Power, perceptions, practice and partnership: we’re keen to listen to your views

25 February 2022

The Scotland Malawi Partnership invites its members, partners and other stakeholders to feed into a listening exercise looking at power, perceptions, practice and partnership. This exercise is the foundational work for our next round of strategic planning: we’re keen to start with really open, inclusive and far-reaching listening before then the more detailed, focused and operational planning consultations.

As a charity that is committed to listening, learning and ever improving, the SMP specifically invites reflections on how it could further:

  • understand and communicate Scotland’s shared history with Malawi;
  • ensure Malawi engagement across all our work, including with diaspora communities;
  • engage our sister network and partners in Malawi as friends and equals;
  • support our members to themselves have equitable two-way partnerships with Malawi; and
  • ensure the SMP remains relevant, appropriate and useful in this digital era, building a strong foundation for the next exciting chapter in our national network.
Listening Exercise Banner

The deadline for submissions is Thursday 31st March.

All submissions will be shared with the Board and feed into the SMP’s strategic planning and future direction. We believe it is good practice for ALL organisations to take a moment to really listen and reflect, before getting stuck in to the detailed strategic and operational planning process.

While the feedback we receive on our work remains extremely positive (routinely, 97%+ of those who give feedback rate our work as “excellent” or “very good”, with a similar proportion saying our work strengthens or supports their links with Malawi) we do think it’s healthy to challenge ourselves, asking the question who’s not here, who’s not giving feedback and why.

Linked to this listening exercise through 2022 we have a series of events, including on Equity, Diversity & Inclusivity (9th Feb) and a series of three events upcoming on Decolonisation: embracing learning for Scotland-Malawi relationships.

On Tuesday 15th March we had an open-space Zoom discussion specifically on this listening exercise, in which anyone that wished could meet digitally to discuss the above five areas:

This was an open-space meeting so it didn’t have an agenda per se, or named speakers, but rather we were led by those who attended and what they wished to talk about.

Written views and those shared in this informal meeting will be valued by the SMP equally.

We ask all those wishing to make a submission take time to read the relevant sections below, for more information about our current approach and priorities.

Anyone can contact our Chief Executive at any time if they would like to discuss this listening exercise if they wish.

About us:

The Scotland Malawi Partnership (SMP) is a Scottish charity which exists to coordinate, represent and support Scotland’s many civic links with Malawi. Since founded in 2004, the national network has worked to advance an approach to international development underpinned by genuine, dignified two-way partnership (rather than one-way, donor driven ‘aid’), which values the participation of all civic and associational life, not just the professional international development sector, and places the needs and priorities of Malawi and Malawians at its heart.

Learn more.

Our Partnership Principles:

The SMP has always been serious about partnership working and we realise the word ‘partnership’ is often overused and underdefined. So, in 2012 the SMP started asking groups in Malawi with links to Scotland ‘what makes a good partnership with Scotland?’. 200+ Malawian organisations and individuals fed in their views, then 200+ Scottish groups fed in theirs and, with this data, the SMP and its sister network in Malawi agreed 11 Scotland-Malawi Partnership Principles which have underpinned all our work since. The Principles are: Planning and implementing together; Appropriateness; Respect, trust and mutual understanding; Transparency and accountability; No one left behind; Effectiveness; Reciprocity; Sustainability; do no Harm; Interconnectivity; and Parity (equality).

For almost a decade, our events, training, forums and workshops have been framed around these 11 principles (often physically displayed in the room) and we have worked to support our respective members to similarly commit to, work within and be accountable to these principles. We think these 11 principles remain as relevant and important today as they were when first agreed but we’re keen to use the hook of their tenth anniversary in 2022 to really dig into these principles once again and ensure that our work and activities, and those of our members, are underpinned by them.

Learn more

Understanding our shared history:

The SMP has always recognised Scotland’s role in the deplorable colonial project. The SMP and MaSP, together, acknowledge and greatly regret that racism has been perpetrated in Scotland’s 163-year relationship with Malawi, while also appreciating that there are a great many examples of Scots and Malawians working together to fight prejudice. Scottish missionaries, particularly in the early twentieth century, were by no means free from the prevailing racist assumptions of their day. Many Scots became deeply identified with the black community in Malawi but Malawians were, quite rightly, alert to elements of paternalism and racism that they experienced even in the best of them.

In recent years the SMP has been active in supporting a more diverse, challenging and pluralistic understanding of our shared history. For example, we have produced 32 videos, with speakers from Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana sharing their views on David Livingstone’s legacy, specifically targeting and amplifying those with negative views of Livingstone and his legacy. These videos are on permanent display in the final room of the newly updated David Livingstone Birthplace Centre in Blantyre (Scotland), where we have co-hosted events with the diaspora, the Malawian President, First Lady and Minister of Foreign Affairs. We are actively working with the Centre to ensure there always remains a diverse range of strong, challenging southern voices, as well as direct outreach campaigns to engage diaspora communities in Scotland.

We have also worked to help raise awareness of Malawi’s history fighting colonial rule, including actively supporting Prof Samson Kambalu and his Scottish wife Susan (who were married by an SMP member, 20 years ago!), in the public competition around the Trafalgar Square Fourth Plinth Commission. We have joined Samson and Susan in celebrating their success and were delighted to have them speaking at our 2020 AGM. We look forward to continuing to work with Samson and Susan, and hope to have Prof Kambalu’s wonderful statue ‘Antelope’ exhibited in Scotland in 2022.

While we celebrate these successes, we recognise that there is much more that can be done to not only examine and recognise the past but also learn from these experiences and support our members to regularly reflect on their own engagements (past, present and future) through a critical lens.

Our partners in Malawi:

Key to the Scotland-Malawi model is our sister network, the Malawi Scotland Partnership (MaSP), which is entirely Malawi-owned and Malawi-led. The SMP works to represent the Scottish side of the bilateral relationship and MaSP works to represent the Malawian side. We are independent charities, working together as friends and equals, but we are two sides of the same coin as we stand together in mutual support. We have always believed that this model, with its strong Malawian leadership, is the best way to avoid the bilateral relationship sliding into the, sadly all too common, norms or power imbalance, with those in the global north setting the agenda and those in the global south having to follow.

Initially the SMP had core funding for a secretariat but MaSP did not: this was a huge area of concern for the SMP. The SMP worked hard over many years, with repeated applications, to secure MaSP core funding, eventually succeeding in 2012. Between 2012 and 2020, MaSP was funded by the Scottish Government through the SMP, as this was the only possible way of securing funds for MaSP but the SMP was never comfortable about being the “grant manager” for its sister and equal network. Since 2020, the Scottish Government has been able to fund MaSP directly, which we strongly welcome. We join the President of Malawi
in commending the Scottish Government for its strong commitment to continuing to fund the SMP and MaSP. And we commend the MaSP leadership team which has seen MaSP grow into a strong, vibrant, vocal and extremely effective national network.

The shift to digital has, arguably, shifted the traditional distinction between the SMP and MaSP, with often a great many Malawians joining SMP meetings and many Scots joining MaSP meetings. But there is no doubt that greater levels of exchange between those in both nations, at every level, is only a good thing and the MaSP-SMP relationship is stronger than ever.

MaSP and the SMP have stepped up to the opportunities of digital working, with all staff in both charities coming together digitally on the first Monday of each month to discuss each network’s respective plans. MaSP has exactly half the time in these meetings, for them to chair and decide what they wish to raise, setting out their plans and priorities for the coming month, and asking for specific support from the SMP if and where they wish. Similarly, the SMP has exactly half the time, to set out their stall and ask for support from MaSP if and where they wish. Through the following month, staff at both sides work together, as friends, partners and equals to support each other - each helping the other deliver their priorities and frequently working in direct partnership together on specific projects. This model ensures each side retains sufficient operational autonomy to best represent the priorities of its own membership, while recognising the increased opportunity for collaboration (and the increasing risk of duplication) in the shared digital realm.

Learn more.

Diaspora engagement:

The Malawian diaspora have always, and will always, be an integral, essential and valued part of the SMP. No one knows our two nations better that those in the diaspora, at both sides of the partnership. The SMP looks to respectfully and pro-actively harness this unique insight and expertise by ensuring those in the diaspora are made to feel especially welcome and heard in the network, just as MaSP encourages Scots resident in Malawi to be involved in their work. The SMP has benefitted from always having had a significant proportion of its Board
from the diaspora community, as well as in paid roles. It has worked to encourage diaspora leadership at each level of the SMP and for the last 14 years has had direct outreach work, month by month, to invite and encourage diaspora involvement. While ensuring Malawians resident in Scotland are always warmly welcomed in the SMP, we also respect the wish to have an independent diaspora associations, exclusively for the Malawian diaspora, and we have worked proactively to support these associations wherever we have been able (while respecting the autonomy), for example often helping with funding for events.

Learn more.

The digital era:

The SMP moved quickly in its response to the Covid-19 pandemic and has organised a total of 15 major Covid Coordination meetings, bringing together key stakeholders and experts to share information about Covid-19 in Malawi. Each meeting attracted up to 250 key stakeholders across Malawi and Scotland, including: Government Ministers, Parliamentary Groups, and healthcare and NGO leaders across both countries. These structures allowed the SMP, as a community, to listen to a range of different voices in Malawi, from the Health Minister to junior health workers on the ground talking about their direct experience. This was not donor driven but needs driven and enabled by new digital opportunities. It also respected the time of those in Malawi, allowing all the many partners involved to receive the latest up to date briefings, while sometimes only taking minutes out of the senior officials’ busy day.

The advent of digital working, precipitated by Covid, has significantly changed how the SMP and MaSP work, as it has for all. While we certainly miss the in-person experience at times, there have been significant advantages to the SMP in going digital: most significantly the ability for all our meetings to have strong, diverse Malawian input and participation. Thankfully, gone are the days of having a room full of well-meaning “azungu” in Edinburgh or Glasgow, discussing Malawi with perhaps just one or two Malawians round the table. Technology has allowed us to far better align our working practice with the principles we hold so dear.

We are now phasing into hybrid working and look forward to hosting increasing numbers of hybrid meetings which allow in-person gatherings with digital links to others across Scotland and, most importantly, to participants and speakers in Malawi. We have invested in equipment in this area and are building our experience, for example hosting a major hybrid event with the President of Malawi and three cabinet ministers during COP26. But we are keen to move forwards with an open mind and invite all input about what how we should approach hybrid.

Black Lives Matter:

The SMP and its sister network, MaSP, are anti-racist and anti-prejudice: we stand in solidarity with those who fight racism, in all its forms, in both Scotland and Malawi. We are deeply concerned about instances of racism experienced by Malawians resident in Scotland and we stand ready to do all we can to call this out, to challenge and change racist systems and behaviours.

An essential part of this, is understanding our own shared history, between Scotland and Malawi, and having 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. These are some of the key aspects of what is meant by the modern usage of term “decolonisation”.

For the last fifteen years the SMP has been championing work to throw light on and challenge the very obvious expressions of colonial legacy which are undermining Malawi’s sustainable economic development. For example, our campaign against the 1955 colonial-era UK-Malawi double taxation treaty, which was signed by the UK Government and the UK Government’s appointed Governor of Nyasaland, nine years before Malawi’s independence and, amazingly, still holds force today. We are keen in this next chapter of the bilateral relationship to also do more to shine a light on those less visible contemporary expressions of colonial legacy.

We believe another key aspect of Black Lives Matter work must be to not shy away from recognizing the entrenched, and worryingly normalized, great global injustice which affects so many black lives on this planet. There are over a billion black people in the continent of Africa who have a grossly different life experience to the billion or so, predominantly white, people in Europe and America. In this global pandemic, Malawi has a per person annual healthcare budget of £10; while the UK has £4,000 per person. All those eligible for a vaccine were offered one some time ago in Scotland; while currently only 4% of Malawians are fully vaccinated. We live in a world in which Malawians earn, on average, 100 times less than Scots ($389 GDP per capita, compared to $38,606). We should never tire of calling out the realities and human impact of this injustice and doing all we can to support Malawian-led initiatives which challenge that status quo and strive for transformative change.

We are confident there is more the SMP can, must and will do to challenge racism, decolonise development and ensure black lives matter. We continue to listen and learn, to help us in this mission.

Learn more