Each year, our Learning and Exchange Forum (LEF) brings together CONCORD members to exchange and learn from one another on the topical challenges in the international cooperation sector. Our 6th edition, as the first in-person LEF since the global pandemic, was a special one.

During two days in late November, 40 of our colleagues convened in Brussels to discuss and explore ways of meaningfully engaging with civil society within and beyond Europe. These discussions were rooted in the broader dialogue around North-South power dynamics and the urgency of building equal, inclusive partnerships; a core component of CONCORD’s 2023-2026 strategy.

The forum began with a reflection of our Confederation’s experiences of working with others. To this end, two key examples were highlighted: our advocacy around the EU Budget for Solidarity with European civil society as well as post-Cotonou negotiations, where CONCORD engaged with a wider civil society network from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Our members from Coordination SUD and CIDSE, also shared their own experiences, particularly in mobilising grassroots organisations and creating partnerships with African civil society. These experiences were diverse in their geographic and thematic scopes but shared listening, trusting and making space for partners as fundamental best practices to build on.

This year’s LEF offered a much-needed space to learn and exchange with one another, but also to explore how to apply new ways of working and forging civil society partnerships. To this end, our colleagues – Masana Muladazi and Adi Mistry Frost – from Better by Co-design facilitated our discussions on tools and models for shifting the power. Language – as a manifestation of how we make sense of the world – is just one of those tools explored. “It is crucial that our own systems and partnerships across civil society reflect the principles we are committed to, such as solidarity, equality, respect, and inclusion,” said Luisa Fondello, International Cooperation Officer at Caritas Europa.

These reflections contributed to the critical thinking of ‘shift the power’ principles with the vision of working toward a future that is negotiated, participatory, widely-owned, and developed through values and processes based on solidarity. Together, we looked at what’s coming up in 2023 and how these principles could already be applied in our Confederation’s ways of working.

All in all, the Learning and Exchange Forum 2022 offered rich opportunities to learn from and acknowledge each other, as well as an important opportunity to re-evaluate our own mindsets and ways of working. There is still a long way to go, but with open collaboration, we’ll be sure to get there, together.

Our very sincere thanks to all of the speakers and participants. We can’t wait to meet, learn, and exchange together in 2023.

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