Bolivia-Paraguay | Climate Finance | Agents of Change

The power of South-South collaboration and peer learning: SSN’s Knowledge Partner Gathering

From 26 February to 2 March, the District 6 Homecoming Center in Cape Town was abuzz with excitement, collaboration and ideation as, for the first time, SSN, through the Voices for Just Climate Action (VCA) programme, hosted an in-person Knowledge Partners Gathering workshop with our in-country partners from Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Indonesia, Tunisia, Zambia and Kenya.



This gathering of 23 climate activists and thought leaders was not just a meeting but a catalyst for connecting partners across regions and with local organisations in the context of South Africa to facilitate cross-regional peer learning and networks. The gathering fostered connections and sparked impactful collaborations within the VCA framework.

Through the VCA alliance, SSN aims to support the generation, dissemination and brokering of information, drawing on a network of experts and practitioners and strengthening partners’ capability to enable them to respond innovatively to the challenges, opportunities and demands within the country contexts. The delivery of this work at the country level is led by local non-governmental and civil society organisations who are sub-grantees of the project. The sub-grant or ‘local knowledge partners’ are key intermediary organisations within the regional programmes, facilitating knowledge sharing, dissemination and learning within the country alliances, from local to global platforms and between key knowledge networks. This workshop presented an opportunity to connect these actors to their international counterparts to expand the reach of knowledge and integrate the work into a wider community within the VCA. 

The gathering marked a significant milestone by transcending virtual interactions into tangible connections, symbolising the power of face-to-face encounters to nurture authentic relationships. During this event, our partners seized the opportunity to connect, learn, and ideate together, setting the stage for a future filled with strengthened bonds and fruitful collaborations. Through various interactions during the week, partners were able to deepen the shared understanding of the role of knowledge brokering for advocacy in the VCA to strengthen SSN’s collective VCA approach and impact.

Throughout the week, the programme was designed to engage our partners in various activities to facilitate connections and create an environment where partners could share deeply, learn from one another and develop a shared identity. There was a focus on strengthening the skills and capabilities of our partners as knowledge brokers, including by learning from and with them.

On the first day in Cape Town, our partners embarked on a tour of Cape Town’s iconic landmarks and history, fostering joyful exchanges and discoveries and the beginning of new friendships, which laid the foundations for the week.

Language barriers did not stop the group from connecting and revelling over their shared experiences of the city. The comradery they formed on the day, the excitement, and the eagerness to engage with each other for the week were apparent when they arrived at the Homecoming Center on the official first day of the workshop. The Homecoming Centre, an initiative of the District 6 Museum, was the ‘home’ for the workshop week. This space was selected as it holds important memories, stories, and history of Cape Town.

The first official day of the gathering was about contextualising and understanding together. Partners set expectations, got to know one another better, and connected all the work of the diverse partners through the VCA Theory of Change and the framework of knowledge brokering. Knowledge brokering for advocacy was unpacked through contextual examples, which contributed to SSN’s thinking and current learning journey on knowledge mobilisation for climate advocacy. SSN has done significant work on knowledge brokering and has been nuancing the approach for advocacy by learning through our partners. This definition was agreed upon:

“Knowledge brokering for advocacy is the strategic use of knowledge to build partnerships, provide legitimacy, and influence decision-making. It involves networking, aligning knowledge in advocacy networks, and using evidence strategically to inspire change. This includes gathering local perspectives, identifying impactful cases, and connecting knowledge holders to influential spaces to amplify voices for collective action”. Short Read: Knowledge Brokering from the Global South Mobilising knowledge for climate advocacy

On the second day of the workshop, partners were embedded in the home of SSN at Salt River Road and had the opportunity to showcase their impactful work to each other and our SSN colleagues through the VCA Knowledge Partners Showcase Day. The showcase day allowed us to gain new knowledge of the work undertaken in the VCA-implementing countries and the successes on the ground. Partners pitched their projects and received input and feedback from the rest of the group. 

Advocacy strategies and tools took centre stage on day three, complemented by thematic discussions and sessions on writing stories for impact. Journalist and storyteller Petro Kotze facilitated a discussion on storytelling to communicate impact and learning through the work. Many of the VCA partners are journalists and communicators, but appreciated the insights on different modes and intentions for storytelling and how it relates to monitoring, evaluation and learning. The day concluded with a special gathering, allowing local partners to network with SSN colleagues under the backdrop of Table Mountain.

Day four was a day for exploring and engaging in the local context of Cape Town and South Africa. The day consisted of a visit to Bertha House in Mowbray. Bertha House is a resourced space for activists, storytellers, educators, artists, and anyone who is committed to creating more just societies. This is a space where organisations come together, connect and share their work with others in the community. Within this space, we had the opportunity to listen to external presentations from organisations such as Open Secrets, SDI, CER/Life After Coal campaign, Project 9 by 2030, Radio Workshop, Environmental Monitoring Group, Surplus Peoples Projects, Green Connection and the African Climate Alliance, which further enriched the programme, offering insights and inspiration on local agro-forestry projects, youth and climate activism, food sovereignty, and social movements and advocacy within Southern Africa. Partners made connections and new networks with the local organisations.

This was followed by a site visit to Kalk Bay, where we participated in a guided decolonial exploration of Kalk Bay Harbour and its surroundings led by Traci Kwaai. Traci is a 6th generation fisher child from Kalk Bay and an activist. She leads the impactful and powerful “walk of remembrance“, which covers the rich history of her Kalk Bay community and the fishers’ marginalisation combined with storytelling. 

“But more than the country and the city, I learned so much by being with you, exchanging ideas, music, culture, technical knowledge and understanding how many connections we have from our histories of colonisation and oppression and how much that resonates in the present.”

Partners connected with Traci’s stories, the histories of marginalisation in their own countries, and the links with climate justice. Storytelling is a key pillar of the VCA and presents a vehicle for empathy and impact for individuals and communities at the forefront of climate injustice.

We concluded the programme with reflections on the week’s learnings and outcomes, acknowledging the invaluable contributions of all participants. Partners made commitments to work together and drive change through the networks and learnings they gained from the opportunity this workshop afforded. Several outcomes and next steps were proposed from the workshop, including the formation of the Knowledge Partners Network to continue sharing learning, opportunities, and progress. New insights were brought to the fore around knowledge brokering for advocacy, which will improve SSN’s approach within and beyond the VCA programme. SSN will continue to work with the local partners to strengthen the work and deepen cross-regional learning until the end of the programme in 2025. 

The active engagement, contributions, dedication and insights from these sub-grant partners made the VCA Gathering in Cape Town a resounding success. The event was grounded in humility, respect and inclusion of all voices, which facilitated deeper learning and connection.

“Thank you all very much for the exchanges and new friendships. Let's continue walking together in a powerful knowledge brokering network.”

By providing the appropriate space, means, and tone for engagement, innovation, ideas, and capabilities can exist, be shared, and be transferred. The partners’ commitment to driving their work together and the feedback they provided about the event highlight the value and pure power of south-south peer learning and collaboration.

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