The Malawi Scotland Partnership is a large and incredibly diverse coalition of organisations and individuals. There are two things that all these schools, churches, charities, universities, hospitals, business, etc, share: a love for and friendship with Scotland; and a belief in dignified partnership. This is our common thread.
People often ask us what we mean by “dignified partnership”. To be able to answer this, over the past years we asked around 200 Malawian and 200 Scottish organisations what are the real ‘Partnership Principles’ which underpin the relationship between our two nations.
We collated all the answers we received and were excited to find that we were getting the same answers in Malawi and Scotland, and that these same principles were also now being promoted by some of the world’s leading academics in this field, and some of the largest multi-lateral agencies. So what are the key principles behind a successful Scotland-Malawi engagement?
It’s easy. Think P.A.R.T.N.E.R.S.H.I.P
Planning and Implementing together
This first principle is all about thinking about how ideas are communicated, decisions are made and roles and responsibilities agreed. It’s important to ensure that projects are designed and delivered by Malawians first and foremost..
When working in partnership it’s really important that project are aligned with needs on the ground, and compliment local and national priorities. It’s also really important to take time to learn about and consider how your link fits within local culture and customs, at both sides of the partnership.
Respect, Trust and Mutual understanding
At the heart of Scotland’s links with Malawi is mutual respect, trust and understanding. It’s about putting yourselves in your partners’ shoes and understanding each other’s contexts. It’s about listening well to each other and giving space for honest conversations.
Transparency and Accountability
How and what information is shared between partners is really crucial for developing strong partnerships. It’s really important to think about who information is shared with and how it’s shared, particularly when it comes to communications about money.
No One Left behind
It’s really important to take a step back regularly and ask ‘is there anyone being excluded from our partnership?’. It can be easy to keep working with the same people and natural to want to stay focussed on the task at hand, but it’s essential that you and your partner are regularly reflecting to ensure that those who might be marginalised are given the equal opportunity to participate.
Not everything can always go to plan. That’s why it’s important to make time and space to ask critical questions about the effectiveness of a partnership: is it achieving what both partners hoped at the start? The more stakeholders that can help feed into these reviews the better. This way you can make regular tweaks and adjustments as you go to ensure the partnership remains relevant and impactful, responding effectively to new challenges and opportunities.
For a project to be a genuine partnership both sides should contribute and both sides should benefit. This way both sides have responsibilities and both have a stake in the the outcome. Each side may have different offerings, but the benefits should be open and clear to all involved. Without reciprocity and a strong sense of community ownership, its unlikely any project will survive beyond the initial funding period.
Sadly, Malawi is over-run with well meaning short-term development projects. Too often these projects parachute in western ideas and solutions, do what they can for a few years, and then when funding ends leave as quickly as they arrive. Such work will never make any significant impact fighting poverty because it’s not sustainable. It’s important in partnership working to always keep half an eye on the long-term to ensure you’re not creating dependencies but rather are building capacity on both sides, so the benefits of your work last beyond the current project.
Do no harm
Unintended consequences, both good and bad, are by their very nature unpredictable! However, it’s important to be thinking critically all the time about who might be worse off as a result of the partnership and do what you can to mitigate against this.
None of us should be working in silos. There is much we can all learn from each other, the things that have gone well, and often more usefully the things that didn’t go quite to plan. It’s really important too to avoid duplication of effort and connect up with those working in similar areas, either geographically or thematically, to share experiences and learning. This is as relevant in Scotland, as in Malawi, and a particularly valuable community group are members of the Malawian diaspora here in Scotland.