Photo credit: Plataforma de ONGD

In the current context, where there is an increase in inequalities, an increase in the complexity of interdependencies, and in which we are witnessing a digital colonization and a technological manipulation that influences mindsets and democracies, it is important that innovation for development be guided by principles of inclusion, respect for diversity, valorisation of existing resources and strengthening of cultural identity, among others. It was this direction that the debate took on May 28 at the opening of the Second Edition of the International Development Summer Course (IDSC) under the theme Innovation for Development in a new societal era. The International Development Summer Course, an initiative of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the Portuguese Platform for NGDOs and CEsA / ISEG, continued for three more days in which the trends and challenges of the International Development context were discussed.


On the 29th, reflection focused on several challenges to finance and financing development, in particular with regard to the regulation of the financial system, new financing mechanisms for development, the use of development as a tool of the neoliberal agenda, and the systemic and transforming alternatives of the economic system.

Also on this day, the role of the different development actors in the panel on Private Sector and Innovative Partnerships was questioned and the need for organizations to be more reactive and propositional in a context of rapid change. It reflected on how civil society should work with the private sector within its own diversity (from cooperatives, micro-enterprises, multinationals, etc.), particularly in light of a shift from "business as usual" to "business with purpose". There is no shortage of reflections on the importance of the role of the consumer in changing the behavior of profitable entities and in the market economy, and on the role of the state in regulating the private sector and in creating sustainable public policies.


Several umbrella organizations attended the panel on Innovation for Organizational Development on the 30th. This panel allowed the deconstruction of the theme of innovation, questioning whether it is part of an evolutionary or disruptive process, and whether this process is creative (to do something new) or re-creative (bringing marginal processes to the center, adapting processes of one context to another). It was also essential to analyze the role of civil society organizations in the renewal of their views and working practices and in the various emergencies under which civil society should be strengthened:

- the urgency of recovery from autonomy vis-à-vis the instrumentalization by donors and donors and the questioning of the role of service providers;
- urgency of (re)institutionalization of the concept of civil society and solidarity action and true peer meeting;
- urgency to stop (to stop feeding a system of constant growth and automatism);
- the urgency of passing from consumer of policy to policy maker;
- the urgency of assuming its role as a self-regulator in the sector in order to generate and restore the confidence of citizens.

In general terms, this session concluded that Innovation should be a collective process with self-reflection, self-criticism and self-awareness.


During the afternoon of the 30th, guest speakers brought their experiences and perspectives on Innovation in Communication and Media, reinforcing the importance of including other Development stories and narratives in the media agenda, reflecting on how to finance media and of their relationship with NGOs and international agencies and presenting an innovative multidimensional model for Communication. It was also considered that, besides being necessary to know the contexts and the way people relate, it is crucial to intervene in three dimensions for change:
- in public policies, conducting advocacy campaigns and media campaigns;
- at the technical-organizational level, through training, interpersonal communication and the building of alliances;
- at the socio-cultural level, through the mobilization of citizens.

The II Edition of the International Development Summer Course ended with an open session with a panel on Digitization for Development in a debate that was full of unanswered questions. The technological revolution can indeed open up new opportunities on a global scale as a tool for democratisation, but can also be used as a tool to capture democracy. The session presented the results of the study "Development is going digital" on the potential and risks of the changes that the digital age can bring, through several themes: digital economy and its impact on the least developed countries; digital governance as a form of control of citizenship and simultaneously increase civic participation; impact of social media on the way people interact and on the spread of fake news; robotisation of the labor market; and social innovation as a way of solving problems at the local level.


In conclusion, Susana Réfega, president of the Portuguese Platform for NGDOs, pointed out that it is necessary to stop and observe the context in order to react with impact, and that civil society organizations cannot continue to resist change. Innovation also involves having the boldness to fail, to apply financial resources to risky projects that allow organizations to draw relevant lessons.
It is necessary to counteract a societal mentality that currently only aims at success and results, always seeking to minimize risk factors. It is also necessary for organizations to become more political and concentrate where power is found, learning to dialogue with diverse actors. The President of the Portuguese Platform of NGDOs closed the IDSC by recalling the importance of the role of Civil Society in Innovation, noting that Civil Society Organizations have great potential for disruption and evolution, and are therefore an essential driver of change.

This article was written by the Portuguese NGDOs Platform.