Working in alliances

Elena (she/her/hers)
Foro Juvenil de Izquierda, Peru

This story is part of ‘Resourcing youth-led groups and movements: a reflective playbook for donors and youth organisers.’ You may listen to and/or read Elena’s story down below or jump to the proposed exercises for donors or to those for youth-led groups and movements.

Elena lives with her mother and her sister in Lima, the capital of Peru. After graduation, she took on a full-time job in a marketing firm. Thinking back, she says that the work was ‘killing her soul’ because it was not coherent with her values.

Today, Elena considers herself a political activist. She is active with a collective called Foro Juvenil de Izquierda: they work towards youth political mobilisation to ensure dignified working conditions and promote women and youth empowerment in Peru. They coordinate political campaigns and educational
programmes with young women and workers’ groups. The collective works by leveraging its social legitimacy. It is informal and unregistered.

This story is about how her collective’s work and her individual livelihood has been enabled by a non-traditional alliance with Oxfam.

You may also listen to and share this story on SoundCloud and YouTube

Building an alliance between Oxfam and social movements

In 2015, the International Monetary Fund organised a conference in Lima to discuss the Peruvian ‘economic miracle’. Youth-led social movements in Peru were appalled: the economic policies that the Peruvian government implemented had deepened inequality. In their opinion, there was no miracle to brag about. Social movements organised an alternative progressive event under the hashtag #EnOctubreNoHayMilagros (#InOctoberThereAreNoMiracles).

That year, as part of her political mobilisation under #EnOctubreNoHayMilagros Elena and her colleagues at Foro Juvenil de Izquierda got to know some of Oxfam’s technical advisors, who were also involved as activists in the political mobilisation. During the protest, they started working side-by-side.

As part of the movement, Oxfam and other organisations created spaces to bring together researchers, activists, journalists, social movements and CSOs to create a political agenda to promote social development in Peru. This agenda was compared with those of the candidates running in the 2016 presidential campaign to create more awareness about what policies were being presented.

This work culminated in the creation of a digital platform, actua.pe, designed to monitor the alignment of political candidates against the political agenda that had been demanded by social movements.

The collaboration of Foro Juvenil de Izquierda with Oxfam on this agenda built a stronger relationship between the two.

Oxfam had experience of channelling resources to Peru through organisations that reached out to young people as beneficiaries. At this point, they were looking for a different mechanism to work with young people and realised that there was an opportunity to work with social movements.

So the questions that both Foro Juvenil de Izquierda and Oxfam explored together were:

– What do social movements need to advance their agendas?
– What can Oxfam offer to support social movements?

By addressing these questions, Foro Juvenil de Izquierda and Oxfam were able to identify a common agenda.

Oxfam had taken a strong focus in the fight against inequality. They had better access to resources,including extensive research on the topic. Meanwhile, to be able to be more legitimate in their work,young activists needed data, information, research and training.

This led to the creation of the actua.pe labs, training workshops for young activists, which were led by four collectives and Oxfam in Peru, working side by side. The project was financed by Oxfam Quebec.

Together, they designed a horizontal working model and eventually launched a political school. The characteristics of the model they co-designed include:

Shared values

The relationship is completely based on shared political ideas and views. These shared values were constructed with time and care, starting with small initiatives, such as the hosting of workshops, that allowed them to get to know each other very well.

Context and exibility

Keeping in mind the broader goals, the local partner is able to contextualise the work and is encouraged to adapt the content, dates, evaluation and follow-up modes as needed.
Debate. All partners are able to discuss boldly and also respectfully each subject in order to achieve an agreement that, to the extent possible, will satisfy all partners.

Honesty and transparency

There is a shared acknowledgement that ignoring the power difference between partners is detrimental to a partnership: it makes it harder to address the power imbalance when it comes to decision-making. The alliance is characterised by honesty in regard to budget constraints, political stances and the limits of the partnership.

Kindness and respect

Partners treat each other with care and attention, reminding themselves that they are human beings. Striving for horizontality, each partner is respected for their proposals, ideas, opinions and initiatives.

The project is completely co-owned. This means that:

• What they create together belongs to both organisations, unless previously agreed for any strategic reason, and there is freedom to use it and share it accordingly to shared values.
• Partners have unrestricted access to non-financial resources, such as contacts, literature, materials, media contents and physical and virtual spaces.
• Leadership is shared. Any member can talk and share opinions publicly or privately about the projects or initiatives; this is actively encouraged.
• All logos of the members of the partnership are present in most materials. In this case, Oxfam tends not to have too much visual leadership, and this is something that Foro Juvenil de Izquierda is grateful for because it lets them know the project and its goals are more important than publicity for the
• Budgets are made available transparently. All partners are accountable.

Elena has been involved with the labs and The School from Protest to Proposal, a national level political school led by Foro Juvenil de Izquierda in partnership with Oxfam, working as a consultant to facilitate political training workshops and manage communications. This has allowed her to receive a very basic income to support her political work.

However, now the funding cycle of the project is about to end, and Elena is feeling uncertain about how she will sustain her own livelihood moving forward.

Too often, young activists and organisers work for years as volunteers, without being able to sustain their own livelihoods. This can lead to burn-out and exhaustion. Over time, ensuring the livelihood of the individuals carrying out civil society work is essential to the sustainability of a project.

Exercises for donors, allies and enablers

The ‘p word’

Elena believes political work matters. She believes the most meaningful social change work cannot unfold through short-term, quantifiable projects.

• What do you think? What is your institution’s perspective on resourcing youth-led, change-seeking political work? Engage in a discussion with your team to clarify what is your stand about supporting youth-led political work.

• How comfortable do you feel about participating in movements as individuals that are associated with larger or more established organisations? How do you navigate, negotiate and articulate your participation in social movements?

Exercises for youth-led groups and movements

What are we working towards?

In order to build an alliance, Foro Juvenil de Izquierda was able to identify a common agenda with Oxfam in Peru and articulate their collaboration on a mutual goal. This is a reminder that our work does not happen in isolation. We might focus our work and develop a specific methodology, but we are contributing to bigger goals that other organisations, groups and institutions are working towards.

Write a statement of what your work is contributing towards. Be as specific as possible. For example, this is the statement of Foro Juvenil de Izquierda:

We seek the construction of a comprehensive agenda to change society. We aim for a progressive agenda, that unifies the struggles for social justice with an intersectional approach. This agenda should allow us to face the economic structure that is the root of economic inequality and at the same time worsens other historical inequalities such as gender inequality and climate justice. Within this new proposal for society, where all voices must be heard, youth and women have a crucial role to play as an active, critical and purposeful part of the whole society in Peru, the region and the world.

Building alliances

• Once you have written the statement, identify one to three themes that you are contributing towards, such as environmental justice or girls’ education. Make a list of five to 10 institutions that
work towards similar goals.

• Elena’s story teaches us that relationship building takes time and patience. What are some of the spaces you could participate in and the first steps you could take to interact with some of these institutions?

• What are your fears and concerns in building an alliance with a more established institution? List all of your fears and concerns. Make a list of questions that you can explore with your potential partners to address some of these.

Did you do some of the exercises above? How did the story of Elena inspire you to view your role as a donor or youth organiser differently? You can let us know your thoughts by writing to us at youth@civicus.org.

These and other exercises and stories are also available in the pdf version of ‘Resourcing youth-led groups and movements: a reflective playbook for donors and youth organisers.’