7 ‘new years’ resolutions’ we’ve been thinking about…

01 February 2022

We’ve been in a reflective mood through January. Discussions among the team have left us pondering all that has changed in the past few years and how best we ensure we stay true to our values, our partnership principles and best practice. Seven things have come up through our various conversations which we’re keen to share. None are “new” (and arguably they’re not reflections!) but all our important reflections for the coming year. We look forward to building on these reflections through various engagements and really listening to our members in Scotland and partners in Malawi….watch this space!

1. Positive Imagery:

Back in December we went along to the International Development Alliance’s 2021 conference. It was a packed few days, with a range of brilliant and engaging sessions.

A particular highlight for us was the session, ‘Tackling the talk: how do we ensure decolonisation & anti-racism are embedded in our systems, language and imagery?’, which welcomed a range of speakers and dug deep into practical realities and considerations.

In particular, Taahra Ghazi, Deputy Director of Communications at ActionAid, spoke of the importance of positive and negative video campaigns and the use of imagery across the sector, citing a study by The Development Engagement Lab which concludes, specifically for fundraising content that:

“positive video campaigns receive no less financial support than negative campaigns - and in fact, positive campaigns showed signs of boosted interaction and engagement from viewers”

When we are entrusted to share the stories of others, we strive to ensure the imagery included is empowering, honest and a true reflection of how the individual wishes to be presented.

This year we will continue to be mindful of our use of imagery, focusing on a person-centered approach.

2. Sending goods to Malawi:

The transport of material goods to Malawi is an area in which we have offered advice for a number of years, often directing enquiries to SMP members The Bananabox Trust who have much experience and expertise in this area and who are led by, and responsive to, the wishes and priorities of Malawians.

Sending material goods is a complex and can be at times contentious part of a development initiative. While we recognise that many projects and programmes are dependent on physical hardware which cannot easily be sourced in Malawi, we always ask members to consider the following ten-point checklist, before collecting goods to send to Malawi:

  1. Is it needed?
  2. Is it appropriate?
  3. Is it cost effective?
  4. Is it sustainable?
  5. Will it get there?
  6. Who ‘owns’ the donation?
  7. What is already in Malawi?
  8. Can the goods be sourced locally?
  9. How will the goods be distributed?
  10. How do you know if you’ve got it right?

Alan Laverock, SMP Finance & Administration Officer and CEO of The Bananabox trust who has been leading this work for over 20 years said: “Many donations of goods merely deal with the symptoms of poverty. Ultimately, poverty will only be eliminated by creating a functioning economy. The best donations either allow items to be bought in Malawi or help to create jobs.”

This year we will continue to use this checklist and encourage its reference across our membership.

3. Understanding our shared history:

It is essential that we continue to reflect on, and learn from, the shared history between Scotland and Malawi, and have the strength to challenge ourselves about what contemporary legacy there might be from the colonial-era which only serves to reinforce and perpetuate the very poverty we are looking to fight. There are instances where such points of legacy are immediately visible, known and intentionally perpetuated, but many more instances where they are unseen and unknown, yet deeply entrenched and all-pervading. Such points of latent colonial legacy can find expression in language, assumptions, prejudice and -perhaps most importantly- implicit structures which retain power in certain areas, excluding others.

We recognise the work of the David Livingstone Birthplace project whose new museum exhibition re-contextualises David Livingstone, based on research that has shone a light on those around him and which, importantly, moves on from the ‘lone explorer’ narrative.

The 15th of January marked the annual commemoration of the John Chilembwe Day in Malawi. Chilembwe’s legacy is that of an African Preachers’ struggle against inequality and colonialism. The fight against colonialism was all but won with the Independence of Malawi in 1964, however 58 years later, inequality in all its forms continues to rock our two nations and, in areas, the legacy of colonialism lives on. The SMP and MaSP, as two national networks, will continue to look for ways of celebrating Malawi’s history and its fight against colonial rule, while also actively looking for ways of fighting the continuing legacy of colonial rule, injustice and prejudice, through our shared work.

4. Tolerance in the digital realm:

The last couple of years have seen a wholesale shift to the digital realm for many. For us, it has brought many advantages: not just the ability to continue the SMP’s work through an extended period of enforced home-working but also the ability to have a great many different Malawian voices and views feeding into our discussions.

Gone are the days of “azungus” sitting round, however well meaning, talking of Malawi. Today, we have direct, engaging vibrant conversations between Scots and Malawians in almost every SMP meeting and event. While we recognise that there is deep digital inequality in Malawi, we certainly see it as a significant step forwards that, however imperfect, we’re able to listen to and learn from Malawians at every stage and in every part of our partnership.

However, for all the many advantages that digital working has brought, we also look forward to meeting up in person again more frequently as well. We fear that the lack of in-person working across society has made it harder at times for some to see others’ views; to empathise and to be open to different ways of thinking. Not just in the Scotland-Malawi world, but in the wider digital realm, we worry about a seeming increase in intolerance and an instinct to judge and criticise rather than learn and share.

Conversation, debate and open dialogue are all integral to mutually beneficial partnerships - but how best do we remain true to these valued practices in a digital landscape which is increasingly becoming intolerant and polarised?

This year we hope to invest time and energy into really understanding how to create constructive spaces, where people can listen to a range of different views, and where people can expect to be listened to with respect and with open minds. This isn’t about being afraid of uncomfortable conversations, or a fear of challenging and being challenged, but rather about human empathy, kindness and mutual understanding.

5. Partnership principles:

Almost ten years ago we asked around 200 Malawians, then 200 Scots, what core principles made for positive, impactful engagements between our two nations.

With our friends in Malawi, we collated all the answers we received and agreed our Scotland-Malawi Partnership Principles, which summarise what we mean by "dignified partnership". We hold ourselves and all our members accountable to these 11 principles.

This year we will continue to focus on and be led by these principles. As they mark their tenth anniversary, we want to listen to a diverse range of Malawians and Scots, exploring whether aspects of these principles need updating and what more we can do to ensure these are the lived reality in bilateral links, not just fine words and aspirations.

6. Malawian Vision:

Certainly not new to 2022 - but this year we will strive to continue to be led by our Malawian partners, working towards their priorities and vision.

We were delighted to host a Roundtable meeting with CEO of National Planning Commission in 2021, in which Dr Thomas Munthali briefed SMP and MaSP members on key areas of Government of Malawi policy, including Malawi’s ‘Vision 2063’. We were impressed with Malawi’s far-sightedness in Vision 2063, shaping its vision and future in the extreme long-term. There is much Scotland can learn from Malawi in this area.

This year we will continue to listen to and be led by our partners in Malawi in meaningful and practical ways.

7. Youth Led:

This past year has presented schools and young people with unprecedented challenges. Remote learning and separation from friends, among many other factors, have put a huge amount of pressure on teachers, youth leaders and young people.

We are in awe of the resilience, leadership and positivity shown by the Scotland-Malawi youth community.

The youth-led Scotland Malawi Digital Youth Festival reached over 250,000 people, while the COP26 Youth Hub in Lilongwe brought together hundreds of young climate activists over a two week long in person event in Lilongwe.

This year we will continue to listen to, engage with and be led by the SMP Youth Committee, Youth members and wider community to ensure their voices, strategies and aims are at the core of the SMP’s work.