Gráinne Mathews

Former Campaigns and Public Affairs Manager

Charities Aid Foundation


22 March 2017

There was a definite theme running through the annual Bond Conference which took place earlier this week focusing on the need to support the creation and development of locally led and resourced civil society. The conference, the biggest international development event in Europe, attracts delegates from right across the globe to share ideas and discuss challenges and learnings, with an aim of supporting positive global change and development.

Bond conference 2019

Conference board, photo by Gráinne

Alongside a keynote speech from Secretary of State for International Development Penny Mordaunt MP, we heard from Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Paralympian and crossbench peer, on civil society and inclusivity; and author Sisonke Msimang on the importance of inspirational and authentic narratives –  Sisonke Msimang’s speech is available online and I would absolutely recommend watching it for anyone who wants to feel inspired. 

There were also a number of breakout sessions covering everything to ‘campaign wins’, ‘the future of large NGOs’ to ‘building trust with communities’. Here are some of the things I learned at the conference.

Campaign Wins

We heard from the #Together4Yes / #RepealThe8th campaign as well as the campaigns to decriminalise homosexuality in India and for the creation of an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary.

A common and defining factor for each of the successful campaigns presented was the mobilisation of grassroots support in not only exerting pressure on policy makers but in the facilitation of national on-the-ground conversations to generate mass public support for issues.

Social media may be a vital component of modern campaigning but these successful campaigns prove that on-the-ground participation and support was essential in bringing about necessary change.

Rewriting the media’s tale of aid

This session focused on a number of issues, including:

  • How NGOs are struggling to articulate the breadth of the work they do, over and above the specific ‘charity work’. NGOs need to start talking about their convening power, their research, and their power to facilitate investment
  • An overarching theme of the conference, discussed deeply in this and other sessions, is the importance of giving a voice to beneficiaries and the necessity of authenticity and interpretation in sharing these first-person stories


Secretary of State for International Development

Penny Mourdaunt MP

Penny Mordaunt MP closed the first day of the conference with some positive announcements and a clear message to the international development sector to “chill out” over rumours of the Department for International Development (DFID) being incorporated in to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

On building a true national team to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Penny Mordaunt MP stated that the UK international aid budget was only “part of our offer”, going on to highlight the importance of co-funding and partnerships facilitated by DFID. She told delegates they would be hearing lots more about Great Partnerships in the future.

The piloted Small Charities Challenge Fund will be improved and launched in full this summer with rolling applications and no cap, for those small charities working to deliver the SDGs.

The Secretary of State also announced new funding to arrest the closure of civic space and encourage independent civil society and media sectors; with a specific focus on improving data, transparency, and accountability in Myanmar, Kenya and Malawi.

This is excellent news to us at CAF, as we have been campaigning to promote a positive operating environment for civil society through our Groundwork for Growing Giving campaign.

Penny Mordaunt MP finished by stressing the need to support the development of locally led, supported and accountable civil society sectors. To enable the creation and development of these resilient and trusted civil society sectors in-country, there has to be a concerted effort to shift the power to local populations.

Vilification of civil society

During this session, panellists told delegates:

  • Stop trying to dislodge beliefs with facts – we, as a sector, need new stories
  • Don’t be afraid of repetition – the number 1 predictor of whether people believe something is how many times they’ve heard it
  • Make compelling arguments for the civil society sector itself, talk about the importance of civil society in the creation of cohesive and inclusive societies
  • If you are talking about a problem – people need to know they can do something about it

Some useful takeaways for civil society sector communications.

And last but not least:

SDGs – Advocating for real change

A forward looking session, delegates discussed what we can do and what we can do better to realise the achievement of the SDGs. Some of the learnings from this session include the need for civil society organisations not only to collaborate but to also proactively and forcefully participate in the global negotiation. This will be vital if the sector is to ensure those without a voice are being heard.

The need for businesses to play a part was also discussed, highlighting how some corporates have already integrated the SDGs in to their strategic planning process and incorporated SDG progress in to management and bonus frameworks.

The clear takeaway from this session, in the words of one of the panellists Karl Oskar Villsaar, was “everyone can’t do everything, but everyone can do something”. Surely a mantra that civil society lives day in. day out.