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Q&A with Isadora Loreto I Head of Research & Development

Posted by / 1st June 2015 / Categories: Polis / Tags: , / -

Isadora Loreto is Head of Research and Development. She joined the Polis team in June 2014 as a researcher and quickly afterwards became Head of R&D. Specialised in conflict studies, it is during her work as a jurist in different NGOs and research centers that she developed a strong interest for innovative approaches in international cooperation and development.

Hi Isa, could you please describe for us what the Polis Project is?

The Polis Project is a project which connects people’s initiatives and projects to the resources they need. Take a women’s group in Kenya who wants to improve rural development: they have the ideas on how to do it but they lack the materials and financial support. Through its online platform the Polis puts the group of women in touch with potential partners who can provide them with exactly this support. The women then choose the partner they think fits best their request! This is just an example of people that can benefit from the Polis Project and its simple method. Many more people are out there with brilliant ideas and initiatives and do not have access to what they need to turn their ideas into reality.

What lead you to become part of The Polis Project?

While focusing on peace building in the Middle East region for my research activities, I was astonished to see how many aid and development organisations would apply ready-made solutions to local problems without first listening to local voices. I started to develop a strong interest for initiatives and organisations promoting locally led development and I soon became convinced it was the only way international development could be effective. It is through my research on such organisations that I heard about ReSeT and the Polis Project. And as soon as I learnt more about the project, I knew that it was exactly in line with the way I was envisioning international development. I was given the chance to become part of the team first as a researcher and then as Head of research. To be honest, I could not imagine a project which would better fit my vision of what international development should look like: « local actors and global actors coming together to achieve a common goal: improving the lives of people, with local actors being in the driving seat. »

As Head of Research and Development, you are a core member of the project; can you describe your role and key responsibilities?

At the Research and Development department, our work is divided into two units: we work on the development of the project and on publications. The development of the project includes four types of activities:(1) researching and supporting the fundraising and communication teams;(2) researching similar initiatives (a market research);(3) researching relevant articles and papers for the Polis Project, and (4) developing the Polis method. The publications unit regroups all kind of publications the team is doing as well as the website content and the newsletter content. On top of that we coordinate the consultancy work the team does. To sum up, as Head of R&D I make sure my team researches and finds the information necessary to develop our project and acquire more expertise!

What is your favourite part of being head of Research and Development?

Everyday when I wake up I am excited about the things R&D needs to do because I know if we advance, the project as a whole advances and develops. Most of the time, I have a pretty busy day ahead filled with different internal researches and publications. But most importantly, I know I can count on my team to be fully committed and do their best to provide the relevant information and boost the project. Apart from the obvious fact that I very much enjoy working at R&D, the most valuable thing of my work is the team spirit we have, it is what makes us go beyond ourselves, achieve our weekly or monthly goals and be creative in the ways that we address issues and challenges we face!

What kind of publications does the Polis Project focus on?

Although most of our work is typically focused on internal researches directly linked to the development of the project, publications are also essential. They indeed demonstrate our expertise and knowledge on local-global relationships. This is why all our Polis publications analyse local-global dynamics. I guess your next question would then be: “but what do local-global analyses mean?” It means that we focus on cases where there are interactions between the global and the local level, where global actors’ actions have an impact on the local level. The local level can be understood as community level, regional level or even national level. With the Polis Publications, our main goal is to give our perspective on relationships between the global and the local level. Because this is what the Polis is all about!

How does research & development contribute to the other departments in the Polis Project?

Let’s say that we are like the backbone of the Polis team! All our activities have one common goal: supporting the fundraising and the communications teams. It can be the research we do on specific organisations related to fundraising or communications, our market research on similar initiatives, which is essential to expand our knowledge of others that work in a similar way, or some field research necessary to understand the demand for the Polis Project. But it is also feeding them with articles and papers, which are relevant for our work and project. The fundraising and communications teams know they can rely on us to provide them with the most accurate information they need. This means that all the Polis teams: R&D, communications and fundraising work together to make the project advance and develop.

As R&D, you have contributed to the development of the Polis Postcards and Polis Perspectives, can you tell us a bit about them?

Both Polis Perspectives and Polis Postcards are recent initiatives by the team to strengthen our communication with our network.
With the Polis Perspectives, our idea was to give our perspective on a different article each week which one of us found very interesting. We also share articles we enjoyed reading and our favorite tweets of the week. It is a way for us to share what we find interesting and relevant and to connect the Polis Project to the broader development sector in a different way!

The Polis is all about access and connection being available for people at the local level, right? With the Polis Postcards, we wanted to give the opportunity to local people to present their initiatives and get some exposure. It is a simple idea just as if they were sending a Postcard telling us their story! On the top of that, it is a great way for us to get in touch with people that could benefit from the Polis Project and to envision potential further collaboration.

What are your ambitions with respect to research and development in the coming months?

My ambition is to see the Polis Project further develop and to continue making the work of R&D as relevant as possible! The coming months will be an intensive period for us so R&D will need to be at its sharpest and keep their eye on the ball. We will be focusing the team’s publications on today’s current global development issues, local realities, and local-global dynamics. Through our Polis Postcards and new weekly Perspectives, R&D hope to continue analysing, exploring and informing the public of our research and connection to the field!


Global Problems, Local Solutions: The Case of C.A.R. and the International Community

Posted by / 29th May 2015 / Categories: Analysis, Polis / Tags: , , , / -

We live in turbulent times, where new crises hit anytime and anywhere,” said Christos Stylianides, the European commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management. “But our attention must not shift from ongoing humanitarian crises such as this one. The people of the Central African Republic (CAR) continue to need our help to survive and rebuild their lives.” According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, 2.7 million people are in need of aid in CAR, 436,000 are internally displaced, while more than 460,000 people are living as refugees in neighbouring countries. The humanitarian community has received only about a fifth of the total funds required for the UN strategic response plan. On Tuesday 26 May, the European Union announced a new assistance package for CAR worth €72m following the call by interim President Catherine Samba-Panza urging European countries to help CAR to return to democracy by the end of the year. “CAR lacks a lot of money” she said, which is needed to re-establish security and long lasting peace and to organise elections. She added that CAR “cannot go to the polls without having security in the country”. All of this typifies a reaction from the international community that is too little, too late and possibly even counterproductive.

As is all too common in the case of sub-Saharan conflicts, the upheaval in CAR has been accompanied by headlines describing it as a “forgotten humanitarian crisis” and “ignored emergencies“. These types of phrases are not all that hyperbolic, with the wider world only showing moderate interest at best. What is even more “forgotten” and “ignored”, however, are underlying local dynamics before and after such crises hit their peak. The current meek reaction of the international community- with peacekeeping intervention and diplomatic pressure- is still an improvement on the status quo. Engaging local communities during those times that no imminent crisis looms, engaging local communities would go a long way in avoiding humanitarian crises in the first place, but those are hardly ever priorities. Unfortunately, without humanitarian victims, interests in long-term dynamics tend to be deep down on the agenda. As a result, international information and knowledge on grassroots realities on a country such as CAR are minimal. When a crisis then forces a reaction, national governments and other parties that can hardly be considered neutral and constructive counterparts are the only partners the international community focuses on. The result is insufficient and ineffective action. CAR is a clear example of this lack of local connections.

The international community has always had this tendency to react to conflicts, rather than help preventing them in the first place. This has direct consequences during the crisis itself. Without a network and local engagement mechanisms in place, the reaction of outsiders is almost completely dependent on their direct and centralised counterparts: government officials, rebel groups and large scale actors. They are the primary source of information, and the go-to actors for understanding the underlying problems. The true social and economic factors- only clearly understood at a local level- are unknown to, or simply ignored by, a reactive international community. As a result, any solutions brought forward from the outside tends to be a patch to stem the bleeding, rather than a constructive contribution to long-term stability and wellbeing. And thus the cycle continues in perpetuity: ignored local and national problems fester; crisis hits, political and humanitarian reaction from the international community; underlying local realities and causes are ignored; most visible problems are hastily dealt with; international community withdraws; local and national problems continue.

In these situations, the fact that central counterparts are the only negotiating partners as well as sources of information is a major obstacle for an international community not knowledgeable on the very issues they pretend to solve. With very few attempts at talking to people at a grassroots level, any action taken is biased towards those responsible for the crisis in the first place. Since the beginning of the conflict in 2013, the privileged interlocutors of the international community have been the transitional government and the main opposing armed groups (the Séléka and anti-balaka). Due to their role in the conflict these actors were given a monopolistic space within the negotiating sphere. Given that these parties are both responsible for any violence as well as using it to their advantage- as is the case in any of these conflicts- not involving and representing grassroots actors means dealing with the rotten surface, rather than finding true answers. Without representation from the wider population it is hard to believe there is a real support for reconciliation and national cohesion. Finally, this month, the CAR took an important step toward fostering national cohesion through its Bangui Forum on National Reconciliation. The Bangui Forum brought together nearly 700 leaders from diverse groups within the CAR’s society—including the transitional government, national political parties, the main opposing armed groups, the private sector, civil society, traditional chiefs, and religious groups—to define their collective vision for the country’s future. Although peace and national reconciliation have not been achieved yet, the conclusions of the forum seem to mark the beginning of a new chapter for CAR.

A good example of how, from the beginning of the conflict, the international community’s interests were to stabilise the conflict and avoid bloodshed while undervaluing the importance of local realities and its complexity, is the deployment of the peacekeeping operation MINUSCA (the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic). The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) established it by its resolution 2149 of 10 April 2014 with the mandate to protect Central African Republic civilians. If the reasons that pushed the UNSC to create the MINUSCA are understandable with regards to the violence of the conflict, it is by no means a long-term solution. Then again, the language used suggested that MINUSCA was a profound solution to the problems faced by the country. The text includes indeed the full “peacekeeping package” with sentences such as “to assist the Transitional Authorities in mediation and reconciliation processes at both the national and local levels (…)” and “to provide good offices and political support for the efforts to address root causes of the conflict and establish lasting peace and security in the CAR”. Without any deeper understanding of what those root causes were, these phrases were fanciful at best, and disingenuous at worst. Sub-Sahara African history is littered with all too many similar cases of pretension trumping reality.

More than a year after the establishment of the MINUSCA, the expected impact of the peacekeeping operation is still uncertain. The mandate of the operation is too ambitious and does not correspond to the complexity of the field. In most places in the Central African Republic, reconciliation has started between the different communities but it stays fragile. The country is still working to end the cycles of violence and reunite its people. 436,000 people are internally displaced and most cannot go back to their hometown because they fear the re-eruption of violence. On top of that, the peacekeepers’ first mission is to protect civilians, but the latest scandal about the UN covering up the sexual assault of children by French troops raises the question of trust. The success of peacekeeping operations depends on creating a bond of trust with local populations. What kind of message does an institution that covers up sexual assault on minors send to vulnerable populations? They may stop other types of violence in the short run, but the long-term outcomes may be to exacerbate the very human insecurity that leads to conflict. The unholy mix of an unrealistic mandate, absence of long-term solutions and a lack of trust by local populations is the ideal cocktail for ineffective and counterproductive outcomes.

Sadly, CAR is an all too typical example of an international community uninterested in- and therefore out of touch with- local realities in sub-Saharan Africa. Lingering conflicts that require long-term international approaches based on local networks are instead ignored until a humanitarian crisis can no longer be avoided. Reacting to the symptoms rather than the causes means a perpetual cycle of violence in which the international community is at risk of being a perpetuating influence by strengthening centralised and warmongering actors, rather than representing those suffering the consequences. Greater investment in grassroots networks and development of local human security before conflicts escalate is essential for sustainable social development. That is where the international community’s priorities need to be, rather than using the military to bring only temporary short-lived peace.

This article was written by Isadora Loreto and Balder Hageraats.


Polis Perspective 29/5/2015: We need far fewer SDGs

Posted by / 29th May 2015 / Categories: Opinion / -


Joanna Klever: We need far fewer SDGs 

Polis Perspectives are weekly perspectives of our team on Polis-related topics. We also share our favorite articles and tweets. This week’s perspective is written by Joanna Klever on the podcast:  ‘We need ‘far fewer’ SDGs says leading development thinker John Norris’ hosted by Rajesh Mirchandani, Center for Global Development 12/05/2015

John Norris, a member of the US President’s Global Development Council, argues in a podcast by the Center for Global Development that the UN Sustainable Development Goals are too broad and too large in number. The SDGs are building on the successes of the Millenium Development Goals. Now – in the second round of global development goals – many feel that the SDGs need to be even broader, aiming higher and higher. The SDGs in their current state with 169 targets, many of which we already know are unrealistic, can only lead to disappointment, according to Norris.

We at the Polis acknowledge the inclusive, local approach that has been taken in the drafting process of the SDGs. Nonetheless, the entire process needs to be centred on local ambitions, rather than seeing locals as mere impulses. Also, there needs to be a better way to transition from the collection of local needs to a feasible global agenda. The current vision of the SGDs will most likely lead to disbursements of donor money to a plethora of implementing organisations without cohesion or focussed targets. Therefore, Norris’ suggestion to cut out the majority of targets and to focus them on specific topics such as climate resilience presents itself as a necessary turn to make the SDGs realistic and give them the possibility of success.

Polis Star Articles of the Week

Simon Tisdall: ’2015 is ‘Year of Fear’ for children worldwide, warns Gordon Brown’, the Guardian, 26/5/2015

How Matters: ‘The secret to communicating grassroots social change – anyone have it?’,How Matters, 25/5/2015

Geoffrey York: ‘Lamps shine light on a new kind of aid in Burundi’, The Globe and Mail , 22/05/2015

Polis TweetOur Favourite Tweets @polisproject

@owenbarder: Trending on the BBC – the shaming of people who organise all-male panels … #HeForShe @huippumisukka

@geoffreyyork: Too much gloom from #Burundi these days? Here’s a brighter story (literally), shedding light on new aid trends: …

@ithorphe: 6 ways to innovate for development in 2015 and beyond via @bkumpf


For more in-depth articles and research, visit our Polis Publications page.









Polis Perspective 22/5/2015: Bill, Melinda, and the SDGs

Posted by / 22nd May 2015 / Categories: Opinion / Tags: / -


Joan Okitoi: Bill, Melinda, and the SDGs

Polis Perspectives are weekly perspectives of our team on Polis-related topics. We also share our favorite articles and tweets. This week’s perspective is written by Joan Okitoi on the article: Alex Evans: ´Bill, Melinda, and the SDGs´, Global Dashboard 12/05/2015

Alex Evans’ post calling on the Gates Foundation and other foundations to clearly state their policy positions on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the degree to which with their huge budget they influence NGOs in developing countries, raises an interesting point on ‘behind-the-scenes’ consultations for the goals. The SDGs are a continuation of efforts towards attainment of rights and human dignity (as per the Millennium Declaration) but Evan’s post is a stark reminder of the conflicting interests in choosing the goals for the global framework. While it is broadly accepted that the SDGs are not for states but for people, it seems the voices of the people for whom the goals are designed to benefit is not getting the attention it deserves. The Seed Institute and African Monitor in 2010 conducted a series of poverty hearings in Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique and South Africa. Out of the testimonies given, the locals made it clear they are not interested in charity but want to have the power to decide on issues affecting their lives. A more people-centered development narrative echoed by initiatives anchored on locally-led development is therefore more likely to deliver transformative changes.


Polis Star Articles of the Week

Hugh Muir & Clár Ní Chonghaile: ´What causes conflict and how can it be solved?´ Podcast, the Guardian, 21/5/2015

The Economist: ´Development aid: it’s not what you spend´, the Economist, 23/5/2015

KM on a dollar a day: ´A flowering of approaches to complexity and development?´, KM on a dollar a day, 15/05/2015

Polis TweetOur Favourite Tweets @polisproject

Getting real+specific about #differentdev: a bandwagon effect taking politicians along @kwatkinsodi @fp2p @leniwild

Just launched a call for #polispostcards – Share with us your community’s development projects  #AdaptDev @ODIdev

Entrepreneurship: the key to breaking the poverty cycle @anzishaprize @GShapersNairobi @MadeItInAfrica #AdaptDev


For more in-depth articles and research, visit our Polis Publications page.









Polis Perspective 15/05/2015: The Paradox of Identity Politics

Posted by / 15th May 2015 / Categories: Opinion / Tags: / -


Polis Perspective 15/05/2015: The Paradox of Identity Politics

Polis Perspectives are weekly perspectives of our team on Polis-related topics. We also share our favorite articles and tweets. This week´s perspective is written by Balder Hageraats on the article: Kemal Derviş: ´The Paradox of Identity Politics´, Brookings, 13/05/2015

With the forces of globalisation influencing local dynamics in virtually every place in the world, identity politics is becoming increasingly pervasive. In order to reassert people’s sense of self in the seeming chaos and grandiose scope of an interconnected planet, returning to an “us” versus “them” narrative is both an attractive and powerful tool. As people across regions are more intertwined and interdependent than ever before, we yearn for a more distinctive and even antagonistic identity. Within small groups we need to perceive unique characteristics and destinies not shared by those not invited to our localised party. Kemal Derviş of the Brookings Institution writes about this phenomenon and its political consequences. ”The problem with identity politics is that it places the ‘in’ group at odds with the perceived ‘other’”. Quite. By being brought closer together through technological and systemic changes, we are brought back in touch with our very human side which craves differences between each other. In order to know who we are, we need to know who we are not. In this way, globalisation makes it both more attractive and paradoxically harder to find true schisms within humanity, however much we hanker after such conflict. In the eternal words of Cavafy, “what’s going to happen to us without barbarians? They were, those people, a kind of solution“.

Polis Star Articles of the Week

Duncan Green: ´Which bits of advice to developing country decision makers actually listen to?´ Oxfam, 12/05/2015

Tony Elumelu: ´Entrepreneur-Led Development: A new Model for Africa´, AllAfrica, 12/05/2015

Sam Jones: ´EU Development finance needs completely completely new approach, report says´, the Guardian, 04/05/2015

Polis TweetOur Favourite Tweets

More African innovators are designing products/services not only for the African market but for the global markets #bmzafrica #eLA15Chat

How else can implementation be done to accelerate locally led development? #BonnConference #differentdev #globaldev @owenbarder

Sign up & stay tuned for our upcoming eNews (June 2015) on our interview with Dr. Sirolli @sirollinstitute #AdaptDev


For more in-depth articles and research, visit our Polis Publications page.









Q&A with Joanna Klever I Head of Fundraising

Posted by / 7th April 2015 / Categories: Polis / Tags: , / -

Joanna Klever is Head of Fundraising. She joined the Polis team in June 2014 bringing in exactly what was needed for fundraising: a creative thinking combined with a willingness to do things differently! Her interest in innovative development approaches was born during her stay in the Dominican Republic where Joanna worked for the former German Development Service (DED/GIZ) and was exposed to the realities of current development policies.

What led you to become part of The Polis?

The moment I heard about the Polis project I was captivated. The idea behind The Polis is incredibly simple, yet efficient. It made me wonder how sixty years of global development work have not lead to the creation of a ‘Polis’ earlier! Being part of a creative, enthusiastic and experienced team was just as appealing as the idea of joining an idea that has the power to significantly impact people worldwide.

 As a core member of The Polis, can you describe your role and key responsibilities? Can you go into detail about your experiences as Head of Fundraiser for The Polis?

As Head of Fundraising, my role inevitably comes with a number of responsibilities! I joined The Polis from its inception, which is such a rare opportunity as I have been able to be part of the whole process, experience the ups and downs, make mistakes and learn from them. As any fundraiser will know, it is a challenging role, and I have definitely perfected the art of multitasking: from managing our new team, developing fundraising strategies, connecting with potential donors and researching the general fundraising environment in our sector. Admittedly, the sector is not an easy one – we have encountered a number of hurdles: for example, the nature of our model is particularly abstract, which is both its strength and its Achille’s heel. We have also had a very short timeframe, which means we have had an intensive period of planning, networking, researching… which as Head of Fundraising, is both exhausting and exciting!

What do you feel are the main strengths of The Polis?

Before joining ReSeT, I researched the impact of IMF and World Bank policy in Latin America, and it was very frustrating: everyone observes the problems related to developmental policy, everyone criticises it, but very few clear alternatives are put forward. Then I came across the Polis project, and that was the first time that I was involved in a project that approached these issues from a completely different angle. From what I had seen, it just makes so much sense to not make these local-global relationships about institutions or large-scale agendas, but rather about very simple, effective human contact. The Polis does that: it brings together actors from different parts, with complementary skills and abilities, without any interference by politics or institutional demands. And that is exactly what is needed.

 For the Polis fundraising team, what initiatives are driving the project forward?

We have recently made a few changes in our team and fundraising strategy that has really made a difference to our efficiency and drive. We have not only expanded the team, but we have created three new departments, each with specific strategies towards a fundraising goal. Our new team-members have brought a really fresh perspective to our project, and subsequently we have developed a very solid Polis fundraising approach. The boost this has given us has increased the pace, depth of research and accelerated the networking process even further, it’s a big leap for The Polis, and a momentous time to be Head of Fundraising!

What are you looking for in a funder?

Well, there are three different types of funders that we’re looking at. The first are those whose role it is to support innovate and daring development projects, such as certain foundations and company sponsorhip. The Polis is highly replicable and relatively simple to implement while still being very ambitious. On the other hand, the problem that I am personally encountering a lot is that funders often look for something directly tangible, rather than invest in a model. A school is easy to fund from an administrative perspective; but a new way of working, not so much. So that means that we need to play around with that, and actually link it directly to existing local realities in specific regions or between specific local/global relationships.

The second category is actors (agencies, NGOs and certain companies) that are interested in specific aspects of The Polis, rather than the model as a whole. This includes specific local connections and expertise, consulting and research on local/global relations, and methods of matchmaking.

Finally, we are talking to social investors. Even though we are a not-for-profit organisation, The Polis generates its own revenue after the initial start-up period for local connections, which means that we combine the best of both worlds in my view: financial sustainability and social impact.

Most importantly: we do not look for funders who will only provide money or resources. We look for partners who are ready and willing to engage in a relationship in which we progress together and advance The Polis. We want to partner with organisations that can significantly strengthen our work and impact.

Together with the funders, global resources and local communities, what will be the full impact of The Polis in five years?

In five years The Polis will be a running project, fully operational in lots of local communities in several countries across the globe! We will look back at a history of successful connections in which the Polis model has served local communities and their ambitions. The Polis will be that springboard local communities use to implement their ideas, find their voice and prosper.