Episode 26: Decoloniality as a way of being, and why language matters. Allan Moolman interviewed.

About this episode:

In this week’s episode, we talk to Allan Moolman from Oxfam GB, who tells us about their development of a decolonial partnership strategy. We focus on the power relations present in language, resource allocation, and local decision-making. Oxfam GB’s decolonial partnership strategy questions the internal power structures present within its organisational structure and procedures, as well as externally looks at Oxfam GB’s relationship with the partners who locally deliver projects. Allan Moolman understands decolonial practice as “a way of being in the world”, rather than a goal to complete and move on. He emphasises the importance of community, building space to engage new ideas, and questioning language hierarchies in development projects.
Episode 26: Full Transcript

​​The Power Shift: Decolonising Development

Episode 26

Decoloniality as a way of being, and why language matters. Allan Moolman interviewed.

Allan: [00:00:00] Embedded in our value set is our willingness to be shaped by the real world, right? It’s this idea that we are not firm and permanent and unassailable in the world. And if any organisation believes that they are, they’re not the kind of organisation that could ever decolonise. It’s a fundamental principle for me in this notion of decolonisation, is that we allow ourselves to be shaped by ideas that are foreign to us. We engage with those ideas. We build up new spaces of imagination that allow ideas to grow. 

Kate: I’m Professor Kate Bird and I’d like to introduce this episode of the Power Shift Decolonising Development. In this week’s episode, we talked to Allan Moolman from Oxfam GB, who tells us about their development of a decolonial partnership strategy.

We focus on the power relations present in language, resource allocation and local decision making. Oxfam GB’s decolonial partnership [00:01:00] strategy questions the internal power structures present within its organisational structure and procedures, as well as externally, and looks at Oxfam GB’s relationship with the partners who deliver projects on the ground.

Allan Moolman understands decolonial practice as a way of being in the world, rather than a goal to complete and move on. He emphasises the importance of community, building space to engage new ideas, and questioning language hierarchies in development projects. Listen on for more.

Charmaine: Hi everyone. Welcome to the Power Shift: Decolonising Development, the podcast series seeking to bring together thinkers, practitioners and activists to share ideas, inspire change, and identify tools for practical action. I am Charmaine McCauley, a body psychotherapist, director of Kokoro and lead facilitator of the groundbreaking training program called Racism in Real Time.

And my [00:02:00] co-host is Professor Kate Bird, director of the Development Hub. As a Black psychotherapist and a White developed professional, we are using our own lived experience and professional skills to frame the way we approach the topic of decolonisation. Over to you, Kate. 

Kate: Thanks Charmaine. So today we’re talking to Allan Moolman who is the interim head of partnerships at Oxfam GB with responsibility for implementing Oxfam GB’s decolonial partnership strategy.

He’s worked at Oxfam since 2007, including as country director in South Africa, which is his country of origin and head of program in Tanzania. Before joining Oxfam, Allan worked in a number of local non-government organisations and community-based organisations in South Africa. His work in program design, management and strategy has always included a strong emphasis on power and the need to transform power relations at the interpersonal, organisational, and sectoral level.

He holds no [00:03:00] formal qualifications in development. I’m interested that he chose to add that to his bio because clearly he has ample experience in the sector. But for more on Allan and Oxfam GB’s work on decolonising partnerships, please click on the show notes below this episode. And now back to you, Charmaine.

Charmaine: Thank you and welcome, so glad that you’re here today, thank you. So Allan, could we start with hearing a little bit about you and what motivates you to do the work that you do? Sort of tying into, to Kate’s sense when she said that you actually have no formal training, but here you are. Can you tell us what has brought you to work with Oxfam GB on decolonisation?

Allan: Thank you. So it’s a really interesting starting point for me because I used to, in the early days of my career in international development, describe myself as both a deliverer of development, but also a product of development. And then I think that that’s always been really important for me to emphasise that [00:04:00] I come from a space that is typical for change, or the kinds of places that development says it wants to create change in. And I am not typical of that place. And I’m not typical of development either because of the sort of lack of formalised training in space, it’s really important for me to emphasise this idea of not being qualified in this particular conversation, because I think it’s one of the things that sit at the heart of the discourse around decolonisation, the valuing of people’s lived experience, the valuing of people’s perspectives of the world that are not necessarily generated through reading.

They’re not necessarily generated through any of the professional parts that we often value when we assess who should be speaking or have a voice. And so the driver for me is really this idea that people have an inherent, not just a need, [00:05:00] but a right to be able to articulate their worldview and have that respected.

And for far too long, I think we’ve approached development as a matter of professional discourse, of academic expertise that have deemphasised what I think is some of the most important philosophical and ideological conversations that are happening at the level of what we call community, as if we don’t live in community.

And so the important things for me are around this notion of power, agency, if you like to use that word. The drivers really, I would like to live in a world where people can articulate their needs, can engage in debate, can engage in the making of society not limited by their identity or what people perceive their identity as.

Charmaine: Mm-hmm. Thank you. I really like the fact that you say that you’re in the community. I think so many times we have people come on and they talk about the community [00:06:00] as an aside, as out there, but I like that you say, well, it’s in you, you are the community. So I like that you can add your voice to that.

So my next question is, Oxfam has been around for a long time. It came into being before the winds of change blew through Africa, and has been associated with embedding colonial attitudes through its development and humanitarian work, as well as leading the way in pushing for progressive change. What is Oxfam GB now doing about decolonising? 

Allan: So I think many in the development sector for a long time we’ve been worried about this sort of scratch at the back of our minds that what we are doing is not totally aligned with our values. So we profess a set of things in the world, but many of the things we do are quite contradictory, right?

So, I mean, as an example, Oxfam being closely involved and associated with many of the liberation movements across Africa, across [00:07:00] Latin America, actually all over the world, you’ll find some form of Oxfam presence there in people’s memory of struggle, in their history of struggle, in this notion of solidarity.

But at the same time, Oxfam also occupies the position of the arch coloniser. Right? I mean, in the same way that the second wave of colonisation was through missionary activity, or maybe not the second wave, the concurrent wave of colonisation was through some form of missionary activity.

The development sector as a whole feels like, and in many senses is, an extension of colony. This idea that we in the North know, we are the people who hold notions of civilisation. And we bring it to the darker masses all over the world. 

Charmaine: Yeah.

Allan: It’s this value that many people in the development sector have around their own superiority. [00:08:00] Not necessarily expressed in that language, but certainly evident in the language of development. We go out and help people who are worse off than us. We have capacity and we are the ones that will help you reshape your world, right? As if your world is something that has to match the colonial world. And I think over the last two years, or not two years, it’s longer than that, Oxfam has been approaching decolonisation in its most acute form, which I think we are starting to see now, all the way from the decision to change the systems of power inside of the organisation by bringing on what is commonly referred to as Southern affiliates. The idea that Oxfam was made up almost exclusively of European, North American, Australian entities for a very long time. And the sense [00:09:00] that they were missing out on something, they were missing out on the experience, on the language, on the, I mean, I wouldn’t say different value sets, but there was certainly something missing in the discourse.

And so Oxfam made a concerted effort to bring new affiliates into the highest levels of decision making of the organisation. So the effort started there. Over the last years, that has gained momentum. So we’re starting to see more and more of these Southern voices having say at the very highest levels of the organisation, at the global governance level, and in the next, the plan is by 2030, to have at least a 50/50 split of Southern and Northern affiliates using that nomenclature. Beyond that,[00:10:00] we’ve seen a fairly radical change in the countries of origins of leadership. In some countries, in many countries, we are starting to see the programs being led by nationals.

We are starting to see new experiments with how power is distributed through the organisation through money, so experiments around how we allocate resources in particular. We’ve got a very strong focus on language. We have a strong focus on adapting our systems and processes to deal with what has become quite burdensome compliance regimes, and then building up a programme of work to use Oxfam’s experience to influence the sector more broadly.

To be able to say, we can put forward models, positive or negative. But we want to put the learning into the world to allow others to start thinking about how we might [00:11:00] collectively reshape the practice of the sector. So there’s some very concrete things and there’s some things that are still quite conceptual and are landing over the next few years, but a definite movement in the direction of a more mediated, equalised power.

Charmaine: So, before we became live, you were talking about, I forgot how many numbers of Oxfam communities or Oxfam countries that you serve. One of the things I was interested in, is there a global sense of Oxfam? I know that you say that you’re Oxfam GB. Now, when you’re talking about race privilege and the impact of power, if there is an Oxfam in Cambodia or Montreal, does that relationship change?

 Is there a global sense of how to do it or do you implement that based on the particular country that you’re in? Does it change or is it the same? 

Allan: So we had quite an early stage of implementation, so this is some experiments [00:12:00] happening internally, but early conversations around decoloniality or, let me not even say decoloniality, let me talk about decolonial practice.

Yeah. And the sort of the things that we need to change if we want to decolonise. We are getting a sense that it is not understood in the same way at a regional level. Or even at energy level, right? So for the dimensions of decolonial work, for instance, in Southeast Asia, are around neo-colonial power.

So the conversations that are emerging there are around the role of India in relation to the other countries in the region. Now India is an affiliate now, so it has got quite a powerful voice in the confederation. But the conversation in Asia is going to take a slightly different reflection.

It’s not going to be embedded in the [00:13:00] conversation around race as much as it is emphasised on the African continents, or in understandings of colonial practice in the UK or understandings of colony in Canada. Right. The manifestations and experiences of those people are quite different, even though the sort of underpinning strand of power is the thing that holds it all together. Decolonisation will emphasise different things in different parts of the world. 

Charmaine: Can you just sort of give one example of how, you know, just to be more explicit so I get what you’re saying, when you say different, how does that look like in one or two different countries? Do just a comparison for me.

Allan: Well, I would say, and again, this is a personal perspective, I think the advancement of decolonial agenda is much further along in Latin America than anywhere else in the world. Really. Movements of people have seized [00:14:00] power. The notions of control over your life and your ability to create change in the world lives in people’s bodies.

Yes. Yeah. In many, many ways, Latin American organisations are taking contradictory approaches to achieving the changes in their world, right? And I think that that’s something about how civil society evolved in Latin America was through a maintaining of people’s power. So the powerful organisations in Latin America are all membership organisations, large masses of people who come together, who create programs of action and they deliver them, Brazil, organisation like MST, they centered in this notion of mass power and accountability.

On the African continent, I think we follow the traditional development part and we’re only seeing a reemergence [00:15:00] of people’s power in the last 5 or 10 years. But we, to use a phrase, drank the Kool-Aid. And so the organisations of development in Africa mirror the kinds of power structures that you see in Western development.

Highly professionalised, non-governmental organisations would differentiate themselves from community-based structures. Latin American decolonial practice is embedded in this idea that people form the base of the movement, and it’s that movement that creates change. Africa, it’s the technocrats that are able to leverage policy.

Points of action are different. Latin America, the street is the terrain of politics. France maybe is also the similar, more recently, maybe that’s an influence from somewhere, let’s not [00:16:00] talk about where. But the mold in many other parts of the world has these tones of professionalisation that have, in some ways, depoliticised the movement. The politics that we talk about are the politics of the world as they are defined by Western liberal thought, they’re not the politics of people. In South Africa, we have this thing, we talk about the politics of the belly, that when people are hungry, they’re easily influenced.

 That power is maintained through keeping people in precarious positions and being able to do the bare minimum in order to maintain particular forms of power in the country. And the other articulations of the dimensions of power that are not necessarily available in a lot of Western discourse.

Charmaine: Thank you, I think Kate would like to ask a few questions. Over to you, Kate. Thank you so much, Allan. That was great. 

Kate: Thank you [00:17:00] Charmaine. I’d like to know a little bit more about the new partnership strategy that Oxfam GB is developing. I wonder if you could talk us through that. 

Allan: Yeah. So, about three years ago, Oxfam embarked on a journey to address racism in the organisation, right? So we started looking at what we call a racial justice framework, which is really supposed to embody our anti-racist approaches. And the racial justice framework gives rise to two pieces of operational strategy.

One is what we call our equality strategy, which is largely focused on the internal behaviors. It’s a people strategy, it’s an HR strategy that looks at how do we build the attitudes, value sets, and ways of working that allow us to decolonise, to be anti-racist, to be more strongly feminist.

The second part of that is the decolonial [00:18:00] partnership strategy, which is really looking at how Oxfam Great Britain does its work, right? So how do we engage in the processes that result in the delivery of change? And so the decolonial partnership strategy is focused really on our relationships at a number of levels.

In the first instance, it’s focused on the relationship between Oxfam Great Britain, in the traditional language, as a head office with the periphery, which is its country programs. Okay, so traditionally, policy, procedure, language discourses developed centrally and it’s pushed out into the country.

Programs are the implementing part of the [00:19:00] organisation. So the first phase of the work is really focused on Oxfam Great Britain’s relationship with these country structures. And its relationships with new affiliates, what we call Southern affiliates. So it’s looking at the power relations there and trying to correct those.

The second part of the work that the partnership strategy looks at is our relationships with organisations outside of Oxfam. So what we would traditionally call partners, the civil society organisations in countries who deliver a variety of program work. Important thing about this piece of work, at least for me, is that unless Oxfam itself in its relationships with its internal structures where there are hierarchies of power, unless Oxfam is able to rebuild a different way [00:20:00] internally, it cannot act in the external with any coherence or believability.

That notion of dissonance is really, really important. Yeah. Nobody’s going to believe you if you can’t reflect that practice in your own life. So I think the decolonial partnership strategy is really about bringing us into alignment with a set of values and ensuring that those values cascade all the way through the systems in which we are active and that those systems then can, if they’re working properly, can provide feedback that allow us to see ourselves in a more honest way in the world. It’s about building our internal coherence. And the idea, Charmaine, of talking to a psychotherapist around this notion of dissonance is really, it’s interesting, right. And so I think that this is a brave moment of getting onto the couch for Oxfam [00:21:00] to try to work through these things and to bring itself into greater alignment with itself, or at least with its perceived self. 

Charmaine: And just to clarify that, I like when you say the perceived self because I think for me, Kate really knows the language and this is her thing, right?

And so for me, it’s like the perceived self, are you talking about yourself?

And so from a body psychotherapist point of view, it’s like, aren’t you people talking about you? Aren’t you talking about your own humanity? And I love when you said it has to come from the internal and go out, because if the internal isn’t functioning that way, isn’t alive, then it represents the external.

And so often in these conversations, it’s always as if the external has nothing to do with the internal. Like there’s a line and I like the fact that you’re saying, yeah, you have to start within first, and then move out. 

Allan: And reflecting on my early statement, right? Embedded in [00:22:00] our value set is our willingness to be shaped by the real world, right? It’s this idea that we are not firm and permanent and unassailable in the world. And if any organisation believes that they are, they’re not the kind of organisation that could ever decolonise.

It’s a fundamental principle for me in this notion of decolonisation, is that we allow ourselves to be shaped by ideas that are foreign to us. We engage with those ideas. We build up new spaces of imagination that allow ideas to grow. Yeah. I was in a conversation once where somebody said to me, “Oh, but you know, we are really becoming anti-racist because we have fewer reports of racism in our organisation.”

I thought about that. I thought does that mean you’re becoming anti-racist? Or does that mean that reports are going down? And even if reports are going down, they’re not at zero, which [00:23:00] means that there’s some elements of your organisational practice that are causing people to feel disconnected from you.

And this notion that when we talk about things that are experienced, that we can reduce them to numerical data, it sits really, really badly with me. It’s like, I’m mixed race in a country where racism has been sort of codified down to the nth degree. When I talk to older people in my life, and I ask them, what is the experience of racism that has done you the most harm?

And some people will say it was going to the shop and not being allowed to walk in the front door, but being told to go around the back because that’s where the Black people bought from. It wasn’t somebody calling me a derogatory name. I can deal with that, I can confront that. It wasn’t the overt expressions of racism that mattered. It [00:24:00] was a subtle experience of my inhumanity in relation to that particular person. My inhumanity was created through their action, , the way they saw me the way they thought about me. Not necessarily the things they did. I can resist the things you do. I can’t resist the things you think.

And so for me, that’s a really, really important thing, right? It’s like how do we move forward when so much of the stuff that we have to do is located in the realm of feeling and experience. Yeah. It’s not located in any empirical format. I don’t feel 50% better. There is not a 50% lighter expression of racism. It is racism. And so for me approaching this decolonial work is like somebody asked, what are the indicators for our decolonisation? I can say to you what we can set are indicators of progress.[00:25:00] They’re permanent because things will change. We may move forward rapidly in one instance, and then in five years down the line, some individual in the organisation makes an utterance that erodes all of our work. That’s not necessarily around race. It could be around a whole range of things.

A discounting of somebody’s opinion, a complete brushing off of an experience, an unwillingness to take on even thinking about an idea that has come from a completely different conceptual framework to you. And I think decolonial practice becomes a permanent part of what we do. It becomes a permanent part of a way of being in the world.

Mm-hmm. Much like we describe feminist approaches, it’s a way of being in the world. It’s not necessarily a thing that we will complete. And I think some of the work is [00:26:00] exploratory in that it’s helping us understand what that way might look like and how we might describe it, and how we might set aspirational goals towards it.

And I think more importantly, a way of thinking about progress that’s not bound by these linear measures. And also building in into that framework the opportunity for surprise and discovery that the things that we never thought we might do, because we never had the conceptual frameworks suddenly emerge. I was in a conversation two days ago where somebody said, one of the challenges in the development sector is that we have no comfort with the unknown. No comfort with the idea that we don’t know. And for me that’s another interesting framing of coloniality is the certainty of the center we are, you will aspire [00:27:00] to, you will do. There is no other way, we’ve been doing this like this for a hundred years, there is no other way. The command that comes out of the center has caused a situation where we’ve missed out on grand opportunity? I think about things like the environmental movement now, particularly sort of in the food security space. In the late sixties and seventies, discourse around how countries should develop was centered around monocropping, was centered around this idea that high value export commodities would be the thing that would lift Africa out of poverty. 30 years later, we come back and we tell the people we told to stop intercropping, to stop thinking about soil conservation, to stop planting peanuts in the off season to replenish nitrates. We told them to use fertiliser, and then we come back and we say, “Oh wow, we’ve discovered agro [00:28:00] ecology, you need to inter crop, you need to replenish the soil by planting peanuts to put the nitrates back.” But those farmers were telling you that they were doing that. They just didn’t have the language. They didn’t have the articulation. But we refused to listen because the diction was defined by the center. And now we go back and we’ve commodified this knowledge. And we go back into the village and we say to the farmer, me, 23 year old graduate from Harvard, is going to teach you how to grow crops. If you hadn’t interfered in the first place, and I’m not by any way saying that development must just leave things as they are. If you hadn’t interfered in the first place, or if you had engaged in that relationship, not a project, not a program, if you had engaged in that relationship and bothered to learn the language of those people, and I’m not talking about language in its facet of I speak French or I [00:29:00] speak English. If you had bothered to learn the language of their relationship with the environment, maybe we would’ve had a well-established agro ecological model that would’ve suited the world and would’ve not done the damage that we’ve done to this point in terms of the environment in that space. And I think that one of the lessons for that is, there’s still some sort of arrogance that believes that agro ecology is somehow a Western idea that we are reimporting into Africa, into Asia, into Latin America. It’s agroecology. It’s not just farming, which it was for hundreds and hundreds of years. We’ve discounted the knowledge, we discarded the knowledge, we replaced it with something else. We captured all of that knowledge, we commodified it, and now we are returning it to the people that we took it away from.

If that’s not the [00:30:00] embodiment of colony, I don’t know what is. And so in this next phase for me, what becomes really, really important is rebuilding those relational pieces of the development practice. We cannot advance change in the world if we don’t structure our practice around a set of relationships that are embodied in trust, that are embodied in care, and are embodied in a common set of values.

And that’s the decolonial project for me. The decolonial project recentres people in a very obvious way, people and relationships. Everything else has to be adjusted to suit. How do we make our relationships stronger? Well, for one, we reduce compliance burdens. How do we make our relationship stronger? We talk endlessly. [00:31:00] We learn about each other. We engage with each other. We validate each other’s experience. We think together, we plan together. We deliver together. We learn together. We don’t go down and say, I’ve designed the program in Washington that is going to change the lives of 5 million Africans by giving them cell phones.

That’s not developmental. That’s not decolonial. That’s just simply an articulation of power. So the conversation around the use of those cell phones starts with, so what is the actual problem? What are you doing to solve it? Can we help you enhance it? We have these these ideas around technology, could they be useful for you?

What tech are you using already? Why are we developing a new platform? The conversation goes along a different part than “we’ve analyzed, we’ve mapped up the problems we have with solution.” The conversation is what is the [00:32:00] problem? How are you experiencing it?

What are your strategies for survival to improve your life? Can we contribute to making those stronger, more efficient, improving your ability to be in the world and change the world yourself. Rather than coming down and telling you, you know, the problem is that you don’t have electricity, we’re going to roll out electricity and your life’s going to be better.

It was really interesting in the 90s when I was working on HIV, that one of the premier mechanisms for the HIV virus to transmit through Africa was roads. Communities that had low access to mobility were safer from HIV than communities who had roads built up to them. There was no time for those communities to develop their strategies, to protect themselves, to defend themselves.

It came after years, but it was quite interesting [00:33:00] that development delivered an unintended consequence. I love the language that we use in the sector that takes a destructive act and turns it into an unintended consequence. We can walk away from an unintended consequence. But the impact on people’s real lives, those things are genuine and they’re felt, and in the case of HIV, were felt in a way that was visceral and impossible to pull back from, right? And so even the discourse in the sector is to start thinking about these things. I think the language of development has to adjust. Unintended or not, it is a consequence to which we have an obligation to respond. It has affected somebody’s life. And sometimes the language of development, which I think we really do need to interrogate as part of the decolonial project, allows us to abdicate our responsibility and move away [00:34:00] with a half-hearted apology and smiling a wave, you know?

And I think some of the language of decolonisation that we have to talk about as well, not the language, but one of the practices that is becoming more and more attractive to people is to say, just listen to communities and do what they say. And for me, that is a perverse paternalism, right? It’s like you’re saying to me, unintended or not, I can’t argue with you because I’m cleverer than you, so I’m just going to listen to what you said. No, it doesn’t matter what the consequences are. We are just going to follow you down this part knowing that there’s a trap at the end of it, but when you fall into the trap, you learn the lesson. I mean, how paternalistic is that?

I’ve had practitioners talk to me, particularly younger ones, about going into spaces and listening and there’s this earnestness and this [00:35:00] wonderful sort of feeling of, “oh, but I’m doing the right thing. I’m listening.” It’s like, why are you listening? Well, you know, those people are simpler than I am.

 The underlying conversation, the underlying language is, they won’t understand concepts, or if I engage in the space of debate, I’m going to overwhelm them and then it’s not going to be communities and, that’s absolute rubbish. That’s another human being. They have the facility to see the world, to understand the world. Using different artifacts and dimensions to describe it, but in no way does that mean that their analysis is lesser than yours. And so if you are a practitioner in this time, or in any time you should have been, if you are a practitioner, you are obligated to engage in the space of debate in order to advance ideas. You are obligated to go in there and speak [00:36:00] and not speak to overwhelm. It’s really nice to have gone to Oxford and have a sort of vocabulary that’s five times larger than the next person in the world, but that doesn’t help you engage with anyone. When I talk about speaking and engaging in debate, it’s actually listening and saying, explain that to me, because in my experience, that’s not how it works.

But in my experience, I accept that these are the limitations and we engage in that conversation and we build up language. And it’s back to that thing that I spoke about earlier on. It’s about engaging in that space of humanity in a language that is comfortable for both of you and rubs off on both of you.

And that allows you to see the world in a different way. Language is powerful, right? Some cultures have words for some things, and so the articulation is very difficult for them. But if you talk, you can find new meaning, new words, new expressions of [00:37:00] transmitting concepts. And in the development sector, we don’t spend enough time doing that. The peace about creating language for me is about that space of engagement and building understanding of it, and a willingness to say, I don’t know.

I know some, but I don’t know all, and that this new perspective may help me to understand a little bit more. 

Kate: Allan, what I’m hearing from what you say actually, places quite a substantial challenge on development professionals, particularly development professionals who are based in the minority world, in the Global North.

Because a lot of us based here, and I say us because here I am in the Global North, have been trained however much we question it, in a positivistic approach. Yeah. We have accumulated the label of being an expert. We have expert knowledge. We believe to some extent in empiricism. And [00:38:00] that kind of protects us from some of the things that you are talking about, which is actually engaging with individuals and communities in a really open way.

And what it seems to me that you are talking about is a whole set of skills, which might be described as soft skills, but I don’t think they’re soft at all. They’re not easy skills. They’re not skills that just kind of fall in your lap. You don’t just accumulate them in life. Or if you don’t have them, you really don’t have them.

You need to build them, which includes self-reflection, being willing to be vulnerable, being willing to engage in personal change and it’s through this that you can engage in the kind of discussion and debate with individuals and communities that you are talking about. So you’re not just there as a passive listener.

You’re not just watching as a community steers itself over a precipice going, “oh, well they chose that future.” You are actually engaging in quite a deep way. So, we need to bring this discussion to a close, but I think you’re setting quite a big challenge [00:39:00] for those of us who are already in the sector who need to retool and change.

So I’m going to finish with a question, which is, if you were to pick one practical thing that our listeners and viewers could do as an individual and within their organisation to support and promote anti-racist work, decolonisation and localisation within the development industry, what would that one first step be?

Allan: I would expect that one first step would be a deep introspection on your positionality and understanding of how you create or recreate colony. And that’s not just a question for people in the North. That’s a question for people in the South as well, because that leaning into empiricism, into that particular mode that we just described, is across the professional sector in development, [00:40:00] right? Irrespective of the color of your skin or your location, one of the big challenges that we have is that the periphery believes that the center is what they should be, and that’s probably the biggest challenge of development, that all of us have to confront our role in maintaining colony.

And so the starting point for me is to build a deep reflective and reflexive practice that constantly asks whether I am creating new forms of distorted hierarchical power, or whether my actions are actually leading to an expansion and a sharing and a remodeling of power that allows us to see the world in a different place.

So I think it’s personal. It has to start with the personal. Structural, procedural, all of that stuff we can fix organisationally. We’re in control of our [00:41:00] policy frameworks. We’re in control of our procedures. We’re in control of a lot of the things that provide guidance for practice, but that has got no effect unless we have a more reflexive and reflective practitioner.

So the emphasis has to be on the South first, how I engage with the system. And how, to use slightly old power languages, how the power width can be emphasised. 

Kate: Yeah, that’s really interesting. And it links us back to what you were saying earlier on about your decolonial partnership strategy and how that builds on your equity strategy in Oxfam GB with the equality strategy coming first because you’ve got to fix those relational and personal aspects before you can build on them in terms of thinking, looking outwards to partnerships. I would like to thank Allan very much for joining us today[00:42:00] for a really challenging and interesting discussion on bringing the politics and values right back into the center of development, how we do development, and really thinking about how we show up as individuals in the work that we do and not ducking the tricky issues.

And being brave about being self-reflective and working on ourselves as the starting point for showing up better in development. So thank you very much, Allan.

Allan: Thank you for having me. Thank you.

Charmaine: Thank you very much, Allan. It’s a pleasure. 

This weeks guest:

Allan is currently the Interim Head of Partnerships for Oxfam GB with the responsibility for the implementation of the Oxfam GB decolonial Partnerships Strategy.

He has worked for Oxfam since 2007 in a number of roles including that of Country Director in South Africa (his country of origin) and as Head of Programme is Tanzania. Prior to joining Oxfam, Allan worked in a number of local non-governmental and community based organizations in South Africa. Allan’s work in programme design, management and strategy has always included a strong emphasis on power and the need to transform power relations at the interpersonal, organisational and sectoral level. He holds no formal qualifications in development.

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