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September 30, 2020

A New Path Towards Peace: Unlearning Donor Power Dynamics

Recently, Fourth Quadrant Partners published a case study on our journey to transform and reimagine our approach to supporting sustainable peace in South Sudan. After nearly a decade of grantmaking in the country and the eruption of yet another civil war, it was time to reassess our approach. In 2017, we began a pilot program that sought to invest in the next generation of peacebuilders in the country and to push our grantmaking practices towards a longer term time horizon for change.

Through a cohort-based model to engage creative and resilient young peacebuilders, we set out to build a partnership that would allow these individuals to work together towards a common vision for peace in their country. This approach required us to reframe our role and adopt an “accompaniment” model, one in which we would support, co-create, and co-learn alongside our partners as they lead the way towards their own vision for peace.

While we knew that the values underpinning accompaniment were critically important to an initiative centered on resilient relationship building, we quickly realized that an accompaniment approach would also require us to completely unlearn the control that we had come to depend on as a donor. Living into this new model is what allowed us to truly begin following the leadership and vision of the cohorts as they began building creative responses to the needs of their communities and countries.

This report by Fourth Quadrant Partners explores the critical role Emergent Learning tools have played in unlearning power dynamics and building our ability as a donor to walk alongside and become responsive to the needs of our partners—which led to a new model of partnership that we call “Cohort 0.”

At the conclusion of the South Sudan Pilot, we found ourselves with three key lessons:

  1. Be willing to give up control
  2. Be comfortable with ambiguity
  3. Recognize this will take time—relationships move at the speed of trust

These lessons point us toward the heart of accompaniment: a long-term investment in relationships by walking alongside our partners in a manner that reinforces the leadership, ownership, and expertise that exists within and between them. As an accompanier, and especially as a funder, we are accountable for creating an ongoing practice of learning what it means to listen and embrace humility.

While we knew that 2020 would mark our first full “post-Pilot” year moving into a new phase of long-term commitment in South Sudan, we could not have expected the sweeping effects of COVID-19 that have radically altered the landscape of the peacebuilding field.

Peacebuilders in South Sudan, and around the world, are pushing back against new and unprecedented threats to our social fabric. As funders grapple with their role in supporting those at the frontlines of this work in a complex and constantly shifting landscape, the lessons of an accompaniment model and emergent approach remain remarkably unchanged and more important than ever: give up control, be comfortable with ambiguity, this will take time.

Read the full case study here>>

About Fourth Quadrant Partners
Fourth Quadrant Partners, LLC helps mission-critical organizations and social innovators use the principles and tools of Emergent Learning to accelerate, deepen and institutionalize their ability to think about and learn from their work in order to improve their ability to achieve their goals, even in the midst of unpredictable challenges. Learn more at

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