"NGOs are perceived as disconnected and even part of the problem" - Adriano Campolina

25 april 2017

Here's the third in our series of guest blogs, that will be published in the lead up to our conference, Reclaiming the Story, which will take place on Friday 12th May in the Croke Park Conference Centre.

We're asking leading figures across civil society 4 questions - around what they think of the challenges facing civil society, what NGOs need to change to fight these problems head on, how activists need to protect civil society space, and ultimately, how we can reclaim the story. 

Today, we're delighted to feature Adriano Campolina, Chief Executive of ActionAid International. 

Here are his answers:

  1. There is a sense of crisis in Europe and the US—that there is a major political shift going on that is challenging the concept of multi-laterialism, of the human rights framework, and indeed the very idea of aid.   Do you think that is the case, and if so, what is the most worrying aspect of that challenge?

I believe that across the world we are witnessing a backlash against crucial ideas and values around Human Rights, Social Justice, Solidarity, Internationalism, Aid and Development and Multilateralism. This is very evident in Europe and the US, but is also a growing concern in the Global South. What worries me the most is that very conservative ideas around xenophobia, ultra-nationalism, racism, homophobia and misogyny have gone beyond the remit of far-right groups, reaching out to substantial parts of the public, particularly those left behind by neoliberal globalisation.

  1. What do you think is the one most important change NGOs should make to adapt to this new political reality?

In many cases NGOs are perceived as disconnected and even part of the problem. We need to transform ourselves and deepen our rootedness with and accountability to the public and communities. We must be part of a larger movement towards Equality, Human Rights, Social, Economic and Environmental Justice, Solidarity and Internationalism. NGOs also need greater agility to respond to a fast changing world and adapt to the new forms of engaging with the public, particularly with the use of new technologies. ActionAid’s internationalisation has contributed to deepen our rootedness and increase our collaborative role with social movements and activists in the countries we work.

  1. We know also that civil society space is shrinking wherever you look —what do you think is the most important thing we as activists should do to protect and defend it?

We all should be humble and understand that shrinkage of political space is not an NGO issue, but a greater challenge to people’s ability to claim their rights. It is about democracy. It can only be tackled collectively, with vast alliances between all sectors of society that engage on active citizenship. As a young activist, I took part in the final wave of mobilisations against the dictatorship in Brazil in the early 80s. Our victory then was a result of a large alliance of the labour unions, churches, human rights activists, students, smallholder famers, and feminist movements. I believe that now we must again build such large alliances, with a key difference in greater use of social media to engage the public and denounce repression.

  1. We’re aiming to “reclaim the story”—what do you think INGOs need to do to more effectively tell our stories?

INGOs must play a role in enabling the excluded and marginalised to tell their own stories, and through that process tackle the power imbalances that are at the root of their oppression. Story telling can change power relations and should fit more prominently in our theories of change. I also think that “reclaiming the story” reinforces an approach that is crucial for ActionAid: primary accountability to the poor. A renewed focus on story telling by the people living in poverty and injustice can at once contribute to the required power changes for social justice and the rebuilding of a necessary primary accountability of INGOs to those excluded and marginalised. 


Dóchas Conference 2017 - Reclaiming the Story - will take place on Friday 12th May from 2pm - 5.30pm in the Croke Park Conference Centre. Featuring inspirational speakers such as Kumi Naidoo, Director of Africans Rising and former International Executive Director of Greenpeace, Ellen Dorsey, Executive Director of the Wallace Global Fund, James Crowley, author & founder of the Crowley Institute, plus many more! 

You can get your tickets here.

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