Building Back Better

The SMP is committed to the concept of ‘Build Back Better’. This is a UN-backed notion that, as we proceed through, and eventually come out of the Covid-19 pandemic, we should be reflecting on which elements of what we do could be changed or improved in some way.

This page outlines just some of the ways we are trying to Build Back Better in the SMP. It also provides a range of very practical examples of how the SMP is working within and towards the Scottish Government’s recently published international development principles.

We are keen to listen to our members and -most importantly- our partners in Malawi about what more we can do to harness the opportunities we have at this unique point. So, for each of the below items, we give contact details for you to feed in your views and get involved.

We are a learning organisation, committed to always improving what we do, and how we do it, to best adhere to the Partnership Principles we hold ourselves accountable to.

‘People to People’ Podcast:

SMP People 2 People Podcast GRAPHICS Instagram 2

Rather than just ourselves discuss and debate the key themes around Building Back Better, we wanted to support an engaging external appraisal. So we challenged two hugely inspiring women, Hazel and Chimzy, a Scot and a Malawian, to work together to explore the bilateral relationship through dozens of chats with other Malawians and Scots and to present this in an innovative and engaging way making best use of new technologies.

Over many months they interviewed dozens of different Malawians and Scots, listening to as many different and diverse voices as possible, exploring themes including: understanding our past; is their really parity; what is good partnership; exploring privilege; fighting the climate crisis; and much more.

This is a jargon-free, frank assessment of the bilateral relationship which is unafraid to challenge. It’s not to be missed: it’ll make you laugh, cry and learn!

They are publishing ten 30-40-minute podcasts, one a week, to share the views of those they spoke to with a new, wider audience. Listen to all the episodes HERE.

Black Lives Matter


The SMP and its sister Malawian network, the Malawi Scotland Partnership (MaSP), have together co-published a joint commitment to black lives matter.

Both our networks 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 recognise that, in the fight against racism, silence is not acceptable and we are proud to make this joint statement to call-out and oppose racism.

We continue to work closely with Malawian and Scottish historians to better understand our 162-year shared history, both good and bad.

If you would like to feed into our work looking to respond positively and pro-actively to the challenge and opportunities that have come from the black lives matter movement, please contact David, our Chief Executive.

Black History Month:

The SMP actively mobilised its members and partners to vote for Prof Samson Kambalu when his statue, entitled ‘Antelope’ was one of six works shortlisted for the Mayor of London’s Trafalgar Square fourth plinth commission. Malawi-born Professor Samson Kambalu is a highly respected artist, academic and author who trained as a fine artist and ethnomusicologist at the University of Malawi's Chancellor

College. ‘Antelope’ depicts Malawian freedom fighter John Chilembwe, larger than life, alongside John Chorley. John Chilembwe is depicted wearing a hat: a potent symbol given, during colonial rule, Malawians were expected to remove their headwear when passing, or in the presence of, a European; as well as stopping and standing to one side. Prof Kambalu won the commission and ‘Antelope’ will feature in Trafalgar Square for two years from 2022: a Malawian freedom fighter literally sizing up to the countless projections of imperial power in central London.

Taking place within, Black History Month, the SMP was delighted to have Prof Samson Kambalu and his Scottish wife (who were married by an SMP member 20 years ago) speak at our AGM about “their very own Scotland-Malawi partnership”! We are now working with the Scottish Parliament and Samson to have ‘Antelope’ displayed in the Scottish Parliament in 2022.

Digital inclusivity:

Covid Meeting FB

In the 12 months following the first Covid lockdown, we hosted 35 SMP digital events and 13 co-hosted engagements. All of these took place on Zoom, allowing far greater inclusivity, with people able to join right across Scotland and Malawi.

One third of all those who attended our meetings were Malawians (with a total gender balance of 53% female:47% male) and the overwhelming majority of those attending our sister network’s meetings were Malawian. This meant that, for the first time, the majority of people taking part in events talking about the bilateral relationship were Malawians and not Scots. Indeed, one meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Malawi Cross Party Group facilitated by the SMP in this period, had 75% of attendees joining from Malawi!

We very much welcome the inclusivity and diversity that this technology offers the SMP: this is entirely in line with our principles and values. However, we recognise that power, connectivity and adequate bandwidth are not readily available for all in Malawi. Malawi has some of the most expensive internet provision in the world.

We are committed to increasing digital inclusivity and have put proposals to our core funders to support this. We are working closely with our sister network, MaSP, to help more people in Malawi, from all walks of life, to be able to join our digital meetings. This includes using the three Communication and Resource Centres (CRCs), in Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Blantyre, to facilitate free involvement, as well as active outreach to groups, especially school partnership, to facilitate direct digital links to Scotland.

To feed in your views on how we should increase digital inclusivity, please email the CEO’s of SMP and MaSP, David and Stella.

Re-engaging schools:

Gemma Youth Committee AGM 2018

Covid has been incredibly hard for schools, in Malawi and Scotland. Many school partnerships have had to be put on hold due to schools closing or working remotely, limited teacher capacity, a focus on core curriculum and catching up, and the suspension of Scotland-Malawi travel.

Young people are the life-blood of the bilateral relationship and so we are committed to re-engaging, re-enthusing and re-inspiring schools at both sides of the partnership.

The SMP is working closely with our sister network in Malawi, the Malawi Scotland Partnership (MaSP), to listen to schools and young people so we can re-develop our offer to schools, with an attractive, compelling package of services and support to ensure we do not lose momentum in youth engagement.

In March 2022 the SMP launched a completely new and updated 'School Partnerships Practical Guide' with learning captured from across dozens of Malawian and Scottish schools. The publication was warmly welcomed in Malawi, with the Foreword written by the Malawi Minister of Education Hon. Agnes Nyalonje MP. The Guide has a strong focus on equity, inclusion and how best to use digital.

The SMP will shortly publish an ambitious new suite of resources and lesson plans, embedded in the curriculum, for upper primary and lower secondary. This will include nine new lessons in areas of critical learning:

- Power and poverty, a critical understanding
- Use of images and video: the narratives we construct
- Scotland and Malawi: Understanding our shared history
- Partnership vs charity
- Critical dialogue groups (with QMU and StekaSkills)
- Understanding the ‘White Savior’ complex
- Do No Harm: exploring intended and unintended consequences
- The case for Climate Justice
- Understanding Malawi: its language and culture.

Learn more about all our updated support and resources for youth and school partnerships.

Digital Youth Festival:

We are committed to engaging young people in key debates relevant to the future of the bilateral relationship. We want to be open, frank, honest and youth-led, not shying away from topics that might be challenging or uncomfortable.

Through Covid we have delivered a range of youth-led digital offerings to support youth engagement, most notably our 2021 Youth Festival, which reached over a quarter of a million people.

The Youth Festival involved podcasts, webinars, social media takeovers, Facebook Lives, dance and language competitions, and lots more. All of it was about listening to young Malawians and young Scots discuss and debate race and equality, and climate change.

Watch and listen HERE, and feed into future work in this area by contacting our Youth and Schools Officer on

David Livingstone’s legacy:

David Livingstone’s travels are often seen as the genesis of the Scotland-Malawi relationship. It is widely remarked that there remains strong support in Malawi for David Livingstone’s legacy because of his fight against the slave trade in the region.

The SMP is committed to helping amplify a range a different voices, with a diverse range of views about David Livingstone. We have a long-term partnership with the David Livingstone Birthplace Centre in Blantyre, Scotland, and have been working together to ensure this diverse range of views is well represented at the newly refurbished Centre, which re-opened in July 2021. We recorded 32 short videos from a diverse range of Malawians, Zambians, Scots and others from nations visited by Livingstone. We have actively sought to highlight alternative assessments of Dr Livingstone’s legacy, both positive and negative, such that we do not fall back on a single narrative of our shared history.

We are also beginning to work with other major Scottish learning institutions on similar initiatives to help amplify a greater range of diverse voices in understanding Scotland’s past in this area.

In November 2021 the SMP gave personal tours round the new Livingstone exhibition, showing these new videos, to the Malawi President, First Lady and the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

To feed into this work, please contact Stuart, our Deputy Chief Executive.

Transparency and accountability:

We already regularly publish information on our website and members’ bulletin about what we’ve been doing and sharing all the feedback we have received from our various surveys, as well as the results of the annual independent expert review of our impact.

We’re keen to do even more to increase our transparency and accountability as a member-led network. To advance this, we’re developing new digital systems which will allow our members, supporters and the public to see all the projects and pieces of work the SMP is engaged in, with real-time, live information about how things are going.

We want to continue as a sector leader in this space. If you would like to feed into the SMP’s decision-making on what, how and when the SMP shares, please contact David, our Chief Executive.

Working to Malawi’s priorities:

It is over sixteen years since countries, including the UK, signed up to the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, pledging to work within and towards the priorities of the partner country’s government. For a country like Malawi, where there are thousands of foreign NGOs operating, this is the only realistic way to ensure coordination of effort. And yet, for many donors, the priorities and policies of the democratically elected Government of Malawi are an after-thought when deciding what to do and how to spend funds.

We commend this short video made by MaSP/SMP members, BASEflow, about why working to Government of Malawi priorities is so important.

The SMP is committed to working within the policies and priorities of Malawi: its government and people. We have hosted a series of digital fora in which Malawian Government Ministers can, in a single meeting, address hundreds of SMP member organisations, spelling out their priorities and explaining key areas of policy and process which Scots should work within, when engaging Malawi. We will continue this, with specific events with Malawi’s National Planning Commission to raise awareness of Malawi’s inspiring ‘Vision 2063’. In May 2021, alongside our sister organisation The Malwi Scotland Partnerhsip, we co-hosted a Roundtable meeting with CEO of National Planning Commission, Dr Thomas Munthali. In December 2021 the SMP worked to amplify the President of Malawi’s Year-end Address in which he launched the his government’s Covid-19 Socio-Economic Recovery Plan (SERP) . The SMP has called on all its members to work within and towards this plan.

We will also do all we can to encourage our members and the Scottish Government to respond meaningfully to the three direct challenges the President of Malawi set Scotland for this next chapter in the bilateral relationship:

1. To scale up the SMP, from 1,200 bilateral civic links to 1,500, and to increase the total number of Scots and Malawians involved from 300,000 to 500,000.

2. For Scotland to host, within five years, a high-level conference, to track and celebrate and progress made in the implementation of the vision set down in the September 2018 ‘Malawi and Scotland: Together for Sustainable Development’ conference.

3. To ignite a movement of climate change activists amongst our peoples and capture the imagination of Malawian youths.

If we are real partners of Malawi, we need to listen when a challenge is made.

To feed in your views on this developing work please email the CEO’s of SMP and MaSP, David and Stella.

Partnership working with MaSP:

Ma SP symposium group photo

The Malawi Scotland Partnership (MaSP) is our Malawi-owned and Malawi-led sister network. They are the SMP’s partner, equal and ally.

While maintaining our respective independence, we are developing new ways of working closer together, especially in the digital sphere. We have developed new systems for collaboration and partnership, with monthly full team meetings and regular peer-to-peer sharing between individual staff members and trustees.

We think the SMP and MaSP have a crucial role, to lead by example in maintaining a dignified, equitable two-way partnership where there is genuine mutual understanding, mutual respect and mutual accountability.

If you would like to feed in to how the SMP and MaSP work together, please email our two CEO’s, David and Stella.

Partnership Principles:

“Partnership” is an overused and underdefined word. Dignified partnership is at the very core of what the SMP is all about so it’s hugely important we are clear what we mean by “partnership”.

Almost a decade ago we asked around 200 Malawian and 200 Scottish organisations what good partnership working looked like. We distilled all this data, along with a comprehensive literature review, to come up with 11 Scotland-Malawi Partnership Principles which underpin all our work: 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. A more detailed breakdown can be below.

For the last nine years the SMP and MaSP have been working together to encourage and support our respective members to work within these 11 principles. We hold ourselves, and all our 1,250+ members accountable to these principles.

We welcome the Scottish Government’s 2021 international development principles, which we feel align closely with these Scotland-Malawi partnership principles.

We will host a series of further events which will continue our mission to ensure that all that happens between Scotland and Malawi complies with our Partnership Principles. If you would like to be involved in this, please email David, our CEO.