On Tuesday 30th July Volunteer Service Abroad and Live and Learn International celebrated the signing of a Pacific wide partnership agreement with a speech from Live and Learn’s Fiji Director, Doris Susau, followed by an interactive discussion between Live and Learn, VSA and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) about knowledge and learning, partnerships and localisation.  

The partnership will place New Zealand volunteers into Live & Learn’s Pacific programme in Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati and Tonga. We each bring our strengths to the partnership -  VSA in volunteer sending and capacity building and Live and Learn’s extensive networks and community-based experience in the Pacific and South-East Asia.  The partnership has a strong focus on capturing and sharing knowledge and learning across our programmes.

As development agencies working in the Pacific, both organisations operate within a dynamic context. We work on complex issues with multiple drivers across a range of countries and need to be able to adapt as funding, policy or the climate changes. As staff and volunteers move locations or jobs, their experience and knowledge need to be captured so that future projects can build on what they have learned. We value what we can learn together from our experiences, our successes, and our failures.

Stephen Goodman, Chief Executive of VSA, opened the discussion and talked about the power of partnerships to deliver sustainable development. 

“As we all know the Pacific is facing challenges with climate and environmental impacts, and inequalities both and no individual or single organisation is going to address these alone.  It’s about working together, and our own founding President Sir Edmund Hillary strongly believed and demonstrated throughout his life work, that partnerships between like-minded people is the only way that real change and impact will be achieved.”

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VSA CEO Stephen Goodman opening comments

Doris Susau, Director of Fiji Live and Learn, spoke about partnerships as a way of supporting localisation, and of the need to ensure that communities are at the centre of creating solutions. She emphasized that communities need to be part of the feedback and learning process, and that international organisations should focus on to reinforcing and strengthening local knowledge, not replacing it. 

When asked what the one piece of advice she had for New Zealand organisations on localisation, she said “You need to trust locally based organisations. We can do it – you just need to trust us”.

In the panel discussion that followed, Christian Nielsen, Executive Director of Live and Learn acknowledged that the simplest things are often the most important, starting with listening

“We know that the most effective way to learn and build knowledge is to listen. We know this, but we find it very difficult to do – we get stuck in process, reports and evaluation, but we forget to listen, which is the most valuable and transformative activity of all”.   

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Panellists (L-R) Christian Nielsen, Executive Director Live and Learn, Tim Rae, Director International Development, VSA, Doris Susau, Fiji Director, Live and Learn, Nick Borthwick, MFAT

Christian also spoke about barriers to localisation, and identified one of these as the need to balance compliance and risk management with localisation and impact, and the difficulty of doing this in a risk averse funding environment.  He challenged the idea of Pacific communities as vulnerable, and suggested international organisations should utilise the knowledge and strength already present in communities that can build resilience.  By putting Pacific communities at the centre, not getting lost in our own strategic plans, and investing in women and girls, we have a far greater chance of success.

Doris suggested that locals weren’t missing knowledge, but confidence to ask for clarification, a pause in a project, or to correct others.

The value of a VSA volunteer in this context was acknowledged by the panel.  An audience member proposed that we need to rethink risk, and that the greater risk was not localising, and not using local knowledge. Rapid assessments of existing knowledge could help to shape a much better project, by clarifying early what international partners could contribute to the project.  

What will the knowledge and learning partnership deliver?

Together, we will deliver joint knowledge and learning products and events focusing on innovative approaches towards meeting development challenges. In the first year of the partnership, we will meet and develop a knowledge and learning mechanism to share “what we learn” across Pacific networks. The detailed programme of activity will be developed and agreed by December 2019.

We will create knowledge and learning flows to benefit both organisations specifically relating to:

1)      Climate Change resilience
2)      Humanitarian Response
3)      Water, Sanitation and Hygiene
4)      Human rights and fundamental freedoms
5)      Empowerment of women including preventing gender-based violence

This mechanism will initially consider the urgency of addressing two critical issues: climate change and gender-based violence. Knowledge and learning activity may include:

  • Peer learning networks that allow and foster a culture of learning.
  • Every volunteer assignment will have a learning and knowledge outcome, and a reflection and review element. We will develop a process for sharing and implementing the learning among our network.
  • Where systems and forums already exist, we will identify and use them, and where they do not, we can develop them.
  • We will share our learning and reports online and face to face.
  • Reviews will assess the activity, what was learnt, and recommend what can be done differently in the future.
  • Targeted professional development, workshops, and volunteer placements to build new skills and knowledge as required.
  • We will focus on developing storytelling skills, across a variety of formats
  • We will explore different technologies to capture and share knowledge.

A recording of Doris’ speech and panel discussion is available on Facebook, and Doris’ full speech is provided here.  

Thanks to all panellists and attendees for an interesting and thought provoking discussion.  If you’d like to find out more about the partnership, or VSA’s work in the Pacific, please contact us on partnerships@vsa.org.nz

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VSA CEO Stephen Goodman and Fiji Director Live and Learn Doris Susau

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Stephen Goodman, Doris Susau, and Christian Nielsen