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FIE TIG Week: Storytelling among diverse groups builds solidarity and creates the space for deep learning on strategic challenges by Barbara Klugman

Barbara Klugman

Hello, I am Barbara Klugman, South African strategy and evaluation practitioner, working with social and environmental justice organisations, networks and funders internationally. Since early 2020, I have been facilitating a learning process on power and movement-building among 34 diverse (by issue and continent and type of organisation – funders, networks and place-based) women’s /womn’s /womxn’s rights groups (groups’ discourses differ). They are all funded by the UK Charity Comic Relief’s “Power Up” initiative. The magic has been the shared learning across this diversity.

This was partly facilitated by starting at the time of global lock-down. We met online, first storying telling, in response to facilitator Jude Clark’s question, ‘How are you?’.  Participants offered their experience in sessions generated to meet immediate needs – “how to work online?”, “how to keep connected to constituents?”  From that first event everyone recognised each other’s humanity and how the intersection of patriarchy with multiple other bases of stigma and discrimination – poverty, sexual orientation, citizenship status, caste, ethnicity, rurality, gender identity, early marriage, among others – were posing some of the biggest challenges in the context of lockdown. Through the story-telling, and people’s willingness to embrace the vulnerability of sharing challenges and what was not working, we began building trust. By honouring every participants’ expertise, over time we’ve built a space of mutual recognition and solidarity, of ‘power with.’ 

We have done whatever we can to enable everyone’s participation, given that most people are not first language English speakers and many have extremely poor internet (for example at times taping someone’s story in advance in case their connection dies during a session). Some participants had never been in an ‘international’ space before, but we consistently invited in people’s lived experience, destroying any assumptions of hierarchy that participants may have brought in from their own spaces – about the greater right to voice of those who are older or well-educated or in leadership positions in their organisations. People also chose whether and which issues and events to attend.

Hot Tips

While we lay out principles for managing power at the outset of an initiative (which we actually did not do), the bottom line is the tone that facilitators and participants set from the start – intersectionality as a practice of recognition and equity.

Starting with the particular stories and sharing across diversity, we have drawn out underlying analyses of power and feminist principles. After three years, we are now collating lessons learned, on topics ranging from feminist governance, to research and advocacy on gender based violence, to getting women elected, to practising feminist principles in MEL and in our partnerships. This is enabling conversation and learning about many usually unspoken challenges of feminist movement-building, from addressing conflicts of interest or competition for resources, to ways of ensuring leadership of constituents / communities / or those with lived experience – again in our different contexts we use different discourses.

We’ve learned there is a huge convergence around both challenges and strategies, probably because what is similar is the pervasiveness of patriarchy intertwined with the other bases of exclusion and discrimination, hence the intersectional experience of all participants and their constituents.  And where there are differences in strategy, the story-telling space has enabled appreciation of these without animosity, competition or anyone claiming that they know best.

Lesson Learned

Reporting back: How one funder succeeded in doing better, and realised they’d never get it completely right presents feedback the groups gave Comic Relief about its approach and the Power Up learning process – and Comic Relief’s response to this feedback.

Rad Resource

Feminist Resilience and Innovation in a Pandemic shows groups’ similar and different Covid-related learning and strategy shifts.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Feminist Issues in Evaluation (FIE) TIG Week with our colleagues in the FIE Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our FIE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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