Hivos International

We are constantly seeking to improve our understanding of the world's workings and our place in it. To us, social innovation is a means to an end, or better yet, a way to contribute to a free, fair and sustainable world. But what does that mean in practice? It means working with a broad range of stakeholders in multi-actor initiatives and conducting “Change Labs”. It means having a user-centered approach and co-creating solutions with the people we want to reach. Social innovation is open to experimenting; it links prototyping solutions to constant learning and scaling up wherever our idea bears fruit. Therefore, continuously testing our assumptions and monitoring the effects of our activities is key to our daily work. This Knowledge Dossier shows how Hivos and partners investigate social change. It showcases the methodologies that can help us become more effective change agents.

Change Labs

A stream of research in this dossier concerns social innovation methodologies to offer new ways of developing solutions. We see that failing political leadership, dysfunctional political-economic systems and glaring social contradictions are not new phenomena, but rather it is their persistence and increasing global interconnectedness that requires new approaches. Hivos has experimented with a wide array of innovative approaches, such as Change Labs. In 2014, Hivos and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) entered into a partnership to develop, test, design and establish two change labs that bring together various stakeholders around issues of food and energy. In this dossier, you will find various publications on the Food and Energy Change Labs and other social innovation processes, such as means and methods of knowledge co-creation, the changing face of development cooperation, and learnings on working with multi-actor initiatives.

Theory of Change

Hivos uses a Theory of Change approach to enhance the quality of strategic thinking and the effectiveness of its programmes and that of its partner organisations. Theory of Change thinking is the process of clarifying what assumptions an organisation, project, network or group of stakeholders has about how political, social, economic, and/or cultural change happens, and what its contribution is to such a change process. Once a Theory of Change is established, it can be updated to allow for changing circumstances and facts that require us to adjust our assumptions. This dossier presents our experiences with Theory of Change methodologies and provides practical toolkits for how to use it, including an Arabic and English Hivos’ Theory of Change Guidelines.

For insights about methods for social change, do browse through this dossier! Are you looking for a specific publication? Use our publication search.

Other Knowledge Dossiers

Citizen Action

Citizens are central actors in public and political arenas. Their ability to hold governments to account and to participate fully in democratic processes is contingent upon the opportunities to freely assemble, associate and express opinions. Around the globe citizens are claiming their rights, rising up to injustices occurring and proposing alternatives. They use “old” methods of social movements and “new” instruments such as social media. Increasingly citizens are also reaching out to a global constituency; think of Occupy, the protests against Monsanto and TTIP.

Gender and Sexual Rights

In the field of Gender and Sexual Rights, Hivos has a long and remarkable history.  We were one of the first organisations that campaigned for sexual rights, including lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBTs), but also men who have sex with men (MSM) without considering themselves to be homosexual. In the field of women’s rights, we have been supporting women all over the world to organise themselves and become a countervailing power in their societies. In both domains, we seek new ways to bring about change in people’s mindsets.

Green and Inclusive Energy

Climate change and sustainable energy production are high on the political agenda. However, public debate generally focuses on how the use of fossil fuels can be reduced. Much less attention is given to the lack of energy access for people living in developing countries. Remarkably, the solution to both issues is the same: renewable energy. In its projects, Hivos aims to demonstrate that green and inclusive energy is not a pipe dream or an alternative, but simply the best choice. Our research informs our stance in the debate and reflects on our projects in the field.


Pluralism and diversity are essential ingredients of a dynamic society. Yet, ingrained values, acquired privileges and established power structures often limit the acceptance people have for different values, identities and religions. In too many places around the world, people are faced with intolerance. Where belief or value systems become absolute - leaving no room for alternative interpretations - and are imposed on others, we speak of 'fundamentalism'. Fundamentalism threatens the peaceful co-existence of people belonging to different ethnic, social, religious or cultural groups.

Sustainable Food and Biodiversity

Hivos has a long history of working on issues concerning food, agriculture and biodiversity. Research has and continues to underpin many of our projects in the field, and contributes to broader debates on sustainable food. In our view, citizens should be centre-stage in a transition towards sustainable and inclusive food production and consumption. Signs of the required transformation are emerging worldwide, luckily. In local communities, small enterprises are launching sustainable food products. How do those frontrunners opt for change?

Transitions in the Middle East and North Africa

Since the outbreak of the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in 2011, the region is undergoing tectonic shifts. The pace, quality and quantity of political and social changes are unprecedented. In short, the MENA region is the scene of historic revolutions and counter-revolutions. In such a rapidly changing context, conventional wisdom about static societies and states in the MENA do not make sense and are out of context. There is no shortage of knowledge produced in the West about MENA.