This year, Asylum Access reached a milestone in our commitment to equitable partnerships. In January, we commissioned an independent review of our partnerships with local civil society organizations (CSOs), including refugee-led organizations (RLOs), over the last four years. The 7-month review process allowed us to identify our strengths and areas of improvement in partnership practices and helped us develop partnership assessment tools.
This newfound knowledge and tools informed an early release of our new position paper on Equitable Partnerships, which we will officially launch in January 2024. We hope these new learnings can also serve as a resource for our fellow international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) in the quest towards prioritizing mutual respect, shared voice and ownership, transparency, adaptability, cultural cognizance, and continuous self-evaluation and learning in our partnerships.
The review, conducted by Lighthouse Partnership in consultation with our local partners, aimed to strengthen our organizational learning around building equitable partnerships; to inform improvements in how we partner with local CSOs, especially RLOs; to inform advocacy and learning initiatives with other peer organizations and global actors; and to develop tools that can act as guidance when engaging in new and ongoing partnerships.
Our December 2021 Position Paper ‘Building Equitable Partnerships: Shifting Power in Forced Displacement’, which establishes diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI), trust, transparency, co-design, co-leadership, and co-visibility as the foundations of equitable partnerships, was the basis of this independent review. In total, 11 organizations participated in the process, including our three national offices in Malaysia, Mexico, and Thailand as well as eight RLOs and NGOs from five countries (Lebanon, Uganda, Egypt, Colombia, and Indonesia). Key internal staff of Asylum Access Global were also engaged in the process.
Process and Methodology
The review followed five stages. In the planning phase, our team and the reviewers discussed our expectations. The reviewers then analyzed various documents— from our partnership agreements to our donor reports— laying the groundwork.
In the data collection phase, we invited stakeholders from within our organization and externally to share their partnership experiences with us and their definitions of equitable partnerships. This helped set clear criteria for the review, including elements of participatory practice. As such, the areas of equitable partnerships that reviewers focused on were also informed by stakeholder definitions of equitable partnerships.
Based on stakeholders’ insights, key review questions were drafted:
- To what extent do Asylum Access’ partnerships reflect their own internal values? (to understand values, approach and internal coherence);
- To what extent does Asylum Access’ definition of equitable partnership cohere to those of their partners? (to assess relevance);
- How effective have Asylum Access’ efforts been to promote organisational learning around equitable partnerships? (to cover learning and development, and internal coherence);
- How can Asylum Access improve its partnership practices and remain accountable to its policy approach to partnerships? (for additional learning and development information).
Finally, the findings were shared with our key staff and partners engaged in the review, ensuring the results resonated with them.
While the definition of equitable partnerships (“partnerships where systems, processes, and daily interactions help to rectify the power imbalances that enable exclusion”) did not change after the partnership review, this process led to the development of five revised elements for equitable partnerships:
- Shared understanding of culture, context, and power
- Knowledge of context
- Acknowledge power dynamics
- Value proximate experience
- Shared ownership and voice
- Trust and transparency
- Prioritize relationships
- Mutual agreement
- Align values and expectations
- Flexibility towards local partners
- Adapt to ways of working
- Respond to changing needs
- Mutual accountability and learning
- Mutual accountability
- Shared learning
Drawing from the insights from the review process, we have charted a path forward for Asylum Access with intentional efforts in our existing and future partnerships.
In the field of project and partnership development, we aim to spend time on relationship building, develop a joint understanding of equitable partnerships with our partners, understand co-leadership challenges, clarify what a partnership is and when it starts, always share the full budget with partners and provide time and space to include partners joining part-way through a project/application process.
In our relationships with donors, we’ll assess whether donors’ approaches to the grant-making process are conducive to equitable partnership practice and advocate for any improvements needed.
For learning and accountability, we will pilot accountability tools to regularly and jointly reflect on how the partnership is progressing and create spaces to discuss equitable partnerships within the organization and externally.
Connect with Us
If you are interested in learning more about our partnership review, please reach out to us! Our Director of Partnerships, Deepa Nambiar, and our Partnerships Coordinator, Baqir Bayani, would love to connect with you.