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‘Decolonisation as essential not as an option for international development’ By Jawoon Kim

My name is Jawoon and I attended the ACFID conference and I was especially drawn to the discussions about the importance of decolonisation for international development.

In May 2020, the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis instigated the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter became synonymous with anti-racist efforts globally, especially against oppressive structures that communities of colour experience in predominantly white societies.

The same conversation also brought decolonization to the forefront in the international development sector. Again. But this time, it was different.

There were explicit connections made between anti-racism and decolonisation and highlighted racial justice in realising decolonisation. Meaning, decolonisation no longer became a theoretical concept which many of the INGOs included in their annual reports. Instead, it forced these organisations to look inwards and reflect on their organisational and individual commitment to anti-racism.

This shift in the sector’s understanding of decolonisation was very much reflected throughout the 2021 ACFID conference. In particular, two standout sessions on “transforming INGO governance” and “turning the tables for locally-led development and decolonisation” encapsulated some of the INGOs journey towards anti-racism.

As Salamah Eva-Lina Lawrence from WaterAid (who is also a board member of IWDA) passionately vocalised, “replacing white bodies with brown bodies is not decolonisation”.

Then, what does anti-racist decolonisation look like and what are practical steps that INGOs can take towards this vision? The answer seemed universal: analyse and shift the power and make it a whole-of-organisation commitment.

For example, WaterAid Australia conducted an internal survey about their staff’s knowledge on decolonisation, and went on to educate both board and staff on what power means and how it affects their efforts to decolonise in their programming work as well as their organisational structure. IWDA committed not to compete for funding with other organisations from Global South as their 3S framework for South-North partnership. Finally, ActionAid invested in the capacity building of PNG staff, so they can confidently negotiate their own funding requests and speak for the communities.

In an industry that has no structural incentives to decolonise (as pointed out by Stephen Howes referring to ANCP), the efforts to decolonise and make this anti-racist work intentional solely rely on the willingness of the INGOs themselves. And it has proven to be insufficient to shift the tide.

Taking the lessons from other INGOs who have been on this journey, it is time that all of us in this work face the racist origins of international development head on and make conscious efforts to envision a different future forward – the one where our work is intrinsically tied to challenging the current racist and oppressive structures. We cannot afford to rely on one more tragedy to start an anti-racist journey.

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