By Kate Newman

2023 has been a busy year for us at INTRAC.  In the last twelve months, our work has involved supporting INGOs in their strategy review and development processes, working on multi-country mid-term and end term evaluations, and expanding our training support in partnering and grant management. We have also been focused on our own strategic review and development process.

Towards the end of the 2022 we ran a listening process where we engaged with actors across the international development and civil society sectors, asking them what they felt were the pressing challenges and key opportunities for civil society and civil society organisations, what they thought would be different in the sector in five years’ time, and how INTRAC might contribute to strengthening civil society.  This started a process of analysis and reflection, taking stock of our experiences, expertise, relationships, and reputation; as well as the work we had been delivering recently.  We identified three drivers for change:

  • To reconnect ourselves with our core purpose – to ensure we are creating the maximum impact we can in civil society strengthening.
    • Although our consultancy and training work does directly contribute to civil society strengthening, we believe we could create greater impact by working differently.
  • To respond to challenges and opportunities provided by the increasing understanding of structural racism, movements to shift the power and decolonise and address our long-term relevance.
    • Our work has always focused on strengthening local civil society, and in supporting the agency of local organisations to act: in their own contexts and in their global partnerships.  However, we believe we could contribute to greater strategic impact through aligning more deeply with others working on power shifts, particularly by paying more attention to ‘who’ our consultants are, their approaches and intentionality in their work.
  • To shore up and strengthen our financial resilience.
    • As an organisation largely funded through commissioned work this means we have limited flexibility in how we spend our money.  We are dependent on external interests in terms of what is commissioned.  A more diverse income stream would enhance our ability to deliver directly to our mission.

This led us to consider our current organisational model and approach; and what we could do differently.  One year on, we have just agreed our new strategic framework – which we believe will enable us to contribute effectively to strengthening civil society into the future.

At the heart of our new strategy is the intention to shift from prioritising support to individual actors working in civil society, and civil society organisations; to focusing on the wider eco-system of civil society support; strengthening and transforming this nationally and globally.  We believe that this is the most effective way we can deliver our vision and mission.

Vision: Our vision is of vibrant, diverse, and inclusive civil societies across the globe. At both national and global levels, we want to see civil society supporting just, equal, and sustainable communities where everyone can thrive.

Mission: We exist to promote positive social change. We do this by strengthening the wider ecosystems of civil society support and also by supporting civil society organisations themselves. Through our collaborations we intend that these organisations are better able to develop, engage with others, and do what they want to do, better. 

Central to this is to build a network, of ethical and values-driven consultants and civil society support providers. These people and organisations will be locally rooted and globally connected; working in different ways to strengthen the resilience, impact and legitimacy of civil society organisations. They will be contributing to development that is locally determined, led, and owned.  We will be communicating much more about our strategy and approach in the new year.

But for now, I wanted to thank everyone who has been part of our journey.  The actors across the sector who gave their time in interviews as we sounded out our analysis and vision and gave critical feedback which helped us sharpen our intentions.  The network members who joined focus group discussions and shared their expectations and priorities as to what being part of a network would give them.  Our commissioners and partners who wrestled with us and told us directly when our ideas were just not good enough!  And our staff, who worked together to share ideas and insight, and navigate the journey while continuing to deliver the multiple workstreams that they are involved in today.

Looking forward to 2024 we have an exciting year ahead.  We will be working to transform ourselves, challenging our historic assumptions, presumptions, and ways of working, unlearning and relearning in partnership with our allies. These include our network members, commissioners and those working in civil society in different contexts.  We will also be focusing on making our theory of change and strategic goals a reality.

  • Establishing our framework for ethical values-driven consultancy – shifting expectations about ‘who’ the consultant is, the approaches and knowledges that are valued, and strengthening our consultancy offer to ensure that we are contributing to building equitable, inclusive, feminist, and anti-racist organisations, that actively shift the power.
  • Building a locally rooted, globally connected network of ethical and values-driven practitioners – who are part of local eco-systems of civil society support, and working to strengthen civil society organisations; and therefore, their ability to deliver transformative locally led development.
  • Aligning with movements to shift the power and supporting INGOs and national actors to reimagine their roles and relationships in development: bringing our experience in organisational strengthening, partnership and design and our expertise in advisory, training and capacity strengthening to work alongside others committed to taking action to decolonise and shift the power.
  • Evolving ourselves to deliver the strategic direction: building our network mindset and a culture of equity, diversity, and inclusivity to enable us to become network led; with appropriate business model, funding streams and ways of working to deliver our ambition.

We are taking a ‘test and learn’ approach to delivering our vision, drawing on insight from the innovation and technology industries, embedding a learning mindset, taking appropriate risks, ensuring short feedback loops and an ability to learn from success and failure.  We are clear in where we want to go, but we will be evolutionary in our way of getting there; we hope you join us on our journey and we can build together.