This week, one in which the strategy will be laid before AA Uganda’s General Assembly, our top most governance body for discussion and hopefully approval, we write about changes in the context of our operations, requiring us to change as well or at the very least recognize that it can’t be business as usual.
Six major developments in our context that have heavily influenced the content of our programme and institutional focus are: a) the changing face of poverty, inequality and vulnerability; b) the climate crisis; c) resurgence of authoritarian leaders; d) the changing face of civic activism; e); advancement in technology and finally, f) changes in funding and modalities.
On the changing face of poverty, we recognize Uganda’s remarkable results in poverty reduction, more than halving the number of people living in poverty between 1992 and 2015. However, inequality and vulnerability has increased - the richer are becoming richer and the poor having less - today 62% of Ugandans are either poor or vulnerable to it, suggesting that a vast number haven’t benefitted from the poverty reduction story in a meaningful way. On climate, the UN estimates that 120 million people globally will fall back into poverty because of climate change in the next decade. In Uganda, we are already witnessing drastic changes and unpredictable weather patterns affecting productivity and food security. We see all over the world, the resurgence of authoritarian leaders and populist leaders who are closing spaces for free expression and dissent and reversing many gains society has made in advancing democracy - from Russia, Turkey, Brazil and the US to Egypt, Uganda and Rwanda, previous gains are being eroded. However, we are also seeing mounting citizen mobilization and struggles for social justice, especially outside the traditional civil society with young people creating new spaces for engagement as traditional spaces are shrinking, buoyed by liberation technology, which while not without its problems is making information flow a lot more rapid. The new face of civic activism is in determined and courageous people from diverse backgrounds and not NGOs as we have known in the past decades. Campaigns launched by individuals for a cause on social media as we saw with Stella Nyanzi of Makerere attracts a lot more attention than old-style campaigns by NGOs. Traditional civil society must change! On funding, we realize that more money from conventional donors being directed towards private sector business ventures as new ways of fighting poverty and less for advancing justice causes or rights work.
As our forthcoming strategy aptly puts it, ‘… strategy paper therefore reflects a context of multiple crises as well as opportunities which calls on our imagination and determination to advance the cause of social justice…’.
To adequately respond, we must refine our programming priorities and strategies, as well as make important institutional shifts. Under programme priorities, we have endeavoured to achieve more focus, even when some of the broad areas of work have continued from the previous Strategy Paper. We have re-articulated our women’s rights work to focus on social justice for women and narrowed down to gender based violence, economic empowerment and ‘unpaid care work’. The sustainable livelihoods work has a stronger underlying focus on building resilience to climate change, while our governance agenda will focus more on tax and political accountability for quality gender responsive service delivery driven by rooted campaigning from the grassroots to district, national, regional and global levels. Finally, under programme priorities as we have added an area on youth economic empowerment.
Under programme strategies, we commit to go deeper in our focus, not just on the visible power of the state, but also the invisible power of culture and tradition in as far as it presents obstacles for the attainment of human dignity, as well as the hidden power of elite. Our power analysis will thus be more robust than we have committed to in the past. We have also committed to use feminist principles in our analysis and programming, adopt more culturally sensitive approaches and work with more informal groups and partners who strengthen our overall capabilities and not just those we fund. Finally, on programme strategies, we shall adopt, use and support public interest litigation more than before and have defined accurate, accessible information as a public good for citizens.
Looking more internally at our institution, we articulate in Section 5 on ‘Organisational Changes and Priorities’, important intentions to create a new culture of performance and activism within our staff; we commit to be more flexible in responding to informal partners and desire to be less bureaucratic. We want to embrace increased digitization and fasten decision making. While on funding, we shall continue the diversification of our funding streams and test new local fundraising products.
Clearly our forthcoming 5th Strategy Paper will require important shifts in the attitude of our staff and in the culture of how we do our work - it won’t be business as usual, perhaps ‘business unusual’ is what all this demands.
Written by Arthur LAROK, Country Director - AA Uganda