Ellie Stephens

2 May, 2017

Togetherness Against the Riptide of Restrictions

We’ve all heard it repeated multiple times in our lives:  we all work better together. The work we do is greater than one individual, and together we can solve the challenges our world and communities face. We’ve also heard this refrain multiple times in our sector, it’s not a revolutionary idea but it’s one that’s seemingly harder and harder to take ownership of in our work.

This adage has never been more important than it is today, as civil society faces an increasing challenge of legitimacy in an evolving world too often dominated by political and financial elites. According to the CIVICUS Monitor, only 3 percent of the world currently lives in countries where fundamental civic rights are respected and enforced, leaving 6 billion people living in countries where freedom of association, assembly, and speech are curtailed.

At Innovation for Change, we have reached out to activists and organisations working in some of today’s most restricted spaces and, with this core group of incubators, we are working hard to co-create a better world together. Throughout this process, we have had to ask ourselves the difficult questions: What if we did make time to ask the person next to us what they’re doing? What if we find out that not only is that person doing similar work, but together we can relieve some of the challenges of time and resourcing? That is what we have discovered at Innovation for Change, and it’s not revolutionary. It has been remarkable that the most powerful connections in our work are the ones we’ve most overlooked because they were just too simple.

Following a series of consultations throughout 2015 and 2017, we are now working with a core group of innovators from countries across the globe – from Argentina to Kazakhstan, Mauritania to Thailand – to establish a series of Innovation Hubs in six regions around the world. It’s been challenging work, but our brightest and most inspiring moments have come when we’re sitting in a room together and sharing our challenges and ideas. It has come when our colleagues from Central Asia present an Innovation Lab they have hosted and its outcomes and our Latin American colleagues have been inspired to host their own.

The importance of swapping ideas online and in person is the reason we have created an online platform – Innovation for Change – where regions can not only access tools, resources, consultants and career opportunities, but engage with one another in their own regions and cross-regionally through online messaging and in groups. Ideas have flourished within the online platform to bring organisations and individuals into the fold, and closer together. It is why we have begun a mapping activity in Africa to find connections between actors working on human rights, transparency and accountability so an organisation in Senegal, for example, can begin a conversation to replicate the success of an organisation in Ghana in holding a government accountable.

We are excited by the possibilities and opportunities we’ve seen arise just from sharing an idea, and we are excited for that network to continue to grow and expand and take a step outside of the civil society bubble we’ve all put ourselves in. In a time when states have been sharing each other’s worst practices to jail journalists, enact laws that prevent non-governmental organisations from forming, and curb our abilities to meet and protest peacefully, we should learn from them and share our own tips, tricks, and tools to resist.

We will continue to have challenges, and continue to overlook some simple connections, but we are hoping that by making the conscious effort and continuing to connect our network across regions, we can spark just one idea that will make us all stronger together.

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