Episode 10: Rebalancing power in international development through localised funding. Steve Murigi interviewed.

About this episode:

In this week’s episode, Steve Murigi explores the power dynamics in international development practice which are inherently racialised and often go unchallenged, particularly in the leadership of field projects in the Global South. Steve speaks about the need to reframe decolonization as a mindset in order to move away from the ‘us vs them’ mentality.

The conversation then shifted towards the issue of localization of funding in international development; Steve emphasised that localization needs to be carried out with accessibility and unconditionality in mind. Otherwise, it risks causing more harm than good by perpetuating paternalistic assumptions about the capabilities of organisations in the Global South.

We discuss the relationship between localisation and decolonisation, and finally emphasise the importance of language and the way that ‘development aid’ is framed. With great clarity, Steve talks us through his experience working in development, his thoughts on the third sector, and how we can begin to change the conversation towards a positive shift in power dynamics for everyone.

Episode 10: Full Transcript

The Power Shift: Decolonising Development

Episode 10

Rebalancing power in international development, including through localisation and  how best to fund development action. Steve Murigi interviewed.

Steve: [00:00:00] Listen more particularly to those people that challenge you. Your current understanding, allow it to be open, to be challenged, right? Be open to changing your worldview, agitate more, particularly once you’ve had a better understanding. Don’t have this conversation as a side conversation to your regular life, regular transmission.

Have this as a core part of everything that you’re doing. And be recognized. Recognize your own contribution. Recognize your own privilege, be more aware of it and challenge it where you can. I think if you’re a person with resources and you want to do good work, absolutely ensure that the decisions that you make and the things that you support are driven by the people who understand the problem best.

Charmaine: Hi. Welcome to the Power Shift: Decolonizing Development, the podcast series seeking to bring together thinkers, practitioners, and activists to share ideas, inspire, change, and identify tools for practical action.

I [00:01:00] am Charmaine McCaulay, a body psychotherapist, director of Kokoro and lead facilitator of the groundbreaking training program called Racism in Real Time. And my co-host is Professor Kate Bird, director of the Development Hub. As a Black psychotherapist and a White development professional, we’re using our own lived experience and professional skills to frame the way we approach the topic of decolonization. Over to you, Kate. 

Kate: Hello everyone. Well welcome. And, today we’re speaking to Steve Murigi who is the CEO at Primary Healthcare International and formerly of Amref. So he’s a practitioner, deeply steeped in, the work of international development. And, we’re speaking to him today to get some insights into the practical work of decolonization and how that actually plays out on the ground and in terms of practical action.

So, back to you, Charmaine, for our first [00:02:00] question. 

Charmaine: So, Steve, we’ve spoken a little bit before and I’m really intrigued by the work that you do. So my first question would be, it’s kind of big. What in your personal and professional history has led you to think about decolonization and anti-racism in your development work?

Steve: Well, first of all, thank you very much for inviting me and for hosting, you know, and having this conversation, really, I think the conversation’s been ongoing now within the sector for the last three years. I think it’s good that the momentum hasn’t been lost, and it’s great to see that, you know, there’s the outcome of a lot of those conversations is platforms like this just to really explore what we mean, but also what is practical in terms of practitioners.

So I’m really, really pleased to be here, as you say, Charmaine massive question, right? I mean, I think probably the best way for me to articulate how I’ve landed here would be to try and explain why, you know, how I got into development, what my views were, and perhaps how those have evolved over time. And really, I mean, I [00:03:00] got into international development almost by accident, right? So I studied journalism, and print journalism at that, and really I got into international development to sort of try to help NGOs tell the story of the impact they were having on the ground. That was my initial interaction with the international development. And at the time, I was a little bit of a cynic, I think, you know, I just didn’t have access to the rooms. The people always appeared to be very far removed from where I was. If I’m truly honest, um, NGOs appeared to be only spaces for certain people. You know, people that would come in from elsewhere, they would have the knowledge and the goodwill and the resources to do all this amazing work within the communities.

But I really didn’t feel that there was a space for me actually until I sort of engaged with Amref. It was always big, massive agencies that just felt a bit far removed from where I was. But I did want to be able to understand that and I wanted to help them tell the story.

So interestingly, so when I joined the [00:04:00] sector, um, really, really impressed by the work that was happening at the community. And I think I challenged some of those, um, sort of initial views that I had around, you know, how resources are used, etcetera.

But the one thing that was in some ways confirmed was that the power dynamics that existed at the time that it felt like, um, there were certainly power dynamics that were at play, that there were groups that had more power. And for me, you know, it was very evident that, you know, that the group had resources, they had more say, they were perceived to have more expertise and in many ways assigned more values. And, you know, some of this stuff was very, very practical. So if you were, um, an international development practitioner from the West, for instance, and you were, you came to Kenya, uh, where I’m from, you were perceived as an expat, right?

And the way you were taken care of was very different to how a colleague who was from Kenya was taken care of in terms of remuneration and just, and the benefits of being [00:05:00] part of the organization. And this also translated when this, the same colleague went abroad. They weren’t perceived as an expat and they weren’t afforded the same level of benefits or values, etcetera. So I think that started to confirm some of my initial reflections and cynicism around the sector. It doesn’t mean that the work wasn’t good. It doesn’t mean that the work, but that the, that there were, the intentions weren’t great.

All those things were accurate, but there were dynamics at play that I thought was interesting. And I think my journey having worked in Africa, within international development in Africa, and then having worked in the UK was also quite, uh, revealing as well. Just in terms of understanding, especially when I came to the UK, how we perceive the work that we do as international development experts abroad.

How, what we think of it, how much trust we have in the people that are on the ground doing the work, how much, uh, control we are willing to relinquish, how decisions are made and whether those are [00:06:00] inclusive and representative of the views of those people that are on the ground. So there are questions there, so I don’t know if I’ve responded to your question.

It was massive if I’ve missed anything, but feel free to just, to ask a follow up. But I think it is interesting, I think for me, really just to track and trace how things have evolved over time and how my perceptions and my understanding, has evolved over time. 

Charmaine: Can you, is it possible, I mean, I hear what you’re saying and I think that that’s so true, but I’m wondering if you can give an example, a real life example where you actually felt the dissonance, where you felt it was not what you thought of, but you’re in this group now. What personally happened to you? Can you give that kind of personal tone to this question? 

Steve: Yeah, I mean, I think I should probably provide the caveat that this was happening in sector more generally, so it was, it’s not really a reflection of where I was, so the institution that I was working with at the time.

So I think, this is just my general observation. So one of the things that I recognized was it was very typical, very [00:07:00] normal to see a student who’d never been involved in international development in any way previously, studied a completely different course, come to Kenya or to Uganda, where I spent some time as a gap year student or just, you know, just really interested in development and immediately be perceived as an expert, immediately perceived themselves as an expert.

And even in conversations, you could tell that they were, there’s a confidence there that existed and perhaps, a lack of confidence when, in terms of how we perceived, you know, how we were managing that interaction. So for me it was, it’s things, it’s those things.

It’s conversations where it was very, very obvious who was, in a group setting, who was leading right? And who was in charge and who had the most knowledge. And my view was it wasn’t the people who had the most lived experience that was perceived in those interactions as the people with the most information.

It was [00:08:00] almost driven by this idea that there’s mainstream knowledge and understanding of what needs to happen. And there is a custodian, and the person who will be coming from the outside was mainly the custodian of that type of information. So really that’s one of the examples I can think of.

But I, as I said, you know, expertise in, and the idea of who an expatriate is, and I think that continues today, right? You have a, someone who, you know, has moved from the UK for instance, come to Kenya. They, you know, they have two years experience. They want to work within the sector in Kenya.

They join the organization, their pay comparatively to a person who has been working in Kenya for five years doing the same job is different. And of course the arguments were “well, you know, you want to sort of ensure that they maintain the sort of, their standard of living, you know, comparatively to where they’re coming from.”

And I just, it’s not something I understood because I thought we’re actually, we’re all here to do this. You know, we’re all here on a mission and actually also affording [00:09:00] some people more resources, even if it’s just a way of living as a salary already creates a dynamic, it’s very difficult for you as a line manager based in the Global South to line manage someone who’s, you know, junior to you, if they are getting paid more, their title almost affords them, you know, more credentials.

You know, you don’t live in the same area, it’s just more complicated. It just creates an uneven power dynamic. So, um, so I don’t know if that helps, but I mean, I think, you know, other things, I’m, I’m sorry there, Charmaine to just jump in, you know, how we would host, how we would host a donor at the community and what, and the amount of effort we would go into to ensure that they had this amazing experience when they were there.

Right. So, you know, the questions we would ask, the questions that we would not ask, and sometimes these will be passed over to the community, right. But the focus was trying to ensure that the donor had the best experience when they were there rather than, you know, really focusing [00:10:00] on them having a real experience and allowing the communities to also have a really good sense of where the support was coming from and if they had challenges to be able to express those.

I think there was a lot of, or then this is a decade ago, a lot of orchestration really focused on ensuring that, you know, that uh, somebody has an amazing experience and which, you know, looking back on it now, yeah, I just think we were, you know, we missed the trick. We, we were missing the trick there.

Charmaine: So a lot of, so a lot of performance with very little substance, I would say, yeah? 

Steve: Yeah. Vanity, I would even say, you know, yeah. Performance, vanity, it’s really focused on we want this person to have this amazing experience. You know, we have kids singing for them.

If you think about it now, would you have children in the UK in a primary school just because somebody’s supporting their school, is visiting for them to stand in a queue in a really long line to usher them in as they sing. And as you say, performative. I think there’s an element where it’s almost at the time, and I think even now, some [00:11:00] things are accepted in that context that I don’t think will be accepted in the context there in the UK or elsewhere. And I think that’s really telling is that we make that sort of adjustment because we’re in a setting that we perceive to be poor. 

Charmaine: Thank you. That was really good. Kate I think you wanted to ask a question. Sorry about that. 

Kate: Yeah, I did, and I think this comment that Steve has just made about children singing for visitors, it actually makes me feel really uncomfortable because I’ve had that happen for me.

I’ve visited places and I’ve had people sing for me. I’ve had people dance for me and it’s this kind of thing of “because you are a White person, you’re a VIP and because you’re a White person and a visitor from Britain, you know, the mother country, you are treated as royalty.

You know, the red carpet is rolled out for you. And, in the UK there’s this joke that the royal family here thinks that everywhere smells of [00:12:00] fresh paint, because everywhere they go, everything is clean and it’s been freshly painted. And it’s that thing, isn’t it?

That where I’ve visited in the Global South, it’s not that everything smells of fresh paint, but you do get a very special welcome. And you get treated very, very well. And just reflecting on an experience that I had in Kenya in the mid nineties, going to the offices of a well-known international development organization, I noticed that the white European staff had a key card, a card key, whatever, you know, that opened all the doors.

So it opened every door. They could go everywhere in the building. And the Black Kenyans had a very similar looking key card, but it only opened some of the doors. So to be able to get into some parts of the building that they worked in, that they, you know, their employer was there, that was their job, they had to ask one of their White colleagues to open the door for them. [00:13:00] And I noticed the dynamic that created and I thought, wow. Just, wow. Really? That’s, that’s amazing. Cause it was to do with trust, trust, power, and status. 

Steve: Yeah. 

Kate: I think what you are reflecting on Steve is, I mean, you’re saying it very, very politely, but actually there, there are some real problems in the sector and how people are treated in that asymmetry.

And why on Earth should Europeans be paid twice, three times as much as Black Africans doing –

Steve: Yeah. 

Kate: Not just the same job, but actually a lesser job. And I had to reflect on the way that I was treated very differently for a piece of work I did, in Zimbabwe actually, years ago. Well, the daily per diem that I received was sufficient for me to go and stay in a really nice lodge.

And the per diem that the Black Zimbabwean staff in my team received was so inferior [00:14:00] that they could only stay in a very, very, very basic, not very nice place every night. So every night we would go and stay in separate places. And when I commented to the donor on that, that this was perhaps a really strange way of having a team work together.

Because if we were staying in different places, we couldn’t actually work together. Because we couldn’t have supper together. We couldn’t have breakfast together. And it’s in supper and breakfast that you plan your day’s work and you recap on the day’s work. And they said, oh yeah, okay, so, um, so we’ll solve that. And so they won’t get paid in cash anymore. So they took, they gave with one hand, but they took away with the other because of course the staff were managing their per diem in a way that allowed them to create some savings. So I thought that the way that that was managed was actually quite mean and quite indicative of a kind of an attitude. So there’s some stuff, there’s some stuff going on. 

Charmaine: Can I just ask both of you then, um, since this is your world, does the same treatment happen if you’re coming [00:15:00] from the West, from the donor country if you are from the global majority, so somebody Black like me, a Canadian living in England representing the donor country, if I was to go to Kenya, would I be treated like I’m, like as I’m White from the West? Or wouldn’t there be some kind of negotiation that maybe Steven, uh, you and I would be going through that maybe the White folks wouldn’t get? I’m talking about, I guess, internalized race and oppression. Would we negotiate something like that?

Steve: I think that’s an amazing question, right? And I think the reason I think it’s a really, really good question is to also just, to try and disentangle the conversation from just purely sort of race focused. Because I think we can come back to this just around, you know, the term decolonization in the first place and whether that’s a useful term for the conversation. I think privilege will, will exist. And most of us will have privilege for a variety of reasons. Now, to your point there, Charmaine, and to your question is I think the more proximal you are to what is considered the [00:16:00] standards, the better treatment and the more access that you have.

So if you were in those circumstances, by virtue of being that you are from the West, that you speak a certain type of way, that your credentials are from the Global North.

That in itself will afford you status in comparison to someone who’s of the same race, but just doesn’t have the same proximity to what is considered the epitome of whatever, you know, whatever we choose to assign to it, right? And it happens now, right? If I interact in some of the communities now when I go back home, there’s an element that, oh, you’re coming from the UK, now you’ve done this Masters in the UK, you’ve got this job in the UK, there’s some status that comes with that.

There’s credentials there that are slightly more weighty than somebody who’s been doing the same job I’m doing, but perhaps only has qualifications from the Global South. And that’s problematic and, that too, needs addressing.

And I think even if you think about who’s able to articulate ideas and thoughts in a massive conference that [00:17:00] focuses to use English as the main language, for instance, if you have someone who is just super smart but doesn’t speak the language, they’re already excluded from some of those conversations.

So your proximity to this standardized, you know, language in those particular settings also creates privilege and exclusion. So I don’t know if I’ve responded to your question, but really I think, yeah, it would be a different experience. Um, would there be more negotiation? I think it depends on how accessible you present yourself.

I think if people feel that they can have an open conversation, it might be slightly different. I think if you aren’t aware of the dynamics that exist and you present yourself slightly more removed from those particular communities and the people there, I think you would probably be assigned the same status and benefit from the privileges that come with that. But it’s an interesting one, as you say, Kate, because I think that still happens. It still happens now, you know, the idea of ” so in this country, I’m a migrant, right? I’m a migrant worker.” At [00:18:00] no point has anybody said to me that I’m an expert.

At no point have I felt that I’ve had the benefits that come with being an expert that I’ve seen when I was working in Kenya and Uganda. But I know that when I go to Kenya, there will be those communities of expatriates and they’re still afforded, they live very separately to some of their colleagues that are doing the same, the same work.

And as Kate was saying, that creates a power dynamic. If I’m in the same car, we will spend a day together having conversations, engaging the community, but in the evening we drop you at a five star hotel and I have to go find a room elsewhere that’s a bit more modest, when I see you next, there’s a power dynamic.

There’s an assumption that these benefits are assigned to you because you have more value, and you have more to offer. Which means when we are having a conversation, I create this space for you because I think you have more to say, and I think what you say is more valid. Right? So it becomes difficult for me to [00:19:00] challenge even when I don’t agree, and that’s when it becomes problematic.

Kate: Yeah. I mean, I think, not only are you an expatriate in the UK, you are part of the international metropolitan elite. So actually, you know, in terms of the work that you do, I have more in common with you than many of the mums I meet at the school gates when I pick my daughter up from school. But that wouldn’t necessarily be recognized by many people either in the UK or elsewhere.

Steve: Yeah. Yeah. And I suppose it goes back to that question of we all have a certain level of privilege that we need to be aware of and that we need to use to create more spaces for those of us that don’t have the same position, the same space, the same platform. But yeah, I think it’s a good point. 

Charmaine: Yeah, and just more from the psychotherapeutic body world. I’m just wondering what does that do to your body when you have to show up, like what you’re [00:20:00] saying, you’ve been in the car and it feels like everything’s equal, but then you get out of the car and Kate goes to her five star hotel, and you go to your two and a half star hotel and then you have to come back the next day.

I’m wondering what internal pressures are you feeling? Like, I’m wondering if you feel the frustration. I’m wondering if you feel depersonalized. I’m wondering if you feel, when you’re trying to give Kate the space, because you know that’s part of the social unwritten contract. What happens to you internally? How do you handle those internal pressures that you have to then deal with someone like Kate? 

Steve: Yeah, I mean, I think, again, really, really interesting question. I think the main problem is sometimes people don’t know when they’ve given up their agency. Sometimes you’re not aware when you don’t have power, or when you’ve given up the power. So the response isn’t something you are aware of, it just happens and because you’ve seen it before, it can seem [00:21:00] very normal, very conventional. So you don’t even question it until you’ve got time to have a step back and really reflect on it. So, I question it now again, because of privilege, I’ve had the privilege to be able to create the time and space to think on these things.

The privilege to be able to share my ideas with less worry about repercussion, you know, am I going to say the wrong thing? I’m more aware that the conversation is happening right now, and it feels fitting that I can articulate my ideas so that there’s an openness that’s happening, that’s allowing me to have these conversations with you.

But I think at the time it was just very normal. It’s just what happens. You don’t question it, you just assume, that’s just what we do. We’ll, we’ll see you tomorrow, Kate. We’ll see Kate the next day. You are not aware of the changes that will have happened just purely because of that experience.

And I suppose the same is happening to Kate, right? And I’m sorry, now we’re using Kate. We shouldn’t use Kate, but the same will happen to the person, whoever’s gone into that five [00:22:00] star will probably go through the same process of, oh, okay, I’ve got a different status. And they may not question it at the time because it may feel like it’s just what happens there.

And just going back to that question around kids singing, right? So I know there’ll be colleagues out there who will think, well, you know, that’s part of the culture. That’s how we welcome visitors. You know, there will be different views on it. And I don’t want to minimize those thoughts and ideas because I think everybody’s entitled to that.

But I do know for when I was involved in some of those conversations, sometimes we were driving it and the intention was to try and create this experience for the people that would support the programs. And under the intent was if you have a good experience, it strengthens our relationship.

It’s not the worst thing, it’s not the worst intention to have, but you have to question what it does in terms of the dynamic. When the community is involved at that point where it said, this is exactly what we are going to do because this guest is special, does that create a dynamic where those same community members are not able to [00:23:00] share their true feelings about certain things, about certain aspects of the program, or they’re not able to challenge the guest in the same way that they would?

And this is, you know, if you look at communications and how that’s changing, you have people that will go into a community and spend a significant amount of time with those community members just to try and displace and break down those barriers, because then that gives you room to be able to have real conversations with them.

Kate: Can I just step in again just briefly. I mean, extending this idea that if you and I were working together, Steve, in Kenya or in Uganda or somewhere else, and under the conditions we’ve been discussing, I would get to stay in some nice lodge and you as a local team member would perhaps be staying in a less nice place and we’d be given different per diems and this would somehow structure the relationship and the power dynamic between us.

I would like to add another dimension, which, quite possibly I would be formally the team leader. So I [00:24:00] would be setting the terms of reference for the piece of work. I’d be setting the timelines, and I would be saying that when you submitted your work when it was good enough. So again, that would be quite a tense set of power dynamics there.

But add into the fact that I might have visited your country Kenya, maybe eight times. I’ve worked in Kenya quite a bit, so I’ve got some accumulated knowledge, but I don’t have the same expertise of Kenya that you do. So, I would be leading people with much greater local and contextual knowledge, and there would be a sense of precarity.

I would feel precarious that my expertise was not entirely secure. And my position as team leader is a little bit edgy, a little bit nerve-wracking. There’s something there that isn’t quite secure because of the asymmetry in expertise, and yet I’d be put in that position as the expert, the team leader.

I think that this blocks delivery of really good quality work. I think this [00:25:00] asymmetry of power means that none of us are delivering the best quality work that we can because of this, the discomfort in those roles that we’re inhabiting. And I just wonder if this is something that you have experienced in your work and if you’d like to comment on that.

Steve: Yeah. I think that’s a really good, good way to move the conversation because I think it starts to answer that question, “why have this conversation in the first place? Why is it, why are we even talking about the colonization of global health international development outside of just venting and frustration?

Right? And I think that is the point there is that, this a symmetrical power. This separation actually reduces our comprehension. It gets in the way of us really understanding what the issues are. It means that, you know, we are not challenging ourselves enough when we’re making decisions, when we’re evaluating data. It just means that we are not being as effective and as efficient in our programming as we could be. And that [00:26:00] is the point that, you know, if there’s someone there, if you manage to get rid of those imbalances in power, it allows everybody to contribute. And for the most part, it allows those that are most proximal to the problem to contribute.

And they will have more insights than you can imagine. And that provides for a much richer conversation for more data, for better analysis and just for better work. So it’s the right thing to do at a human level, but it’s also the more practical thing to do if you want to be effective and if you want your interventions to be sustainable.

And I think if you take a step back, if you go around the, you know, and I won’t say Africa, if you go around the world looking at international development projects, you can see those projects where the community wasn’t engaged. And you can see how those are faring in comparison to those programs and interventions where the community was engaged, right? You can find bar holes that have broken down because somebody came in and said, you know, I know what your problem is, clean water. You need clean water, you need a [00:27:00] bar hole, you need a toilet. Then you find communities, they’ll use the water because it’s there, it breaks down. They move on to the next thing because they are not engaged enough. There’s a toilet. They don’t use it because for whatever reason, safety, if it’s women and the toilet is maybe far from their houses. If it’s culture, if it’s a nomadic community that you know, will just move constantly.

It’s those things that perhaps if you come in, as you say, as a team lead and assume that you have all the answers, then everybody gives you the space to have your answers be the only answers on the table. You end up with a very ineffective program. So I think that’s super important to recognize.

So all these things that we’re saying isn’t just because we think something’s going wrong and there’s a frustration there, it’s that we think there’s a better way to do things and I think that is good for everybody, right? So this isn’t to say that Kate shouldn’t be the team lead.

This is just to say, you know, now we’ve decided we’re using Kate’s name as the reference. So I hope you don’t mind, this isn’t to suggest that, you know, [00:28:00] someone who’s White cannot be the lead. So I think that too isn’t helpful because what that does is that it, it makes everybody else shut down.

It makes it very difficult for people to have open conversation. It makes people fearful. And I just don’t think that that’s the, you know, I think the world needs more understanding and less separation, right? So, but it’s to say whoever is a lead needs to be aware of the dynamics at play and needs to do better.

Because if you’re the lead, it means you have the responsibility and you have the influence and power to really start influencing that dynamic towards you know, more productivity, but also just towards just doing the right thing. Right. So, yeah. So completely, completely on, on board there.

Kate: Charmaine, do you have any more questions? 

Charmaine: No, just, just say a minor, because I know we need to wrap up, but just a minor, well, maybe it’s major. So from where I’m sitting, I think Steve, when I asked you the question about how people were, and you said sometimes the [00:29:00] people from the global majority don’t even know how they feel. It’s just a norm. Just do it. And maybe later you reflect, but in the moment you have no idea what’s going on. So I guess from my perspective, I think it would be really good, one of the most important things would be, is for both sides of the aisle, for everybody to do a lot more self-reflectiveness because if I’m on the global majority and I don’t realize that I’m also setting up the power play, like I’m part of the power play and if I’m setting it up because that’s what historically I’m supposed to do, then I also have to feel responsible. So I can’t just blame, oh, it’s just the donors from the West.

What was my part in setting up this situation? Right. I think that’s important. I think sometime we forget that part of the equation is that I’m responsible for what I do. I’m responsible for what I think. And so for me, I think I would have to start doing a lot more self-reflection, a lot more [00:30:00] investigation of the role that I’m taking and how come I’m actively supporting this? What am I getting out from this? How am I creating and co-creating a power situation when really it’s not good on both sides? So I guess my takeaway would be everyone, everyone involved would have to do a lot more self-awareness, a lot more self reflectiveness because we’re all co-creators.

Steve: Yeah. 

Charmaine: In this situation, I think sometimes that gets left out of the model as if it’s only one person, one group of people. But to me, the community as a whole, if we’re trying to create the community, what part of that am I facilitating? What part of that am I destroying? Because I’m just simply not aware of my part that I’m playing.

Steve: 100%. I think that’s the point. I should have probably said this at the top of the hour. So, you know, I’m not an academic of colonialism, decolonization, coloniality, imperialism. [00:31:00] I’m not an academic, so I can only really speak from my experience and how things have shown up for me and how my understanding has evolved over time.

I say this as a preamble to my next point, which I think we do need to revisit whether decolonization as a framing for this conversation is useful because there is an element that when people hear the word decolonization, they immediately think it’s us versus them.

It’s Global North versus Global South. It’s these people versus these people. And really, when I speak about decolonization, what I’m referring to is a mindset. I’m referring to a way of thinking. Now, it has its roots on what’s happened in the past. But I’m referring to a way of thinking that any of us could share, right?

I’m talking about a worldview and we’re all implicated by it, and I think we’re all victims of it, right? So to your point that we know we all have a role to play. There’s some of us that will perpetuate that way of thinking, and it could be somebody from the Global South perpetuating it from a lack of understanding, or [00:32:00] because it’s beneficial to them in that moment for whatever reason.

And I think we need to be open to that. Now, I continue to use the word decolonization only because I wouldn’t want to take away or undermine the efforts that my colleagues within the sector and elsewhere are pursuing. I know this, as I said, it will show up differently for a lot of people.

And I would be cautious not to be seen as I’m minimizing the conversation, or I only want to have the conversation in a way that’s palatable or have the conversation in a way that it makes everybody comfortable, but doesn’t really allow us to dig into the issues.

But having said that, I do think it’s important for all of us to evaluate how we are implicated. So the example that you, you said there, the point that you made around people not being aware, it’s privilege, right? So, as an example, I was having a conversation with my wife the other day , it was about running, right? She’d just gone for a run came back, and was like, oh, I missed going running. I was like, oh, why don’t you just go running? Oh, I’ve got this stuff, this and the other to do. It’s like, oh, you know, could go in the morning, but, you know, it’s still quite dark in the, you know, it’s early morning.

I [00:33:00] could go in the evening, it’s a bit dark. It’s like, oh, you could just use the main road and just go running that way. She’s like, oh, you know, it’s a bit dark and it’s only until she said, you won’t know the number of things I have to think about before I leave the door when it’s slightly dark or, you know, you won’t have to contend with the stairs, the cat calls.

You won’t have to have your key in hand before you get to the house, it’s things that I never think of. Now, that doesn’t make me a bad person because I haven’t thought of these things. It’s just what, that’s what sometimes privilege does. You’re completely unaware and you just assume that the world is the way the world is.

So in terms of my response, the options I was providing seemed quite feasible and reasonable. And I thought, I know this stuff. You just do it in the morning if you really want to do it. But it was very limited understanding. And I think the same applies here, is that sometimes when you’re in that position of power, it’s not that your ideas are bad or wrong, it’s just that you only have the knowledge to the extent you have the knowledge. And if you don’t create this space to expand that or to allow other people [00:34:00] to provide you with their own insights, then that’s when we all lose out. 

Charmaine: Mm-hmm. Thank you. 

Kate: Can I step in because I think what we’re talking about or what we need to talk about are the costs of challenge.

So if you’re challenging the status quo in terms of the current power dynamics, there are going to be costs to that for certain players. So people who may look as though they’re compliant or accepting of the current status quo, they may actually face quite a lot of personal costs if they challenge the status quo.

And in terms of empowerment and challenging the current situation, you have, exit, voice and choice. So you can exit a situation, you can express things through your voice, or you have a choice to make, and you can try to negotiate the situation. And I think what we’re talking about here is trying to expand the space for a renegotiation.

So that’s just a comment to kind of bring that part of the discussion to a close. [00:35:00] But we haven’t actually touched on some of the issues that I was really wanting us to talk about here today, which is about funding in development because- 

Steve: Yeah.

Kate: Previously, Steve, you and I have spoken about the importance and the power of where the money comes from in development.

Yeah. And one of the things we talked about was the localization of funding for international NGOs and how that impacts on a gender setting. And I just wonder if you could sketch out for me some of the issues that you see in the localization of funding. From the big picture, you know, the big issues right down to the nitty gritty.

Steve: Yeah, yeah. Right. I’ll try my best. Right. So I think, again, an important shift happening within the sector, right? So I think localization is becoming a word that we are now hearing a lot more often. You have big players such as USAID, really committing to a significant part of the resources they make available to go directly to organizations that are based in the [00:36:00] Global South.

One of the things that we definitely need to be addressing is how accessible those funds will be for those organizations that are truly based in the Global South. Because it’s one thing to say we welcome people from organizations from the Global South to apply for an application, but without simplifying the process in which those resources can be accessed, it still means that you require an organization that has a lot of machinery and resources to invest in new business, to invest in writing proposals and be able to take the hit if they’re not successful in those bids. Right. So I think much as we welcome a lot of donors saying that they want to support local NGOs and local organization and provide resources for them, we’re yet to see whether they’ve simplified their funding mechanisms and to ensure that the resources are accessible.

The one thing as an implication to that, we’re seeing a lot of organizations now saying, oh, we’re going to move our head office to the Global South, which I think is problematic in many ways, largely because what tends to happen is that they will drown out organizations that are already [00:37:00] based in the Global South, that have been doing amazing work, but that will just get drowned out just because they’ll have to now compete with this massive institution that’s now in their space and now qualifies for the same grants that have recently been made available for organizations in the Global South.

So it’s certainly problematic. I think it’s also a huge question when we say, we want to support localization and we want to support organizations in the Global South, but we want to give them funding to do this one thing, to support this particular area, because the idea of localization is opening the space to be led by the needs on the ground by the understanding of the people on the ground and their priorities.

So it’s very difficult if an organization is saying, we’re going to give a million pounds , we want NGOs in LMICs to apply, but we also want them to spend their money on malaria. By creating those parameters, what you’ve essentially done is yes, localization, but is it really? It’s only localization that you want to provide the funding directly, but you’ve already created this parameter.

So the control [00:38:00] is still there. The flex that those local organizations require, which is a) they need to invest in themselves so that they’ve got the infrastructure on the ground and they’re able to participate in the process, but also b) that they’re able to really respond to the issues on the ground is somewhat lost. And attached to that is how they report on how they’ve done the programs. That too is very controlled, right? So we’re going to give you funding, as a local NGO, we want you to spend it on malaria. We want you to do the program for only two years and not a day more.

And we want you to report on these specific indicators. By doing that, very little has changed. Yes, you’ve taken out the intermediary or the organization that’s based in the Global North. And you’ve handed the resources directly, but the control is very much there. And as you said at the very beginning, I think it is a trust issue.

It is a trust issue, I think, between donors and the third sector more generally. But it’s also a massive trust issue in that yes, we want to trust and give you the funds directly, but we also want to ensure that the [00:39:00] funding goes exactly where we say it goes. And it’s interesting, right, because I’ve had a similar conversation even with someone within the third sector where when I’ve made those arguments around giving, you know, resources directly, but also making resources flexible, one of the responses I’ve got was, oh, but I want to make sure that the money goes to the community. I don’t want people just paying themselves salaries, which I thought was a really interesting statement to make, especially for someone within the third sector, because a) a lot of those resources when they go through the North, do go into salaries because it’s usually program support, fundraising, et cetera. Two, you’re making a significant assumption that those countries and our colleagues in the Global South who are proximal to the problem care less about the money getting to the communities much less so than we are. And that’s just a very paternalistic, point of view really.

And I think some donors will express that in the way that they provide funding. But I think also institutions that are within the third sector in the Global North, [00:40:00] typically will do the same thing. So it’s an interesting conversation in the way that it’s showing up.

I know there’s people who are pushing back where there’s a school of thought that says, well, this actually adds a lot more pressure to those organizations in the Global South, they won’t have the infrastructure, they won’t have the capacity to be able to absorb this type of funding, et cetera, et cetera.

Right? But that only starts to stop the conversation. It’s one thing to own up to that and accept that that’s one of the drawbacks. That’s going to be a challenge. But the way you address that is by saying, okay, how do we ensure that they get these resources and we are creating space for them to build that capacity so that they’re more self-sustainable?

The idea isn’t to, let’s block that. When the last time we spoke, we used an analogy around a teenager driving, right? So your teenager’s been taking driving lessons and you want to give them your car because for whatever reason, you can have all sorts of arguments around, oh, you know, but I don’t trust they will do this, but what if this happens?

But you have to provide that opportunity [00:41:00] for them to go. And actually, even now that I think about it, even that analogy in itself is problematic because we’re assuming these organizations are the teenager for some reason, right? And we’re assigning Global North organizations this status of being the parents, which is equally problematic.

As you can see, this is how we’re all implicated. It’s so easy to imagine these things. You don’t even question how you’ve landed at that argument, right? And I provided another example more recently when I was traveling to Rwanda and I was looking at flights.

And I know we’re still talking localization, but just as a side note, so I’m looking into flights to go to Kigali, been doing so for few days. And I find this flight is Rwanda Air, right? And then I saw alternative flights, which is KLM. And I had that moment there when I was like, oh, I wonder, will the Rwanda Air be just as safe as this KLM flight? Now, I had to have a conversation with myself because I wasn’t looking at any data that suggested KLM was safer, Rwanda Air was less safe. I had [00:42:00] no reason outside of being socialized to assume that an entity and a company that’s basically the Global North for some reason would be safer. You know? So I had to challenge myself. So these things sometimes just show up very subconsciously. There’s always this assumption that if it’s an entity in the Global South that there will be difficulty in them managing a bigger portion of resource or learning something new. Global North entities and people are always given an opportunity, particularly men, they’re always given an opportunity to try new things, to learn to fail, right? But we provide less space, I think, for organizations and entities in the Global South.

And I think that’s what’s happening within the localization conversation. There’s a bit of tension because there’s those practicalities and questions that are being asked, but I think what is being provided as a solution is equally problematic. I think it’s okay for there to be challenges because this is a [00:43:00] new way of doing things.

Why wouldn’t it be challenging? If this is a model that we are now employing that’s relatively new, why would we expect that it would just be completely seamless and perfect? Especially when we’re moving away from a model that’s very flawed and very problematic, right? So I don’t know if I’ve answered your questions there, Kate? 

Kate: Yeah, you have, and I’d like to extend you into a further area, which is to ask you whether you consider, um, local, well, two-part question, whether you consider localization to be the same as decolonization or different, and when you’re talking about localizing funding, whether you’d consider reparations as part of that localization process.

Steve: Right, so I think localization is one way of decolonization in international development. I think it’s a way to get there. I think it’s one of the solutions. So when people say, okay, how do we decolonize international [00:44:00] aid? I would say localize more, provide more funding directly, provide more opportunities to organizations that really understand the problem for them to address those the same.

So I would see it as a subset to that. I think there will be different forms in, you know, different ways in which you can decolonize development. I think that’s the pragmatic one, and I think that’s where, especially when you’re engaging donors is to say, this is a better way of working.

And also massive organizations that are primarily based in the Global North that support international development is to really think about how decisions are made and to provide more support to their local entities to make decisions and drive those decisions, et cetera.

So, similar, related, but one I think is a way of doing the other. What was your second question? 

Kate: My second question was to ask you whether reparations is a useful tool for localizing funding?

Steve: I think the language around reparation is an interesting one. How realistic it is for us to think about reparation in the bigger sense is, I [00:45:00] wouldn’t consider myself an expert on it. I think there’s challenges there, although I don’t want to completely close the door on it.

I do think the way we perceive aid should change. And I do think there is an element there around reparation that instead of us assuming that we are giving aid as charity, we could perceive it as reparation, we could perceive it as course correction. If we took the humble view that a lot of the resources that we have in the Global North is as a result of historical exploitation, whether it’s human resources or otherwise, of the Global South, then I think we could perceive the support that we’re providing as actually the right thing to do, but not as aid, but a course correction.

And in that way it’ll be reparation. And there’s practical examples of things that happen now, right? So if you look at the visa system for instance, and how much Global South countries pay out to countries that they want to visit just through the visa system, [00:46:00] it’s significant amounts of money, right? Particularly African countries, significant amounts of money to try to travel to the States, right, to go to the UK. A majority of them won’t get those visas and they won’t be able to attend conferences, et cetera, et cetera. Different conversation, although it’s a useful conversation and it’s part of the wider decolonization conversation.

The reason I bring this up is that it’s interesting that all this money will be coming to the West anyway, and then that money is given back in the form of aid, right? Some of it is given back in the form of aid, so it’s always interesting to me just how much the Global North benefits from the Global South.

Whether we’re talking about trade or et cetera, and yet when we provide support, we see it as some form of aid. So for me, that’s where the language should start to shift. And yeah, that is reparation. It’s correcting, you know, our historical mistakes and there’s a humility that will be needed for that. It’s also the current system and how unfair and unbalanced it is and just being open to all the benefits and the [00:47:00] contributions that the Global South continues to make. The whole language around aid in itself is an issue, right? Because it’s very difficult. It’s very difficult for you to perceive yourself to have the same status as to someone you’re providing aid to, as to someone you’re giving charity to. It is very difficult then to say, oh, with the kindness of my heart, I still see you, we’re the same.

And the power dynamics, it’s just not feasible. It’s not reasonable to do that. But when you assume that we live in the same world and we’ve re received a lot of resources and benefits from the Global South and this is equalizing the arrangement, this is pursuit of equity, then you could start to perceive those communities as being of the same status, of the same standing, of having the same value as you.

Kate: Thank you very much, Steve. I think you’ve expressed that really nicely and, I think mutual respect needs to be re-injected [00:48:00] into the international development system. And I don’t see how that can be done without really looking at the way that money flows and how it’s controlled and who it’s controlled by, and how that feeds into a gender setting and the management of development, from the moment the money is decided on the whole way through and in the feedback loop through reporting as you were mentioning earlier.

So, Charmaine, do you have any last comments to make before we wrap up today? 

Charmaine: No, I think we’ve covered a lot actually. I’m just sort of ruminating over Steve’s last thoughts and I hadn’t really given it thought like that. The difference of how we talk about aid and then reparations.

I hadn’t really thought about, so that’s good. I’m gonna be really thinking about reparations, whether I’m gonna be asking them from my husband one day, you know, so anyway… I want my reparations! [00:49:00] But it is significant in terms of how the money flows. I hadn’t quite thought about that, so thank you, Steve, for giving me a very different way of looking at the money trail, basically.

Steve: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Excellent. Again, it’s always an interesting one, reparations, because again, I think people just, they feel like their back is to the wall when you say reparation, they’re like, oh, now I’m being held accountable for things I had nothing to do with, that’s just not realistic.

What does that world look like? But again, I think it’s just taking a different view. It’s a world view, just taking a few steps back and just thinking about the world slightly differently and it’s about solidarity really. It’s about seeing other people, just perceiving them, as you said, with the same level of respect and the same human value as yourself.

I think once you arrive at that, everything else, I strongly believe starts to make a little bit more sense and it becomes less fearful. And, I think, Kate, you and I had this conversation, the first time we spoke, just really being able to see the value and what we can [00:50:00] all benefit, instead of seeing the losses and what we are giving up individually, if we start looking at what we collectively gain, I think the conversation also starts to change.

We’re just creating a new world where things are more fair, and it’s just more sustainable. And it means we can agree on things a lot more and we can have more effective interventions if it’s international development, but more widely it’s just a more fair world, you know?

 In reality you have conversations with people who are very fearful of this, of the conversation at the moment. The thinking is, what does this mean for me? What does this mean for my children? What does this mean for when my kid grows up, are we saying they will have less opportunities because we are then trying to create this new world where they have fallen out of favor?

Right? And I think that’s a real fear, and I think we have to honor that. I think if we don’t respond to that and have an honest conversation about it, I think that too will be an issue. We need to understand what people’s fears are and really be able to open the conversation and be transparent and say, no, it just means nobody will lose [00:51:00] out. Shifting power doesn’t necessarily have to be, oh, I’m giving up power, it means I’m losing out. It just means I’m creating an environment where I don’t have an advantage just primarily because of where I’m from or how I look or how I speak or et cetera.

Right? But it just means if you work just as hard, you have the same advantages as the next person. But it also means if that other next person works just as hard and wants to contribute just as much that they have an opportunity to do so. But I’ll stop there. It feels like it’s turning into a sermon. I’m going into my preacher mode. 

Kate: Well, Steve, I mean, I just want to bring you back to something that I was saying a little while ago about, when I’m working in international teams, if I feel somewhat on my back foot in terms of the knowledge and expertise that I have in comparison to some of the national team members, then none of us are delivering the best that we can.

If [00:52:00] I just relate that to what you have just said, we don’t necessarily have to lose out either as individuals or collectively if we shift the balance of power, because it may mean that we’re actually all delivering more effectively than we currently are because we’re all being hampered by the power asymmetries that we’re living under at the moment. So I think it could be win-win for everyone, in fact.

Steve: Absolutely. And it goes back to that question, you made this point earlier as well around the fear when you’ve been assigned this status and when actually you’re feeling a bit fearful or exposed because you don’t have the same level of insight or experience, and that will cause you to respond to things in a certain type of, it forces you to close up even more.

But, the world that we are proposing means that no, you can be honest with that. You can be open about the extent to which you know something and the extent to which you don’t and invite somebody else in who may have a bit more experience. For me, even the whole conversation around lived experience, I challenge a little bit.

I just think experience is [00:53:00] experience, right? Because the minute you say lived experience, you center yourself and everything else, is at the periphery, but that’s a conversation for another day. It’s the same as indigenous knowledge, right? What does indigenous knowledge mean? Because to me, knowledge is just knowledge, right? And if I’m in Kenya and you visit Kenya and I know stuff about my community and you are from the UK and you say, oh, Steve’s got indigenous knowledge. To me, your knowledge that you’re bringing from you, from wherever you’re coming from, is indigenous too, right?

But if we just see it as all as knowledge, it just creates a level field. It just allows us to all contribute. As you said, I think it is a world we all yearn for, but I think there’s a lot of fear in the way that the conversation perhaps has been taking place for good reason.

Because our past is traumatic. And it’s painful. And I think it’s fair enough if people want to express that pain, because it’s real pain and it’s fair enough that people want to share the frustration because it’s been ongoing for a long time and that cannot be minimized in any way, shape, or form.

But I do think we need to have the conversation in a way [00:54:00] that everybody feels that they can contribute. And there’s just less concern about what it means for us as individuals. And I know this because I’ve spoken to colleagues who said, Steve, man, I’m a supporter, I’m an ally, but I’m worried about saying anything just because I’m worried about getting it wrong, because I just know I just cannot afford to get it wrong. And it just means that the momentum is lost, really. And I suspect there will be people who are just waiting for all of it to just blow over.

Like this is happening, this is what’s popular right now, and maybe in a couple of years it will taper and we’ll just go back to doing our jobs. I’ve had those comments. We will go back to doing the job, right? And in those moments, I have to say, no, actually this is the job.

Equity is the job, fairness, justice, that is the job. But I recognize that perhaps the way we are having the conversation may make somebody feel like they can contribute less. That they’re only part of the problem, but they’re not part of the solution, which I think is completely backwards.

Kate: Yeah. I remember when I did my Master’s, I wanted to do my [00:55:00] dissertation on gender, and I was advised not to by my supervisor. He said, it’s a flash in the pan. It’s all gonna be over. And like gender isn’t over, I don’t think decolonization is going to be over. I think it’s about equity and justice, as you said.

Before we go, I’ve got one last question for you, and if you could keep your answer really tight, um, what is a practical thing that our listeners and viewers can do to support decolonization? Can you give them some advice on a practical action that they can do in their daily lives or in their work to support decolonization?

Steve: Listen more, right? Listen more particularly to those people that challenge you. Your current understanding, allow it to be open, to be challenged, right? Be open to changing your worldview, agitate more, particularly once you’ve had a better understanding. Don’t have this conversation as a side conversation to your regular [00:56:00] life, regular transmission.

Have this as a core part of everything that you’re doing. And be recognized. Recognize your own contribution. Recognize your own privilege, be more aware of it and challenge it where you can. I think if you’re a person with resources and you want to do good work, absolutely ensure that the decisions that you make and the things that you support are driven by the people who understand the problem best.

I think ask the questions to make sure that just because you’re doing the right thing and the good thing, that that doesn’t mean that that there’s harm as as a result. So doing good should not equal doing harm, and you can do harm by just not paying attention to how things are done.

I think what you do is absolutely important. How you do it is just as important. Yeah, I’ll stop there. 

Kate: That’s great, Steve, that’s a fantastic list of practical things that people can do in their everyday life and their professional life. So on behalf of myself and Charmaine, I’d really like to thank you for joining us here on the Power Shift: Decolonizing Development.

You’ve [00:57:00] been a fantastic guest and I’ve really enjoyed speaking to you. Thank you. Thanks and goodbye .

This weeks guest:

Steve Murigi, Chief Executive Officer at PCI (Primary Care International)

Steve is the Chief Executive Officer at PCI (Primary Care International), leading the organisation’s work to strengthen the delivery of primary care globally through innovative and cost-effective models. He is a public health leader and advocate of inclusive, adaptive, localised, and people-centred development practices, with extensive experience in international development across Africa and Europe. Prior to joining PCI, Steve was the Head of Programs and Strategic Partnerships at Amref Health Africa UK. Over the years, he has worked across senior communication, advocacy, partnerships, and programme disciplines to drive organisational growth.

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