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:

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 are interviewing 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, and get involved, sharing your views, by contacting Chimzy and Hazel directly.

SMP People 2 People Podcast GRAPHICS Instagram 2

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 is currently developing a number of events and engagements to take place in the October 2021, Black History Month, to help raise awareness of Malawi’s history in Scotland. If you would like to be involved with this work, please contact Stuart, our Deputy Chief Exec.

Digital inclusivity:

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 successive proposals to our core funders to support this. The SMP is working with its sister network to review exactly what support and infrastructure would most efficiently increase digital inclusivity and allow those currently excluded, to take part in SMP/MaSP digital meetings. From this, we will develop another proposal for operational funds from the SMP’s core funding to be re-allocated for this purpose. If we are not permitted to do this, the SMP pledges that it will endeavour to find alternative sources of funding, as we see widening participation and increasing equitable digital access as core to Building Back Better.

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

Covid Meeting FB

Re-engaging schools:

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.

To learn more about our work with schools CLICK HERE and to feed in your views, please contact Luisa, our brilliant Youth and Schools Officer.

Gemma Youth Committee AGM 2018

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 Luisa, our brilliant Youth and Schools Officer.

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 Memorial 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 is due to open later in 2021. We are recording 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.

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.

Future’s Forum:

We are worried that, too often in global north-south relations the ideas and priorities come from the north and our imposed on the global south. Our Scotland-Malawi Partnership Principles (also shared at the bottom of this page) help to steer us in this regard, always asking ‘who’s idea is this’ and ‘where does the power lie’, but we feel there is more we can do to pro-actively support the development of Malawi-led ideas. We are therefore working with our sister Malawian network to establish a ‘Futures Forum’ in which ideas can be floated and discussed, especially from the Malawian side of the partnership: creating a safe, open and equal space for new ideas to be discussed and new avenues in the bilateral relationship to be opened up.

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

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.

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:

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.

Ma SP symposium group photo

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.

Partnership Principles

It's easy. Think P.A.R.T.N.E.R.S.H.I.P.


Planning and implementing together

This first principle is all about thinking about how ideas are communicated, decisions are made and roles and responsibilities agreed. It's important to ensure that projects are designed and delivered by Malawians first and foremost.

Useful resources to help explore this principle


When working in partnership it's really important that project are aligned with needs on the ground, and compliment local and national priorities. It's also really important to take time to learn about and consider how your link fits within local culture and customs, at both sides of the partnership.

Useful resources to help explore this principle

Respect, trust and mutual understanding

At the heart of Scotland's links with Malawi is mutual respect, trust and understanding. It's about putting yourselves in your partners' shoes and understanding each other's contexts. It's about listening well to each other and giving space for honest conversations.

Useful resources to help explore this principle

Transparency and accountability

How and what information is shared between partners is really crucial for developing strong partnerships. It's really important to think about who information is shared with and how it's shared, particularly when it comes to communications about money.

Useful resources to help explore this principle

No-one left behind

It's really important to take a step back regularly and ask 'is there anyone being excluded from our partnership?'. It can be easy to keep working with the same people and natural to want to stay focussed on the task at hand, but it's essential that you and your partner are regularly reflecting to ensure that those who might be marginalised are given the equal opportunity to participate.

Useful resources to help explore this principle


Not everything can always go to plan. That's why it's important to make time and space to ask critical questions about the effectiveness of a partnership: is it achieving what both partners hoped at the start? The more stakeholders that can help feed into these reviews the better. This way you can make regular tweaks and adjustments as you go to ensure the partnership remains relevant and impactful, responding effectively to new challenges and opportunities.

Useful resources to help explore this principle


For a project to be a genuine partnership both sides should contribute and both sides should benefit. This way both sides have responsibilities and both have a stake in the the outcome. Each side may have different offerings, but the benefits should be open and clear to all involved. Without reciprocity and a strong sense of community ownership, its unlikely any project will survive beyond the initial funding period.

Useful resources to help explore this principle


Sadly, Malawi is over-run with well meaning short-term development projects. Too often these projects parachute in western ideas and solutions, do what they can for a few years, and then when funding ends leave as quickly as they arrive. Such work will never make any significant impact fighting poverty because it's not sustainable. It's important in partnership working to always keep half an eye on the long-term to ensure you're not creating dependencies but rather are building capacity on both sides, so the benefits of your work last beyond the current project.

Useful resources to help explore this principle

Do no Harm

Unintended consequences, both good and bad, are by their very nature unpredictable! However, it's important to be thinking critically all the time about who might be worse off as a result of the partnership and do what you can to mitigate against this.

Useful resources to help explore this principle


None of us should be working in silos. There is much we can all learn from each other, the things that have gone well, and often more usefully the things that didn't go quite to plan. It's really important too to avoid duplication of effort and connect up with those working in similar areas, either geographically or thematically, to share experiences and learning. This is as relevant in Scotland, as in Malawi, and a particularly valuable community group are members of the Malawian diaspora here in Scotland. u

Useful resources to help explore this principle

Parity (equality)

Power, ownership and influence can be both forces for good and bad. It's really crucial to ensure that those who have the most power, ownership and influence are those who the partnership is seeking to support. Reflecting on who has the power can be a really useful to ensure that all those in the partnership have an equal voice.

Useful resources to help explore this principle