Reflections and Learning from Practice: Oxfam Australia in South Africa

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The Oxfam Australia (OAU) Country Office in South Africa, located in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, has promoted and supported an integrated programming approach called ‘No Longer Vulnerable’ (NLV). This has been pioneered as a new and effective way to enable positive change for the people with whom the organisation works.  In these learning papers, Oxfam team members explore key emerging areas from the No Longer Vulnerable Program, namely the Integral Framework, Integration, Responsive HIV and AIDS programming, gender and vulnerability, and trust building and contestation. 
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   1   Reflections and Learning from Practice Oxfam Australia in South Africa February 2016   2 Contents Overview  ..................................................................................................................................................... 3   Foreword  .................................................................................................................................................... 4   Integral praxis  .................................................................................................................................... 5 Leveraging Connections: The Value of an Integrated Approach to Development  .................................................................................................................................... 5 ‘We were full of ideas’: responsive HIV and AIDS programming  ......... 5 Deliberating Gender and vulnerability   ..................................................................... 5 To what degree does trust building contribute to constructive contestation within the No Longer Vulnerable (NLV) framework?  ............................................................................................................................................. 5 About the authors  ........................................................................................................................... 5     3 Overview The Oxfam Australia (OAU) Country Office in South Africa, located in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, has promoted and supported an integrated programming approach called ‘No Longer Vulnerable’ (NLV). This has been pioneered as a new and effective way to enable positive change for the people with whom the organisation works. The approach has deliberately prioritis ed people’s access to a broad range of services and support that they need at the shortest possible distance to where they live and work. Civil society organisations supported by OAU have delivered programs that improve health outcomes relating to HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and water-related infections and diseases; increase and sustain food security and livelihoods options available to households; and increase and uphold access to social protection and socio-economic rights. In the first half of 2014 a mid-term review of NLV found that: “ The approach has also created opportunities at grassroots level for ‘  integration ’   to be tested in different ways, mostly emerging from an iterative approach as projects unfold. An emerging opportunity is for conscious reflection amongst OAU staff to interrogate and reflect on these experiences more critically to derive a set of principles that might inform future work”.   In responding to the review findings, management acknowledged the value in OAU sharing lessons and raising awareness of the learning emerging from the No Longer Vulnerable strategic plan. This would focus on OAU staff thinking and learning internally. Through reflection on praxis  –  drawing on program work/implementation experience, engagement with partners and the communities that they work with, and critical discussions and reflections with other Oxfam team members  –  the OAU team agreed to develop deeper understanding of the conceptual underpinnings of the program framework and to document emergent concepts and theories. Five learning papers were subsequently developed by OAU staff with the broad themes of:   The ‘ Integral framework ’  as a theory of change by Allan Moolman;   Integration as a way of working by Pumla Mabizela and Inger Harber;   Responsive HIV and AIDS programming by Francesca Alice;   Gender and vulnerability by Glenise Levendal; and   Trust building and constructive contestation by Nicholas Molver and Wendell Westley. These papers were intended to be broadly academic in nature in terms of drawing on theory, providing a clear argument and drawing on evidence to make a case around each issue. In turn, these would be edited to produce a set of plain language documents and media to support the dissemination of the learning. As many of the writers did not have an academic background, it was agreed that external support would be contracted in to support the development of the initial papers. Scott Drimie, who facilitated the formative evaluation, the mid-term review and subsequently the summative evaluation of NLV, undertook this task. A process was developed that hinged on a writing retreat to enable the distinct papers to emerge, followed by sustained support to the authors to produce the written pieces. It should be recognised that the motivation to write these papers emerged from recognition of the value of NLV, as articulated by partner organisations and communities alike, and the desire to capture important learning that could influence other development programming. The papers combine critical reflection from both a personal and professional basis. As such, they are highly divergent in nature, creating a rich record of what is arguably one of the most significant development programs facilitated by an NGO in South Africa. Scott Drimie (Consultant)   4 Foreword Much of the work delivered by the Oxfam Australia (OAU) country program in South Africa developed because of a natural tendency within the team to innovate. Over the years, this resulted in significant changes in the way programs were designed, implemented and managed. Much innovation happened because of a ‘ felt ’  need to change and improve processes; to understand the operating environment better; and, in a lot of instances, just stumbling across a new idea or way of working and adapting it to suit the local context. The OAU program team in South Africa has always operated slightly ahead of the curve, because it questioned, it asked ‘ why ?’  rather than just accepting the outcomes of the work at face value. It has taken many years to get to a point where the team does not only have the time, but also the confidence to document their musings and reflections on a vast body of development practice that has gone unseen, unheralded and uncelebrated, simply because the team believed in acting and learning, rather than the more ‘modern’ approach to development : a conservative evidence-based approach, which stifles innovation by completely de-legitimising the development practitioner’s  critical advantage of local knowledge, experience and intuition. Even in approaching this series of papers, many of the team were, and still are, very conscious that much of the thinking and reflections set out in this volume will not stand up to academic interrogation. While that may be true, it in no way is an acknowledgement that these papers are not rigorous, that they do not put forward organic theory that is relevant, or that the people who wrote them should be afraid to put their ideas out there for scrutiny because they are not academics. Yes, some of these ideas may be out there already. Yes, this is not ‘srcinal thought’. Yes, there are others that have gone before and others that will come after. All of these things are acknowledged. But the remarkable thing, if this is the case, is that these ideas are not theoretical derivations of others’ work  –  the ideas in these papers are a distillation of an experience, a sound praxis  –  these papers represent the thinking, feeling and learning of a group of people who invested years of their lives to making a positive change in South Africa. Supported by a range of systems and processes, through iterations of organisations and positive leadership that has always focused on the growth and security of its people, the OAU team in South Africa has produced a remarkable piece of reflection and learning. We hope you find it useful. If not, well, we enjoyed writing it up anyway.  Allan Moolman
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