In May and June of 2022, Cloudburst, in partnership with PartnersGlobal and Root Change, hosted a four-day Peer Learning Summit as part of USAID’s Local Organizations—Movement Towards Self-Reliance (LO-MTSR) activity. The hybrid event was held both online and in-person) and served as the concluding activity of the ResiliencyCambodia. For the first time, Cloudburst staff, Resiliency Coaches, and all program participants gathered together to meet, network, and learn from each other. CSOs explored opportunities for collaboration and future joint work; and reflected on the ResiliencyCambodia intervention and discussed the emerging and recurring challenges facing civil society in the country.
Cloudburst implemented a series of intensive in-person learning and sharing sessions, joint reflection spaces, and short training sessions in Phnom Penh from June 7 to 9. These sessions not only imparted knowledge of essential practices for CSOs to complete, communicate, and execute effective programming, but they also created an unprecedented opportunity to collaborate with other CSOs. Through Cloudburst’s facilitation, CSOs gained a better understanding on how diverse organizations across Cambodia can share resources in order to improve their effectiveness.
The ResiliencyCambodia Peer Learning Summit had four objectives:
1. Enable in-depth reflection, discussion, and exchange of experiences and ideas regarding civic space challenges and strategies to address those challenges, particularly as they pertain to the initial steps in the ResiliencyCambodia process.
2. Strengthen the technical and practical skills of participating organizations by hosting hands-on sessions, dedicating ample time to Q&A, and conducting scenario planning and other civil society resiliency factors.
3. Facilitate a constructive dialogue regarding what worked and what needed improvement in the ResiliencyCambodia process, allowing for feedback on how to better support Cambodian organizations.
4. Discuss “Do No Harm” principles and other internal and external factors that may affect organizations’ sustainability and resiliency in the future.
In line with the objectives, the methodology incorporated the following elements: shared analysis, community-building, peer learning and exchange, and specialized training.
Highlights from the Peer Learning Event
Day 1: Contextual Trends
This two-hour virtual session included a presentation of general trends in civil society seen in the Cambodian context based on initial IE findings of the ResiliencyCambodia activity. The presentation was followed by small group discussions during which participants reflected on the results, as well as the challenges their organizations are facing, which included lack of capacity, awareness, funding, and regulatory environments.
Day 2: Social Lab Reflections Workshop
This was a one-day event for CSOs that participated in the ResiliencyCambodia Social Lab component. The day included a “Social Lab TV” activity where organizations practiced pitching their business ideas.,
In lieu of a traditional presentation, Root Change set up the room to simulate a TV station (called “Social Lab TV”). The Root Change team asked each CSO team to choose one member to be interviewed by the Root Change “TV hosts” and reserved an empty chair so that anyone from another team could come up to sit with the hosts to ask a question. Perhaps the most important questions posed by the TV host interviewers were: “As we end this interview, please present your idea briefly to us in a powerful way as if you were pitching it to potential supporters. What are you proposing and why should we care? How is it different from other things happening in civil society in Cambodia?”
At the end of the day, four people from USAID/Cambodia visited the Social Lab to hear pitches from each team, ask probing questions, and offer feedback. This was, for most of the participants, the first time they had had an opportunity to interact directly with a donor.
Day 3 and 4: ResiliencyCambodia in Phnom Penh
Throughout days 3 and 4, Partners Global, Impact Hub, and Root Change offered concurrent training sessions on creative storytelling, contingency planning, wellbeing in the workplace, and working to build system resilience for organizations to attend, as well as a “Vision for the Future” event., detailed in the next section.
As part of an opening exercise, PartnersGlobal created an “Expectations Tree,” on which participants were encouraged to write their expectations of the event over the next two days. Among some of the expectations were:
· Gain a better understanding of Do No Harm principles.
· Connect with other organizations.
· Learn more about the Social Lab.
· Learn about wellbeing in the workplace.
· Develop contingency planning skills.
During the Partnership Marketplace, which consisted of a semi-structured networking and relationship-building exercise, CSOs were instructed to think of three things that their organization can “offer” to the NGO community in Cambodia. These offerings could range from actual goods (like a driver or office space) or technical capacities (coaching on how to write a proposal, integrating non-violent communication into work, etc.). Using a barter system, participants then networked with one another to “trade” services. It was emphasized that NGO culture prioritizes competition, but when people are working toward a common goal, collaboration is power.
Lessons For Future Capacity Building Programs
The fourth and final day of the Peer Learning Summit began with a “Vision for the Future” session. Participants went to different tables in the room that had flipcharts set up that asked questions about the program, successes, and challenges, as well as their organization’s needs. Their feedback, detailed below, provides valuable insight for USAID/Cambodia as they design future capacity building programs that target local CSOs.
What Do Local CSOs Need from International Nongovernmental Organizations?
When asked about further needs or support from international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs), participants mentioned:
· Receiving more technical support.
· Working together with local organizations to develop better trend analyses for joint implementations.
· Using a different, more inclusive approach that puts local organizations at the center of the projects.
· Simplifying mechanisms for collaboration or requesting direct support.
· Helping with sharing and learning through spaces like the Peer Learning Summit.
What Do Local CSOs Need from Other Local Cambodia CSOs?
Within the Cambodian local civil society ecosystem, participants highlighted the importance of remaining connected, sharing and learning more from each other, and finding opportunities to develop joint interventions and mobilize resources together.
What Do Local CSOs Need from Donors?
Finally, when asked about additional needs or requests to the funding community, participants mentioned:
· Receiving more technical support, including budgeting, capacity building, and monitoring and evaluation.
· A stronger emphasis and support for localization and networking, that would help connect with organizations before funding any interventions or releasing funding opportunities to get a better sense of actual needs.
· Funding diversity to include small CSOs rather than only large national NGOs.
· Consistency in donor criteria.
· Inclusion of all organizations, not only English-speaking ones.
Together, the online sessions and the four-day in-person conclusion of the Peer Learning Summit provided an unprecedented opportunity for CSOs across Cambodia to consider the ways they work, compete, and collaborate. The added a key value to the LO-MTSR activity which it concluded, providing new connections and relationships, and suggesting a potential roadmap to a more efficient and effective network of civil society organizations for the good of Cambodian society.