structures, power, and positioning.

“I feel a sense of relief, momentum and hope whenever we’re together – that the world might be able to function the way it should because radical power shifts and justice-centered efforts are possible.”

Anna Myers

The project was originally designed as a two-year process which resulted in the creation of several prototypes. Despite the project coming to an end in December 2022, energy to drive transformation in the system remains high, and the work is far from finished.

Watch this short video with RINGO Convenor, Deborah Doane to learn about the journey so far:

The challenge

There have been calls for transformation of the INGO sector for many years now. The RINGO project has sought to harness the energy in the sector and demand for change from below to finally deliver a better, more balanced civil society in which power and resources are more equally shared. Letting go of power is challenging; but so too is taking it. Across the different prototypes, several questions were posed, discussed and explored, here is a snippet of the types of questions asked:

  • How might we disrupt colonial/traditional perceptions of capacity, knowledge and expertise, rather than perpetuating the narrative of the North doing capacity building ‘to’ southern civil society?
  • How might we enable and mainstream a justice and solidarity based approach that changes the way INGOs think/measure their success and shifting power to local activists and CSOs?
  • How might we co-create partnerships of genuine solidarity between international actors and local civil society, where risk is shared and continuously navigated and negotiated by all stakeholders, including funders?

Our approach

As a systems change initiative, the RINGO Lab sought to shift more power and resources from the Global North to the Global South, and to build a more equitable civil society ecosystem between organizations and individuals active in this system. Reos Partners deployed its Social Labs methodology since this approach has a strong experimental orientation. The philosophy of the social lab is that no single person understands allfacets of an issue nor has the perfect solution to existing challenges. This means that there is deep value in collaborating to find answers together.

The RINGO Lab has three objectives:

  1. For the global civil society to be more equitable,
  2. To explore what that would look like from an institutional perspective,
  3. To identify what may need to change in the wider system, and collectively work towards that.

During this specific process, lab members were invited to bring their questions and full curiosity to the discovery phase of the journey. Then, through a process of collective sense-making, they designed prototypes that express a re-imagination of the INGO system. The prototypes were then tested in teams which enabled a practical discovery of how to leverage the changes sought for a more equitable INGO ecosystem.

“The biggest highlights have been the practicality of the focus on prototypes, the creativity of the methods that we’ve used and followed, and the opportunity for us all to learn from thought leadership in the Global South.”

Ignacio Saiz


  • March-May 2021: Inception & Convening Phase – onboarding of Social Lab Members, online platforms created and Inception Workshop completed, with Inquiry Clusters formed and initiated.
  • May-August 2021: Discovery Phase – Collective understanding of the ‘current state of stuckness’, and the possibilities for transformation created via thematic cluster work, with accompaniment by coaches. Charles Kojo Van Dyck from WACSI describes in this video how the system of INGOs is stuck, summarizing the findings of the Lab Team.
  • September-October 2021: Define Phase – define innovation challenges for key leverage points in the system and generate ideas on how to address these, including a Sense-Making Workshop and Ideation Workshops.
  • Late 2021 – mid-2022: Develop Phasec – launch of actionable prototypes for testing in diverse (thematic and/or regional) teams.
  • 2022: Delivery Phase – Capacity of the Social Lab Members built to set up and sustain the spirit of prototyping (testing and iterating), and global progress sharing events with the broader community.
  • Late-2022:Embedding Phase– prototypes evaluated, and successful projects placed with hosting organizations for long-term implementation and scaling.
  • 2023: Influencing Phase and Strengthening the Ecosystem – spread the insights and innovations emerging from the process to the wider sector of global civil society, and strengthening the ecosystem of change makers.


As a result of the RINGO Lab process several prototypes were developed to transform how INGOs work and collaborate with others. These prototypes address how INGOs are structured, their funding and accountability models, what this means for organizations locally, and what solidarity means. In order to keep momentum going, each prototype has a specific call to action. Read on to hear about the different prototypes and how you can get involved.

“It was awesome to really connect with everyone who really wants to see the INGO sector shift from our ways of working. It was inspiring to have the space to debate, to assess where we are, and to really give credit to all those who have contributed to this work.”

Osai Ojigho

Prototype overview

  1. A new approach to risk sharing and compliance management – video recording
  2. The pledge for change – video recording, endorse or sign up for the pledge for change
  3. South meets North in power shift – a framework for effective participatory grant-making – video recording
  4. Language and lexicon – video recordingchecklist of problematic words and idioms
  5. Decolonising advisory community – Learning resource, video recording , sign up link to join WACSI to scale up this community prototype.
  6. For the people, by the people: an alternative solidarity model – video recording
  7. Untying aid to northern CSOs – video recording

Prototype descriptions

Prototype 1: a new approach to risk sharing and compliance management

Video recording: Watch the recording of the session

Idea carriers/lead(s): Carriers Antonia Potter Prentice and Bert Maersten

Description: This prototype is testing out how ‘brave conversations’ between donors, INGO intermediaries and local NGOs could help to co-construct partnerships of genuine solidarity where risk is shared and continuously navigated and negotiated by all stakeholders. This prototype is being hosted by ICSC who will support the ongoing expansion and embedding of the idea to influence change in the wider ecosystem.

Call to action: Could your organization/network provide a testing ground for a brave encounter to help mainstream the idea?

Prototype 2: The pledge for change

Video recording:
Watch the recording of the session here

Convenor: Adeso

Description: This prototype seeks to demonstrate a bottom-up creative and inclusive accountability and learning mechanism, with the innovative Pledge for Change as the testing ground. The Pledge, convened by Adeso in Kenya, brought together leaders from large INGOs to develop principles and public pledges to decolonise their organizations and influence the wider aid system. The team will test the mechanism at scale in early 2023.

Call to action: Endorse or sign up for the Pledge for Change.

Prototype 3: South meets North in Power Shift – A Framework for Effective Participatory Grant-Making

Video Recording: Watch the session recording here.

Idea Carrier/Lead(s): Carriers Charlotte Timson, Transform Trade (formerly Traidcraft) and Mohammed Awal Alhassan, Norsaac

Description: This prototype is testing how Southern and Northern actors can meet in ways that transform historical power dynamics and enable participatory grant-making (PGM) approaches to fulfill their potential. It seeks to influence the relationship on terms determined by the South, with an acceptable meeting point to the North, and a mutual understanding that PGM should be viewed as a process rather than a project. The team has developed a set of principles to ensure the process is both useful and disruptive.

Call to Action: Could you be a critical friend to this process? Join the community!

Prototype 4: Language and Lexicon

Video Recording: Watch the recording of the session here.

Idea Carrier/Lead: Moses Isooba

Description: This prototyping team is using AI technology to address the key barrier to system change: language and inclusive communication. Without meaningful language change, systems change is likely to remain superficial, as the use of neo-colonial, sexist, racist, bigoted words and terms, and a reliance on dominant languages, creates and maintains power imbalances in international development. Uganda National NGO Forum is hosting this prototype and a website will be reading for testing from the end of 2022.

Call to Action: Test out their checklist of problematic words and idioms in your communications.

Prototype 5: Decolonising Advisory Community

Video Recording: Watch the recording of the session here

Idea Carrier/Lead: Nancy Kankam Kusi

Description: This prototype puts southern expertise in the driver’s seat of providing services to northern NGOs and funders who want to actively decolonise. RINGO lead partner, the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI), is hosting and coordinating the prototype which is testing out a community of service providers from the Global South to provide advice and support to organizations in the Global North who are committed to decolonising their thinking and practice.

Calls to Action: Click here to engage with the community either as a potential expert from the global south or an organization from the global north; provide feedback on the pdf concept design; partner with WACSI to scale up and implement the prototype globally.

Prototype 6: For the people, By the people: An Alternative Solidarity Model

Video Recording: Watch the recording of the session here

Idea Carrier/Lead: Venetia Govender

Description: The prototyping team are exploring what genuine solidarity entails in the context of Swaziland (Eswatini), a country where civic space is rapidly closing. Working with the Multi-Stakeholder Forum (MFS), a broad based multi-sectoral social justice front which was formed in December 2021, the prototype is testing the effectiveness of an alternative, inclusive and virtual solidarity platform which challenges INGOs to listen, learn and respond in service to strategic issues emerging from the Swazi struggle through a ‘reverse call for proposals’.

Call to Action: Watch this space for more information on how you can respond to the reverse call for proposals and test out your own in practice.

Prototype 7: Untying Aid to Northern CSOs

Video Recording: Watch the recording of the session here

Description: This prototype focusses on a key systemic policy lever: ending the long-standing practice of tied aid that sees donors prioritize their own domestic INGOs over southern or local civil society. Working across sectors, including donors, this team is developing ideas for innovative ways to influence INGOs in a massive shifting power initiative which challenges the powerful in the sector to effectively go against their own financial interests: calling on donors to bypass them in funding flows. Global Fund for Community Foundations has recently agreed to host this initiative and will test a three pronged strategy: raise awareness with actors in the Global South; redefine roles of northern CSOs/INGOs; and launch a global campaign fronted by GFCF.

Call to Action: Join the campaign!

Contact Sparkle via for more info on any of the above or to be connected to the prototyping team.

Further resources:

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