Shifting the Power with Power Footprints
In 2015, WeRobotics set out to reduce the power asymmetries that exist in the social good sector by measurably expanding the space for locally-led practice. Naturally, we hardly did this on our own! Quite on the contrary, we’ve been working with hundreds of proximate leaders and dozens local organizations in 35+ countries for the past 7+ years to co-create practical alternatives to systems dominated by foreign-led, top-down and techno-centric interventions. We call one such alternative the “Inclusive Networks Model”.
The success of this scalable, local-first and demand-driven model has been documented in detail, and is embodied by the Flying Labs Network, which is the first operational example of this model in action. Flying Labs are independent and locally-led knowledge hubs that combine local expertise and leadership with emerging technologies to drive locally-led action in the social good sector. The Inclusive Networks Model is now being adopted by other organizations. Thanks to this model, WeRobotics was able to transfer 42% of its revenue to local organizations in 2021. This is in contrast to the industry average of 2.1% in the aid industry that same year. Obviously, there’s more to localization than finance. To cite one example, the Inclusive Networks Model includes a dedicated transition plan. This explains why WeRobotics and Flying Labs have had their own distinct identities from Day 1.
Since the launch of the first Flying Labs in 2015, WeRobotics has served as the primary enabler of the Flying Labs Network. One could argue that we had a comparative advantage in doing so. This won’t be true moving forward. We are a small, white-led nonprofit based in the Global North. A different enabling entity with new ideas and deep roots in the “Global South” will be far more effective in enabling the Flying Labs Network in the coming years. Many Flying Labs agree, which is why we co-created the “Flying Council” in 2020, with the goal of co-creating a transition strategy and roadmap. We call this our “Inclusive Leadership Model”, which is our approach to Stopping as Success. So we’re very grateful for the opportunity to be working with SAS+ consortium on this next step. We very much look forward to their feedback and guidance so that we can start fundraising for the new co-created entity, currently referred to as “FL.org”.
The Flying Council has already co-created a 3-year roadmap to facilitate this transition from WeRobotics to FL.org. Together, they’ve identified all the key roles and responsibilities that they want FL.org to take on, including several new ones that WeRobotics didn’t think of. I must admit that my own preference in terms of transition period was for a 1-year timeframe. And while I stated this preference multiple times, my colleagues on the Flying Council firmly pushed back. They made it clear that they did not want this process rushed; that the number one priority was to ensure “business continuity” for individual Flying Labs. I was reminded of the saying “Alone we go fast. Together we go far.”
If all Flying Labs agree with this responsible transition plan, then where will WeRobotics go once FL.org is up and running? Is there life after transitions? Well, we are one of many, and our endgame as an organization is to contribute to systems change. After FL.org takes over from us, we’ll work to drive the adoption of the Inclusive Networks Model at scale across the social good sector and beyond, working with like-minded organizations and networks so that they too can become more local-first entities.
Over these past 7+ years, we’ve also learned that we as Western INGOs also need to take proactive steps to reduce our own Power Footprints. An organization’s power footprint is the amount of authority, control and influence that an organization exerts in a given system. Reducing our power footprints will make us more effective, relevant and reliable.
Furthermore, efforts around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Localization and Shift-the-Power may not be sustainable or as effective if they don’t also reduce the power footprints of international organizations. Fact is, we need to collectively correct the fundamental power asymmetries that pervade the social good sector to drive systems change.
The Power Footprint, which we also refer to as the “Inclusive Power Model”, is one way to do this.
So we’re actively creating new coalitions and connecting existing networks to take this project forward. Small coalitions of INGOs and donors will participate in a series of co-creation sessions to first create practical metrics and then measure their own power footprints, sharing the results with each other. Global South organizations are openly invited to join the project as a coalition. Some of these organizations have expressed an interest in playing a solidarity role while others want to take on a peer review role to evaluate the metrics co-created by INGOs and donors.
Either way, the ultimate goal here is for INGOs to reduce their power footprints over time. One way may be by adopting a localization model like the Inclusive Networks Model, or a transition strategy like the Inclusive Leadership Model. As CDA, Search for Common Ground, and Peace Direct’s “Stopping as Success” program has clearly shown, there are multiple roads to INGO transitions. Regardless of the road(s) taken, we hope to convince donors to include power footprint requirements as part of the grants they issue, no matter the focus of said grants. INGOs must measurably reduce their power footprints with every new grant they implement. Powerful Global South organizations may also want to do this to account for the power asymmetries that also exist in regional and subnational contexts. In other words, a project that expands an INGO’s power footprint does not constitute success.
Reducing our power footprints will enable all of us — INGOs, donors and Global South Organizations — to become more effective and accountable to the communities we serve. Just like our carbon footprints, ignoring our power footprints is no longer an option. We are facing planetary wide, interdependent emergencies. But we absolutely have what it takes to meet these challenges! We know what to do. We must expand the space for locally-led action and correct the power asymmetries in our sector. The time is now. Please, join the Power Footprint Movement. We don’t have all the answers, which is why we need you.
About this article
This blog was written as part of the “From where I stand: Unpacking ‘local’ in aid” series. Through this series, CDA aims to listen to people most affected by aid as they explore and amplify their leadership experiences, stories, and lessons for the aid sector.
For recent blogs in this series check-out:
- On Statues, Robots, and Shifting-the-Power by Patrick Meier
- HOW LOCAL IS ‘LOCAL’? A Bottom-Up Perspective of Localization From Narok by Elly Maloba
- Donors can do better by Linda Mwesigwa
- Character Development: The role of aid in building character for civic engagement and national development by Ato Kwamina Nkum
- Localization – ‘Us vs Them’ by Hasangani Edema
- If you want support, vacate the space by Sudhanshu S. Singh ax
- The Global Standard: Going global, acting local by Bao Han Tran Le ax
- Why Do I Make the Case for Equitable Partnerships with Local Actors? by Koenraad Van Brabant
- Sharing the keys to the localization house by Oheneba Boateng and Claudia Meier
- Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and… Supremacy, Neo-Colonialism, and International Development by Ann Hendrix-Jenkins
About the author
Dr. Patrick Meier works at the intersection of humanitarian technologies and social justice. He currently serves as the executive director of WeRobotics, a social impact organization committed to offering practical alternatives to systems dominated by foreign-led, top-down and techno-centric interventions. Prior to working on social justice more explicitly, Patrick spearheaded the development and application of next generation humanitarian technologies for 10+ years. In 2010, Patrick was publicly praised by President Clinton for his pioneering efforts in the new field of crisis mapping, which he later published into a book, entitled Digital Humanitarians, to share lessons learned and best practices more widely. Patrick is a certified drone pilot and holds a PhD from The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, and a Pre-Doc from Stanford. He is a National Geographic Emerging Explorer and has held fellowships at MIT, Harvard, Rockefeller, PopTech and UBS Global Visionaries. In addition, Patrick has given talks at the Obama White House, Skoll World Forum, Mobile World Congress, Web Summit, TTI/Vanguard and SXSW. He has also given multiple TEDx talks in the US, Europe and Asia. He was born & raised in Africa.