Hivos International

Old Wine, New Bottles? How the NeXt generation prepares for a take over

Video and Review of third debate in ISS Target 2020 series

“Old Wine should become better as it ages”,

“Is New Wine good when it comes in plastic bottles?”

“I’m Old Wine, so what I am going to say might be a bit acid”

The proverb ‘Old wine in new bottles’ was tweaked and reformulated frequently on 24 March, when the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) held the third and last debate in its Target 2020 series. Following the 2010 ISS debate series on the WRR report on development cooperation, this series discussed the way forward towards the year 2020, by looking to development cooperation from three different angles: new economic powers, new (philanthropic) financial resources, and the new generation.

The central question of this afternoon was: Are the 'experiments' by the next generation new, innovative, transformative? The question was introduced by the debate moderators, who pointed to a recent development in the current aid landscape: while the old establishment of Dutch NGO’s is under fire, a new generation of NGOs is standing up. They want to carry a different label then 'NGO', and rather identify themselves as platforms, networks, open spaces; they use for example crowdsourcing and social media to actively engage citizens, who in these modern times do not want to be mere donors, consumers or producers. They are ‘prosumers’, who are active on blogs, fundraise in creative ways and critique the ‘older’ NGO’s for being archaic, closed, sluggish and bureaucratic. Yet they have one common denominator: they have one foot in traditional practice of international development, and one outside.  To what extent do they then learn from lessons from the ‘old establishment’ regarding development cooperation? And what could NGOs learn from these ‘new experiments’ by the ‘NeXt generation’?

To debate this question, ISS invited three of these ‘new’ organizations ( Rank a Brand, Hope XXL) to explain what they do, how they do it, what change they foresee, and how they see their role, voice and influence in the field of international cooperation towards 2020? Of course not in your ordinary powerpoint, but in ‘ Pecha Kucha style’ which is a hip and fast medium to pitch design ideas or present on TedX conferences: 20 slides of 20 seconds, to get your idea across in 6 minutes and 40 seconds. Afterwards they were provoked by provocateurs who represented a proposition: ‘No, this is Old Wine in New Bottles’ (a role acted out by Remko Berkhout, knowledge officer at Hivos) and ‘Yes, this is New Wine in New Bottles’ (by Michel Groenenstijn, director of Be-More). The audience was divided along these two propositions, and was free to change sides before, during and after debate.

Although 6.40 minutes is too short to get to the real essence of the represented initiatives, the audience seemed able to get the broader picture. Rank a Brand wants to offer a more informed choice to consumers to buy fair and responsibly manufactured products by analyzing reports on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The analysis of these reports is done by international volunteers and serves to ‘Rank a Brand’. Mobile apps, websites and international offices then get their message across. In this way Rank a Brand attempts to influence both the consumers and the companies to buy and produce responsibly.

Second runner up was Freevista Uganda, a soon to be opened communication and advertising agency in rural Uganda. Frivista, a company based in Amersfoort (NL), will outsource some of its assignments to young, creative Ugandan designers, and will directly reinvest the profit made into Ugandan society, by for example providing training on creative thinking and communication. In this way Freevista Uganda wants to support Ugandan society financially, but also socially by raising awareness for local civil society organisations and their work, and possibly enlarging their impact by providing training to improve their communication strategies and skills. Frivista calls it ‘Cre ActIvity’: to put people into action via creativity.

Third and last presentation came from Hope XXL. Hope stands for ‘Human Oddessey of People’s Elevation’, and is made up by 10 (X) young people, who had 10 (X) meetings, to design the Liemers (L) list: a manifesto of 100 discussion points covering themes as sustainability, economy, war and peace, international development cooperation, and culture. This youth initiative is backed up by prominent Dutch (ex) leaders and thinkers, such as Rinnooy Kan, Bert Koenders and Jan Pronk. Their aim is a better global society, which should be achieved by presenting the Liemers List to the UN’s General Assembly, who should put their plans into action.

It was obvious that the provocateurs had meticulously screened the websites of the organisations to form an opinion centrered around the two main propositions, as their provocations were strong and ‘inflammatory’. Remko Berkhout spoke ‘from the trenches of the aid establishment, old wine and mainstream’, he said, as he opened his feisty speech. His main argument centered around the notion that although these initiatives are hip and fancy and use new vocabulary that the analogue babyboom generation struggles to understand, they fail to overlook and address what Berkhout calls "the nasty political nature of development": the world is ruled by unjust power hierarchies, where people struggle to reform and transform to make change happen. From his point of view ‘the three’ lack a profound theory of change, and if there is one, it’s rather naïve. He concludes that all of these arguments are valid for the existing NGOs as well, and that indeed renewal is necessary, but that many "new actors in town have little substantial renewal to challenge current power structures and informed global paradigms".

Michel Groenenstijn encountered Berkhout from the other side of the audience, by maneuvering away from his ‘rivals’ central argument. He points to the fact that these organisations do not claim to eradicate poverty all together, they are realistic to what they can achieve. Groenenstijn invites the older generation and the ‘older’ NGO’s to open their doors to learn from new initiatives, as "most of the knowledge is outside of your organization". Groenenstijn acknowledges that new initiatives may not be effective on a large scale, and some might disappear while others emerge, but worldwide they are with thousands and their numbers are growing. Their general objective is to be connected instead of competitive, and they profit from being small, mobile, and flexible to easily change direction if needed. Michel opens the door himself with a first advice for the ‘old NGOs’: “start drinking new wine, or at least start trying to make it”.

The debate that followed was characterized by an interesting dialogical ball game. Opinions were fired back and forth from one audience to the other, that overall consisted of a healthy mix of policy makers, practitioners, academics, students and activists. Although several comments were specifically meant to critique and/or inspire the specific initiatives, overall the discussion boiled down to several viewpoints.

Some of the audience praised the new initiatives for its spirit and energy, which seems to be lost and still not found when searching for it in the buildings of the Oxfams, Cordaids’ and Hivos'es in the world. One practitioner adds that it seems worse to sit on the sideline and do nothing at all. Instead, "you better know your limits, and be credible in what you are doing". On the other hand, lessons learned by the older organisations, and the older generation should not be ignored, because "Old wine is fine, and as it ages, it should become better", states one ISS student who is referring to the lessons learned. One point that seems to be continuously missed by the new initiatives, as well as the older ones, are the self-initiated activities from people in the Global South. One practitioner asked why there are still new initiatives emerging from the Netherlands, while there are so many initiatives from young people in the South who can perfectly fend for themselves, but could use some assistance and financial resources to sustain their activities. A student agreed and singled out the lack of representation and voices of the global south in three represented initiatives.

By the end of the debate an attempt is made to meet in the middle by someone who argued that the old wine in new bottles is not a contradiction: with social media you are not uberhip, and by following your elders you are not old school. Instead it is more important to meet often, start a dialogue, bundle forces and learn from each other. An ISS staff member underlines this and thinks that in order to practice global citizenship you need to meet each other and exchange, be it virtually or in real time. "And what the bottles are filled with", she says, "is up to us, that should be the new terms of reference for development cooperation anno 2020. Therefore it is important to remain on speaking terms and have a space like this debate to share ideas".

The debate provoked Rank a Brand, Hope XXL and Freevista Uganda to rethink some of their ideas and strategies, while vice versa the organizations informed the audience by addressing several new trends in the heated arena of development cooperation. Especially the spirit and positivity of the ‘new wine’ was welcomed and praised by the audience. However, if their contribution is enough to be transformative and to challenge the problems we face in the 21 st century remains to be seen.

Watch the video here on the Hivos Knowledge Programme Vimeo Channel, or skip to specific soundbites:

Introduction : 00.00 – 09.28

Rank a Brand: 09.28 – 16.35

Frivista Uganda: 20.00 – 27.00

Hope XXL: 29.32 – 36.15

Provocation 1 'No': 38.24 – 45.02

Provocation 2 'Yes': 45.18 – 47.30

Debate: 48.05 – 1.00.28

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