Carolin Gomulia, Head of Communications and Strategy at the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation

17 May 2016

The African continent faces a plethora of issues, and many of the most pertinent ones relate to conflict. Since the first wave of independence the continent has experienced hundreds of national and international conflicts. Peace building and truth and reconciliation forms an important part of the work done by scholars, NGOs, government entities, activists and multilateral organisations.

The Institute of Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) is just such an organisation and was founded was launched in the year 2000, in the aftermath of South Africa´s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The aim of the organisation was to ensure that that lessons learnt from the transition from apartheid to democracy were harnessed as South Africa continued to grow as a nation. The organisation now works ‘to build fair, democratic and inclusive societies’ in a host of African countries through dialogues, research and even projects such as the AfroBarometer project in what it terms ‘a carefully selected engagements and interventions.’

Do you want to learn more about partnerships and collaborations? Read about the lessons from the On Think Tanks Exchange

As an organisation working within a continental context and issues but being based in Cape Town, South Africa means that IJR seeks to utilise the partnerships and connections it establishes to tap into economies of scale. The think tank relies heavily on the relationships it builds within various countries amongst governments and civil society entities in order to ensure the work they do speaks true to the local context. IJR understands that as a small, South African based, organisation these partnerships are key to the work they seek to do partly due to the scale and partly due to the need to ensure that the work done reflects the unique needs of each conflict situation.

In this post we interview Carolin Gomulia from the IJR on the work the organisation does within the continent and how it continues to grow and do this work from its base in Cape Town.

Tiffany Mugo: How is knowledge created and congregated within the IJR network?

Carolin Gomulia: Knowledge is created through the sharing of experiences within the field, whilst also using the quantitative and qualitative data procured through research. This is all brought together through internally and jointly hosted seminars as well as learning experiences. We also, as an organisation, produce policy briefs as well as papers of different kinds. This is all coupled with a great deal of knowledge being shared within workshops and dialogues that are held across the African continent.

TM: What are the regional issues that are tackled within your work?

CG: The focus is mostly on country specific work, however, we have identified issues that can be dealt on a regional level. One example of this is the work being done on regional reconciliation within the Great Lakes area. This work is pertinent because conflicts happen across borders and thus work on reconciliation must also happen across borders. In our cross border reconciliation work we are working with civics within the Great Lake region.  We are also working with the NGO council within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) to tackle issues of transitional justice and reconciliation within the African continent, having identified that the work needs to happen above the country level as well. Lastly, we also look at the international stage and do knowledge production work that explores the implications of international justice on the continent by looking at matters such as the ICC.

TM: What are the ways in which you work with Think tanks within Africa?

CG: Recently, I attended a think tanks summit in Addis in which 47 different think tanks were present. One issue that we need to address when thinking about the issue of think tanks is ‘what defines a think tank?’ To answer the question of the work we do with think tanks we must first address this question. The new thing seems to be throwing around the label ‘think tank’. In our work we collaborate with other organisations in different countries, some are think tanks and some are not.  There are organisations that work within the grassroots and some can be classified as think tanks. IJR, itself is both a ‘think tank’ and a ‘do tank’.

TM: What are the benefits and obstacles to this type of collaboration and does it differ from collaboration (if any) with Think tanks from outside the region?

CG: The work that IJR does is based primarily in partnerships as there is no other way to do the work due to our size and location in South Africa. These partnerships come in the form of Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) and come in the form of collaborations. In some cases organisations can approach IJR to work with them and in other cases it is the other way around. There are, obviously, the challenges that come with any partnership but this is primarily the way in which we work.  Having partnerships allows us to do work in more locales more effectively.

Our partners are mainly within Africa, however, we do have some external partners as well. In order to find partners we sometimes give out Memorandums of Understanding or sometimes joint events in order to find partners.

There are a number of organisations who approach us and we must always  in other countries find partners that are credible meaning they can work on both sides of a conflict which is important when dealing with issues of reconciliation. We make sure we do due diligence as an organisation when finding partners to assess the feasibility of the partnership.

One project we are currently involved in is the Afrobarometer. This is a large think tank network with four or five implementing partners. We as IJR are managing the Southern African leg of the project which constitutes working within 11 countries. There are 35 countries on the Afrobarometer network and each partner is responsible for their specific survey which must be done in a two to three year cycle, with every country running their survey within that cycle. After the survey cycle is complete dissemination occurs as well as series of public events to make sure the information gets out there. Within each country there is a national partner who has been tasked with running the surveys and collecting the data.

TM: Does the source of funding affect the way in which knowledge production happens?

CG: On the issue of funding within IJR, monies are sourced from some donors for overall strategy costs, or what can be termed core costs. These can be spread across the organisation as is needed in order to conduct the organisation’s business. Funding is also sourced for individual and specific projects. Neither one of these means of funding affect the agenda in terms of the work done as IJR presents its strategy to donors who can either choose to fund it or not. Although some alterations are done to the agenda, at its core, it remains the same and donors do not have influence over what the work done is.

IJR approaches donors with work we deem important and ask them to fund it rather than allowing the funders to state what work should be done. If donors do not want to fund their strategy then they find funding elsewhere.

TM: Within these partnerships who takes the lead in terms of knowledge production and setting the research agenda, or is there more of a partnership?

CG: The basis of the partnerships focuses on the decision of who is to undertake what work, there is an agreement of who shall be in charge of completing what tasks, thus there is a division of labour. In terms of who is to ‘lead’ a project, either IJR or the partner entity, this is decided on a case by case basis and does not automatically fall with IJR. IJR does not act as a ‘funder organisation’ and the idea of being a partner speaks to this.  We use the model of joint funding with each organisation contributing a portion. This ensures that the notion of being a partnership carries on to all aspects of the collaboration including funding.

TM: Despite working regionally IJR does not have offices in other countries, why is this the case? 

CG: The reason that the IJR office is based purely within South Africa is because it was born out of the countries transitional experience, following the end of apartheid.  This has meant that the organisation was born in a very specific context, within a unique experience that they do not want to impose on other countries. For this reason the organisation seeks to identify partners within other countries. The organisation has sought not to become a ‘mega organisation’ as bigger organisations tend to have bigger overhead costs and find it harder to manoeuvre. IJR prefers, instead, to remain mobile and nimble and able to work within other spaces through the means of partnerships. Furthermore, working with those already on the ground means IJR does not come and impose by being a large organisation and, instead, manage to hone and utilise the knowledge already present within the context. These partnerships have proved integral to the work that is done by IJR as it is better to have partners on the ground rather than impose SA’s experience seek to work with the context within the country.

TM: Does your being based in South African put a strain on your ability to work in other countries?

CG: As an organisation we have managed to circumvent this problem by having staff that work on projects who are sensitive to the issues and context of the country they work in. There tends to be a great deal of travelling by those within the IJR office in order to conduct the work, however, the network of partnerships within the country is key to the work done by IJR.

There is sometimes the problem of South Africa having the ‘Big Brother syndrome’ being one of the larger powers within the continent, however IJR has developed good local partnerships that allow for manoeuvring in those spaces to be easier. It, of course, would be easier to work if IJR was based on the ground in all of these countries, as sometimes we are not cognisant and miss smaller issues but the partnership model has managed to greatly mitigate this drawback. IJR has created quite a network of affiliates, associates and fellows which aids a great deal towards overcoming the various obstacles an organization may face when coming into an international context and dealing with an array of different issues in different spaces.