July 05, 2016

by Gautam Raju, Head of Digital Worldwide Influencing Network, Oxfam International

This blog on Digital Accountability first appeared on Disrupt&Innovate – weekly blogs for civil society professionals, leaders & activists. The guest authors – digital experts from within the civil society sector – recently took part in a four-day CSO Accountability in the Digital Age workshop, facilitated by the INGO Accountability Charter. Here they share the issues explored and outcomes established during this hands-on event. Lauren’s blog is the first in a series of five.

 

da-blog-picture

The refugee crisis, turmoil in the Middle East, a rising right wing agenda, and a shrinking civil society space; civil society is at the heart of these looming issues – fighting and contributing through our programmes, advocacy and public campaigns. However, in a world connected through technology, we are continuing to miss an incredible opportunity; we must put our collective mission first, cast aside our differences, and start moving as one.

Civil society collaboration is challenging and complex – there are always competing agendas, perspectives, and outputs. You can watch the face of any person from a civil society organisation (CSO) explode in agony when you mention the thought of “coalition” work. Despite this, we all know that we must move together.

As a collective sector, we lack the agility and flexibility to move quickly behind moments of global and national importance. Big CSOs are usually slow to react, and digital-first organisations move more quickly. But what if we could support each other and respond to these crises together? It’s needed now more than ever.

The recent government crackdown on Greenpeace India is a brilliant example of what we could do together as sector. Imagine if civil society, big and small from around the world, came together and mobilised their supporters against the suppression. Millions would stand up around the world in solidarity with Greenpeace and civil society in India. Of course, it is unlikely that it would change Indian government policy, but it would send a strong message to not only the Indian government but all that we are united and will respond if you continue to attack us.

Technology has the potential to be an enabler for this push for greater collaboration within our sector. As head of the Digital Influencing at Oxfam International, our team has been working with coalitions, partners and Oxfam teams, providing central infrastructure and capacity building to allow any Oxfam team – or partner – to launch public campaigns targeting governments and corporations.

mobilise-e1467721715902

Over the last year, our small, agile team has backed just under 2 million supporter actions for Oxfam and our partners. Our free and open technology empowers our teams and partners to mobilise supporters using mobile phones and the internet. The core of what we deliver is centralised infrastructure and resources to allow decentralised campaigning around the world. All partners get to keep their supporter data, and have the benefits of Oxfam’s expertise and resources.

At the heart of what we do is pushing a fundamental shift around how digital technology is seen – not as a service delivery mechanism for websites, but as a tool to improve ways of working, agility and impact in our campaigns.

Technology isn’t the answer to all of our problems, but it’s a good starting point to move civil society together. We are all investing heavily in different digital solutions and rebuilding what others in the sectors have already established. Pooling our resources will save money and bring us closer together as a sector and with supporters, and allow us to have a far greater collective impact.

Our time at Bellagio with the next generation of civil society digital leaders underpins that there is a strong willingness to collaborate and respond to looming crises together. Later this week, we are coming together to continue to discuss how to actually do this across our campaigns. Stay tuned for more.