By Peter Sargent

This piece was originally published in the November 2021 issue of the INTRAC newsletter. Subscribe today to receive new issues in your inbox.

On 18 November, INTRAC marked its 30th anniversary, and it’s a milestone which invites us to take the time to recognise the track record of the organisation. Over the last three decades, INTRAC has been on a journey together with the civil society sector. INTRAC was founded to bring together training, consultancy, and research in order to enable practical and positive change – that desire is as strong today as it was in 1991. What has changed is the context. In celebrating the 30th anniversary of INTRAC, we also want to celebrate civil society and to reflect on its wider successes and challenges, of which we have been a part.

INTRAC has remained relevant over the past 30 years, because of our ability to respond to changes in civil society. The way we work with stakeholders and clients means that we are able to understand prevailing issues and to tailor our support to better meet current needs of the sector. INTRAC has always had a specific view of how long-lasting change is achieved – it needs to start from the inside, and not imposed from outside. We have always aimed not to impose change, but to facilitate it. This is not just something we talk about, but something we strive to do in practice. It is for that reason that being a learning partner is so important to INTRAC – because it is about accompanying organisations through the process of change. If we can provide clear thinking in a practical, accessible way we know we have succeeded – the M&E Universe is a great example of this in action.

Moving into 2022, we have planned a number of ways to engage with our stakeholders and celebrate what INTRAC has achieved in the past and also to develop our plans for the future. Shifting the power will be the consistent theme through all of this. In some ways, INTRAC has pioneered projects to help shift the power – for example our Consultants for Change (C4C) programme responded to the need for a cohort of consultants to provide capacity strengthening locally in the global South. While we recognise that we are part of a system that emphasises logical frameworks, outputs, and outcome measuring we have worked to shift the power through a learning lens. We challenge donors to go the extra mile to truly strengthen organisations. Looking more widely, we want to support the birth of a new and more sustainable civil society system, one which centres around the capacities, concerns, and local knowledge of organisations in the South.

The last two years have been dominated by the challenges imposed by the pandemic, and INTRAC has experienced this just as all CSOs have. COVID-19 has made us reflect on our way of working. We are proud of the way we have shifted our training offer online, taking advantage of our existing skills in this area. INTRAC has a blend of learning methods which bring real insight and value to participants, and is a far cry from simply transitioning a face-to-face course into a virtual environment.

COVID-19 has also further reinforced our belief in the need for trusted consultants and partners on the ground. It has clarified the role that INTRAC, as an organisation based in the global North, can play to best enhance the effectiveness of organisations in the South. We continue to engage and build a network of capable consultants in the South, and this is one way we are working to prepare INTRAC for an uncertain future in which further shocks and challenges are likely.

Ultimately, we want to use the occasion of our anniversary to share our passion around civil society strengthening. It is what brought the founders of INTRAC together in 1991, and it is what animates INTRAC today. Both INTRAC and civil society have come a long way in 30 years, but there is still a great deal that we can achieve together.

Peter Sargent became interim Chief Executive of INTRAC in January 2021. Much of his 20+ years of experience in the international development sector has been in senior leadership roles. He was previously Chief Operating Officer at United Purpose, and has also worked as a consultant.