As much as it is a time of struggle and shrinking space, it is also a time for hope and revolution

Montage330 members of the Affinity Group of National Associations (AGNA) gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa for a peer learning exchange. With the facilitation of Common Purpose, the members looked at their ability to lead beyond authority and which tools they may need to achieve this in civic space. Civil society’s (CS) ability to act rests on the realisation of three essential rights: the right to association, the right to peaceful assembly and the right to freedom of expression. Together, these define the boundaries of civic space within which civil society can function.

The Affinity Group of National Associations (AGNA) is a group of CIVICUS members that exists to take forward this mission and values. AGNA brings together national associations from around the world to work toward greater co-operation across national and regional restrictions and to increase the ability to work together on shared areas of interest. AGNA was created to address the following identified needs: an international citizens’ coalition; to reverse the current understanding of capacity building characterised by a North to South flow of knowledge, information and experience sharing; to provide a support network for national network leaders; and to reduce the ‘re-invention of the wheel’ and improvisation in the leadership of NGOs/NPOs

Civic space is no longer only a global south problem, the core freedoms which allow us to do our work are under threat all over the world. According to the CIVICUS Monitor, 9 countries out of 134 have an open CS space. All over the world, efforts by governments to restrict civic space have grown at a disturbing rate. Governments are using laws and policies to limit the ability of people to come together and take action. During the discussions, members got together to share concepts about how to strengthen their ability to lead and make working in civil society easier and collective for all involved.

Leading beyond authority can be linked to nine key aspects:
1. Understanding your context and place – This entails finding ways to network accordingly. One’s context is made up of knowledge, values and technology which may influence your overall process.
2. Adapting to new environments- within your organization you need to learn how to work with different CSOs. If you are seeking to lead beyond your role you need to adapt.
3. Build coalitions- you need to find stakeholders who will work with you and offer different kinds of support. This is a critical skill to have as a leader.
4. Courage and caution- ask yourself when am I being courageous and when am I being foolish in my actions
5. Pace and timing- what is too fast and what is too slow given the context of the situation
6. Passion and resonance- have your passion guide you- what happens when you have more power than resonance and it clashes
7. Playing different roles- you need to know when to lead, when to follow and when to collaborate
8. Sources of power- one needs to find and understand different sources of power
9. Who do you need to be? - Understanding self and how you need to present yourself in different contexts. Who do you need to be when you are leading beyond authority?

Montage5Equipped with these nine tools the network also has to focus on three key points to be successful:

  • The trust we build among national association members. It needs to be strengthened and worked on in order to build and grow the network.
  • As a network we need to be adaptable, everyday there are new demands, we need to be flexible to address whichever obstacle we’re presented with.
  • We need to focus on having a steering committee can that responds to the needs of the people. In order to do this members, need to give them the trust and information they need.

This would make for better relationships, discussions and leadership on all fronts. It is vital that members have an understanding of their role within AGNA as well as in the greater civil society space. AGNA can provide solidarity. If everyone does their part a huge difference can be made. As AGNA, we have a global platform to give support, raise our voices and guide each other on how to raise our voices in our own countries and beyond. Don’t let your voice go unheard.

By Tarryn Booysen, AGNA Community Building Assistant