Acting Globally, Thinking Globally: Working at the global scale

Posted on 25 April 2012 | No responses

This is the last of a five-part series of blog posts by Keith Johnston on the role of international board members in the governance of international NGOs.

By Keith Johnston

Identifying and making decisions of global scope and significance is challenging for two related reasons. Compared with a national board, the issues become more abstract and more complex at a global level. Both these challenges take us beyond our comfort zone and we have to work at making these shifts.

I will start by trying to write about abstraction in a non abstract way!

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Acting Globally, Thinking Globally: What are we trying to become?

Posted on 24 April 2012 | 2 responses

This is the fourth of a five-part series of blog posts by Keith Johnston on the role of international board members in the governance of international NGOs.

By Keith Johnston

The central governance questions for any board are: What are we trying to become? Where are we going? These are the core questions for the board of an International Non-Governmental Organization (INGO) too but the international context may make them even harder to answer.

Burkhard Gnärig, Executive Director of the Berlin Civil Society Center, challenges global board members to answer the question: “what are the GLOBAL decisions my organisation has to take?” and then to make sure that these can be taken from a truly global perspective. The international board needs to be clear about what its INGO is there to do and what the board of the INGO needs to govern. What value is the international board seeking to add to the work of the whole INGO? What is its role and its reach?

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Thinking Globally, Acting Globally: Representing more of the world

Posted on 23 April 2012 | No responses

This is the third of a five-part series of blog posts by Keith Johnston on the role of international board members in the governance of international NGOs.

By Keith Johnston

A consistent endeavour is for each organisation to be more representative of the whole world in which it is working and to be able to draw on a much more international range of thinking in its leadership. All the major INGOs are moving to be more diverse at multiple levels. Governance has been one of the slower areas of change. Here it no longer works to be just “male, pale, and stale” (Author’s disclosure: I am male, pale – although tending to pinkish – and trying hard to be more ripe than stale).

The drive to greater diversity brings its own challenges. First it is not always easy to achieve a practical working diversity given the current structures and locations. Different INGOs are taking different approaches. These include: establishing national affiliates in a wide range of countries, including all of the elements of the network in governance, or changing the makeup of boards and committees, or relocating key international offices to be more global.

Having changed the forms of the organisation to be more diverse, how does it work in practice? Often a central paradox arises. The INGO needs to be more diverse to be more global but including more diversity in the group means it is harder to achieve coherence and especially the coherence needed to take on the large global issues of eliminating poverty or injustice, advancing human rights, tackling climate change, and protecting the environment.

Also different forms of diversity bring differing challenges. How much are board members there to represent different constituencies? How might differences in money and power be dealt with? How are conflicts best addressed?

Having built in necessary diversity you want the spectrum of views to work for your alliance. This can often be very hard, and literally ‘disagreeable’, work. We pay lip service to diversity yet often underestimate the depth of the differences that exist in culture, values, experiences, and mindsets. To build a trusting and truly diverse board takes conscious and consistent efforts.

It is also the case that diversity is, in part, valuable because it increases the possibilities of conflict . The INGO needs to lift its game to use that conflict constructively. However, because INGOs tend to put less time into their governance than national NGOs (it is often harder to get people together) and the board members often know each other less well, they are less well equipped to create the trust and mutual understanding needed to achieve cohesion amid diversity. These practical difficulties and the pressures to take a representative approach can drive INGO boards to make lowest-common-denominator compromises. These are LCDs that do not light us up!

Managing these paradoxes will be central to the longer-term success of INGOs. Leaders need to be explicit in addressing these governance issues and also in equipping their board members, the new ones and the old hands, to take a whole-of-alliance view.

A working paper I have prepared on this and related themes – “Acting Globally – Thinking Globally” – is available here.

Keith Johnston has served as Chair of Oxfam International since 2007 and is a partner at Cultivating Leadership.

Acting Globally, Thinking Globally: Knowing where we have come from

Posted on 20 April 2012 | No responses

This is the second of a five-part series of blog posts by Keith Johnston on the role of international board members in the governance of international NGOs.

By Keith Johnston

Who are we? Where have we come from? How do we honour our roots while becoming more global and more effective? These are critical questions for the board of any INGO and they are useful starting points for a new board member. Ask around and see what range of responses you get.

One of the things I have learnt from the Vision Works discussions, an annual meeting of the chairs and executive directors of most of the international development, human rights, and environmental alliances, organised by the Berlin Civil Society Center, is that all our organisations are seeking a holy grail of being more effective in a much more global world. We tend to be reaching for the same organisational goals (although our missions may be quite different) but each is also both constrained and strengthened by its own history.

It helps to be really clear about where your organisation has come from, its history (or the histories of different affiliates), core values, and commitments. While most INGOs are relatively large organisations active in many countries, the origins of these groups are usually stories of committed individuals and small groups standing up for what they believed, often in the face of ridicule and abuse and sometimes in danger to their lives. Justly we can be proud of our pioneers and of people we have served with.

As we look back from our more institutional perspective it helps to see the ways that our histories shape who we are today. One of the reasons Oxfam International values its history as a confederation is because of the importance prior Oxfams have put on being community-based organisations grounded in their own countries. Amnesty International values its elective democracy partly because the organisation puts a priority on human and individual rights and the rights of democratic engagement. It suits Greenpeace International to operate as a federation, and seek to be a more fleet-of-foot federation, because of the emphasis the organisation places on acting decisively with unity, speed, and flexibility.

It helps to see the logic in each of these approaches. It also helps to see that this is not the whole story. Nor is it the only way to organise an international NGO. Others do it differently and for good reasons.

We want to understand and honour our histories but not be held in thrall to them. We seek to serve the current and future mission of our organisation – whether it is eliminating poverty, enhancing human rights, building civil society, or protecting the environment. We want to best serve the wider constituency that benefits from our mission. In contrast, while we understand and remember our forbears and learn from our past practices we are not here to serve these past or even current interests. Sometimes our discussions and decisions suggest we are not holding this distinction clearly enough.

A working paper I have prepared on this and related themes – “Acting Globally – Thinking Globally” – is available here.

Keith Johnston has served as Chair of Oxfam International since 2007 and is a partner at Cultivating Leadership.

Acting Globally, Thinking Globally: Challenges of INGO Governance

Posted on 19 April 2012 | 1 response

This is the first of a five-part series of blog posts by Keith Johnston on the role of international board members in the governance of international NGOs.

By Keith Johnston

American folk icon Pete Seeger, when he encourages his audiences to sing along with him, often notes that by the time you have learnt the words of one of his songs you have got to the end. He says, “It’s like life really, isn’t it. But with a song you can sing it over again.” In my experience it is much like this being on the board of an international non-government organisation (INGO).

One friend, with a few years on an INGO board, says he wondered: “Should I speak from my heart first, before worrying about if that could be counter-productive? In a world of strangers, it’s always less risky to reserve frank opinions and try to establish some rapport first. But in the context of an INGO, there really is not much time for board members to establish rapport that is rooted in extensive and intensive interaction.”

On any board a new member’s challenge is always how to get to know the people and the issues fast enough to begin to engage effectively. For the person stepping up to the board of an INGO alliance these challenges are amplified in three ways.

• Firstly, the board is likely to meet less frequently (at least face-to-face) so it is harder to get to know your colleagues.
• Secondly, because the issues involved are global they are generally more challenging than those facing national boards.
• Thirdly, you may have less time overall because many INGO boards are made up of people who also serve on the boards of national bodies and by the time they make the international body they may have a limited term to serve.

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Integrity and Success Are Not Trade-offs – An interview with Dr. Carolyn Woo

Posted on 4 April 2012 | 1 response

By Claire Szabo

It was a pleasure to talk with Dr Carolyn Woo on her recent appointment as President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services (CRS). She discusses the way ‘everything in life has changed’ from her previous situation as Dean of the Mendoza School of Business  at the University of Notre Dame. Her background as a business education leader has taught her that integrity and success are not trade-offs, but success stems from integrity. From her perspective as a Catholic and a woman leader, she describes the challenges and hopes for her organization working in international relief and development in 100 countries in a fast-changing environment.

Interview with Carolyn Woo by Claire Szabo from Hauser Center at Harvard on Vimeo.

Claire Szabo is a student at the Harvard Kennedy School pursuing a mid-career master’s program in public administration.

Private Sector Partnerships: Redefining the Roles of NGOs

Posted on 30 March 2012 | 1 response

By Alison Hemberger

In a talk on March 23, 2012 hosted by the Hauser Center, the newly appointed CEO of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Carolyn Woo, discussed her strategic vision for the NGO in the coming years. New partnerships, including corporate partnerships, were among the six strategic “buckets” she outlined to help the NGO achieve mission-guided success. At a time when several international humanitarian NGOs are looking to reshape their roles, this focus on private sector partnerships is a growing trend, and Carolyn and others realize that their organizations have a specific role to play in this sphere of international development. NGOs can provide value to private sector partners by building upon their existing micro-enterprise networks, leveraging local trust, and directly linking producers, processors, and consumers. These NGOs must also determine how partnerships can help NGOs fulfill their social missions. In her talk, Carolyn focused on the sustainability component of corporate partnerships: building long term access to funding and expertise in the areas CRS works requires the involvement of the private sector.

Translating a New CEO’s Leadership Vision into Action: The Case of Catholic Relief Services

Thursday, March 22, 3:30 – 5:00 pm

+ Carolyn Y. Woo, President and CEO, Catholic Relief Services
+ Peter Bell (Moderator), Senior Research Fellow, Hauser Center

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What’s in a brand? – The evolving relationship of the nonprofit sector to branding

Posted on 13 March 2012 | 5 responses

By Elisa Peter

Until recently, branding was a dirty word in many nonprofit organizations. Not anymore.

Branding used to conjure up images of profit-driven marketing executives sitting in high-rise offices of the likes of Coca-Cola and MacDonald’s. The few nonprofits that adopted branding early on were suspected by others to compromise their ethical values and to loose track of their social mission.

That was yesterday. Today, an increasing number of nonprofit organizations are embracing the concept of branding. These organizations believe that a brand is not only a tool to enhance their fundraising and visibility but also a way to drive their mission and impact more broadly.

This is the conclusion of a newly released study by the Hauser Center on Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard University. Based on an 18-month research project involving 73 interviews with practitioners and scholars in 41 organizations, the study analyses current attitudes and branding practices in the nonprofit sector. It proposes a valuable framework to think about the specific role that brands play for nonprofit organizations.
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The next generation of social entrepreneurship

Posted on 5 March 2012 | No responses

By Nicoline Blokzeijl

On February 24 2012 Bill Drayton (CEO and Founder, Ashoka) shared his views on social entrepreneurship during a talk at the Harvard JFK School of Government. It is clear that the concept entrepreneurship was established a long time ago and that the word social has brought the concept to a new dimension. But what defines the next generation of social entrepreneurship?

Bill Drayton talks about social entrepreneurs as “the change agents for society, in a world where everyone is a changemaker”. He refers to “individuals that have the freedom, confidence and societal support to address any social problem and change society for the better”. Social entrepreneurs must have a clear vision, they are ambitious, persistent and solve problems by changing the system, spreading solutions, and persuading entire societies to take new leaps.

Like business entrepreneurs respond to business opportunities, social entrepreneurs respond to social challenges. I wonder if social entrepreneurs and business entrepreneurs are that different? They both are seeking for effective solutions to existing problems. Will the next generation of social entrepreneurship be defined by a narrowing gap between both sectors?

In both sectors there is an increasing demand for transparency and reporting to measure performance and maximize value. Social entrepreneurs can realize their vision by following a strategic model or value proposition that would link their own activities to the social results they like to achieve. These are measures of success that are most relevant for the organization and its stakeholders.

On the other hand, increasing practices in corporate social responsibility show that the industry is now also more focused on social challenges. Some leading corporations expanded their practices of mitigating negative impact by taking on the role of social changemakers. Driven by changed demands from stakeholders they aim to contribute to society, the environment, and the economy.

Furthermore, sharing knowledge between both sectors is of great importance and collaboration can contribute to achieving the desired outcomes.

With a masters in Sociology and work experience at an international company and NGO, Nicoline Blokzeijl is currently focussing on the challenges and opportunities that face corporate social responsibility at the Harvard Extension School.

Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation – enabling environment holds the key to civil society’s role in implementation

Posted on 1 March 2012 | 1 response

by Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness and CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

The 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, held December 2011 in Busan, South Korea, was a landmark event where civil society participated in negotiations on the new direction for international development cooperation on an equal basis with governments and donors, the first such time in the history of these OECD-led events.

It concluded with a compromise and mixed results for civil society organisations (CSOs) (1). One important gain is the acknowledgement in the outcome agreement of the International Framework for CSO Development Effectiveness, as a reference on best CSO practices and conditions required from governments and donors.

Accompanied by two Toolkits to help CSOs put it into practice, the International Framework is the outcome of a three year consultation process with thousands of CSOs across the globe and the first ever global statement from civil society on the effectiveness of its work in development. As such, it represents a legitimate reference for CSOs at national, regional and international levels.

But while putting the International Framework into practice is now a priority for civil society organisations across the globe, the enabling environment in which they operate continues to deteriorate in many countries.
Indeed, the issue of an enabling environment proved to be one of the stumbling blocks for civil society at the Busan forum. “By participating in high level negotiations on aid and development for the first time, people’s organisations can take credit for cementing democratic ownership and human rights in the Busan Outcome Document – but more work needs to be done on advancing favourable conditions for civil society,” said Open Forum co-chair Emele Duituturaga in response to the newly agreed Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation.
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