Resilience and Purpose: the Fuel of the Southern Voice Secretariat

Southern Voice team 2023

This article was originally published by Southern Voice.

When I became part of the Southern Voice Secretariat almost five years ago, I was hire nr 3. Only later did I understand that I was joining a start-up of sorts. Although there was already a bit of everything, we were also at the beginning of the journey. It was “all-hands-on-deck” from the start.

Now, in 2023, as Southern Voice hits the ten-year mark, it is an excellent time to reflect on how this organisation has grown, not only in size.

Getting established

Having joined the team during its early days, it is astounding to me to see how much has changed. We have proved to be incredibly adaptable. It could be because we all live in places where uncertainty is the norm. Or because the Secretariat and the network members are motivated and committed.

During my first year, an entire re-branding happened, with a new website and a re-vamp of all social media channels and newsletters. In a way, it represented a new era. It meant new energy, new ideas and new goals. Born as an initiative in 2013, in 2018, Southern Voice was becoming fully established.

Through time, our roles and tasks evolved. My initial communications function, for example, grew into something more: spotting and forging alliances with other organisations, foundations and campaigns.

During these past five years, many of us developed through challenges, professionally and personally. We work remotely and in different time zones, rarely seeing each other in person. We operate non-stop through regular political and financial turmoil in the countries we all live in. Add to that the first global pandemic in modern history. That is no small feat.

There were times when the stress of what was happening around us was gigantic. In 2019, my country was on the brink of civil war. I would work through the day and worry 24/7, never knowing what the next day would bring. My colleagues in Ecuador went through a similar situation only a few months before me. My colleagues in Peru are living it at the moment.

Situations out of our control are a daily reality for many, if not most, of our researchers as well.

Situations out of our control are a daily reality for many, if not most, of our researchers as well. It goes from “simple things” like load-shedding (longer electricity cuts) and unstable internet connections to more significant issues, such as elections that almost certainly turn violent. Working in the Global South brings trials that our counterparts in European or US cities can’t even imagine. Yet, none of that ever influenced the quality of our work.

Evolution during the Pandemic

The pandemic was a game-changer for Southern Voice. At first, it was challenging for many of our think tanks to adapt to remote working life, so we shared our best practices. Soon after, our members started generating timely analyses on how the new coronavirus affected their respective countries. We noticed a steady output of articles, policy briefs, webinars and podcasts by them. A Covid-19 Knowledge Hub was born, filling a part of the Global South analysis gap.

Over time, all our projects and outreach for them brought in trust from donors and, most importantly, the network members. Once we had that, more of them engaged, and funding came in for new assignments.

It did help that, in parallel, a worldwide conversation on more diversity and equity took off. A big part of Southern Voice’s mission is to elevate the perspectives of those usually ignored and to shift the power balance in the development dialogue. That vision was ahead of its time and spot on during the pandemic. So, suddenly, we were “trending.” During the height of the Covid-19 crisis, engagement requests poured in and continue to do so. Southern Voice’s outreach and the demand for our input grew exponentially. Often the interest is authentic. Other times it is “diversity washing.” Luckily, we have become very good at spotting the difference.

Our new status meant more work and the need for more people in the Secretariat. At the beginning of 2020, we were five people. Now, we are twelve. Together we represent 13 nationalities and speak ten languages.

2023 and beyond

Last December, the Southern Voice Secretariat met in Cape Town, South Africa. It was exceptional. We saw each other in person for the first time in over three years. We panned out the work plan for our ten-anniversary year, which is now in full motion.

So, where are we going as a team? We have a good mix of longer working experience and “new blood.” Institutional memory often helps guide decision-making, and enough systems are in place to buffer any significant changes. If the network continues growing, as well as the number of projects, most likely, the team will continue to change in size. It will make meeting more often essential, especially for younger and new team members. Creating and maintaining cohesion, team spirit, and a clear idea of where we are heading is pivotal for any organisation.

Minh-Thu Pham, formerly United Nations Foundation, said about us: “There is not only a need, but an absolute hunger for those southern perspectives”. Looking ahead, I am confident that the Southern Voice network and Secretariat will be able to keep up the excellent work and cater to that “hunger”.

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