Imagine a scenario where five organizers have come together to plan a public engagement activity for International Women’s Day, March 8. They represent a cross-section of the education sector: a public high school teacher, an international NGO supporting women’s projects in Africa, a local women’s organisation that runs a shelter for abused women, a professor of Women’s Studies at a local university and a small business owner.
They are being brought together by the international NGO with the understanding that the objective of the activity is to raise awareness of the issue of violence against women and girls worldwide, and the search for solutions. There is an acknowledgement that this issue has been a focus for a long time but has somewhat fallen off the radar of people’s consciousness given some of the positive changes that have occurred in women’s lives over the past thirty years.
All have agreed with the objective of the activity as outlined above. The activity will involve presentations from women involved in the issue of violence against women, including a Zambian woman whose organization is supported by the NGO.
The partners next outline what they have to bring to the table to ensure a successful outcome. The international NGO is bringing some funds to support the activity, plus a guest speaker from Zambia. The high school teacher has no funds but can ensure an audience and some volunteers to help with logistics. The local women’s organization has no funds but can provide speakers who are willing to speak directly to the issue. The academic can support with funds in a limited way and also some student volunteers and potential audience members. The business entrepreneur is new to this kind of activity but is willing to learn and also to support the activity financially. It would seem that all is in place for a successful outcome.
Issues of equity arise, however, when it comes to making decisions about the following. (Note: These are not meant to be a comprehensive list of issues that may arise – you might think of others.)
Budget: Who will contribute, and how much? Obviously some will contribute more than others – will this allow some participants to exert influence over the others? How will the funds be accounted for? Do partners representing organisations have particular demands to meet from their organizations that others may not have?
Program of the activity: Given the backgrounds of the partners, there may be power dynamics at play. For example, the academic may see herself as the expert in the group. There may be a difference of opinion as to the importance given to different presenters.
Logistics: Who will take on responsibilities for communications and publicity? Who will secure a venue? Is insurance an issue? How often does the group of partners have to meet? How will differences of opinion be handled?
There are other issues of equity involved that may have more to do with the personalities of the partners rather than the tasks at hand. For example, a successful entrepreneur may not be familiar with consultation processes that NGOs use as a matter of course. Meeting face to face and getting to know one another will help open channels to resolve these issues. Being open to discussion of processes goes a long way toward achieving success in a collaboration and leaving the partners with a desire for future collaborative work.
Identifying the various ways to contribute to a partnership can help to overcome inequality. Different organizations may be able to contribute different aspects of a public engagement campaign: funds, staff time, audience reach, facilitation skills, varying experience. These aspects are all required to create a campaign that is far-reaching; identifying these needs and determining how best to address them equitably can help ensure a productive and fulfilling partnership.