Five Oaks Consulting

Equity, diversity and inclusion

When a Country Office becomes a full INGO member… the Do’s and Don’ts

When a Country Office becomes a full INGO member… the Do’s and Don’ts

This post was written by Hazem Fahmy, Co-Founder of CARE Egypt Foundation. 
Views expressed here are my own and do not represent the positions of CARE.

I led the transformation of a CARE Country Office into becoming an independent full member of CARE globally. This is the story of how we went through the change, and what were the challenges we endured – our story can hopefully help others to avoid some of our pitfalls.

CARE Egypt operated for over 60 years as a CARE USA country office – quite a long history! In January 2022 the CARE Egypt Foundation (new name) became a full member of the CARE International confederation. Although the idea to become a national NGO was considered as early as 2007, the actual transformation journey started in 2016. Would we be able to cross the finish line? How and with who would we get there?

In 2014 CARE discussed plans to diversify its membership by supporting “Global South” offices to nationalize with the intention to increase the legitimacy of its global footprint as well as the credibility of its local presence.  At the time CARE Egypt was fully staffed by Egyptian professionals and the country has been through two revolutions… we were ready to chart new territory.

Our transformation

Aid effectiveness, INGO legitimacy, decolonization of aid, localization of humanitarian efforts.  These have been important topics, and the subject of heated debates for many workers in the development ecosystem worldwide since 2014. In this blog post, I will focus on how we transformed, and the mistakes we made so colleagues on similar journeys can learn from how we faced our challenges.

It was first important to create ownership among our staff for this monumental endeavor. I started with convincing senior management to agree on why we should do this, what is our vision, and how we might go about achieving our goal.   But we realized quickly that senior managers’ championship alone was not enough to overhaul our $5M annual portfolio, involving120 staff operating in a complex ecosystem. We needed to change relationships with the government, CARE members, donors, and partners. We had to mobilize staff across all ranks.

Mistakes that I will avoid in the future

1/       Being overly cautious: One of the bigger mistakes that I made during the transformation journey was to downplay the effects of the transformation on our staff. My intention was to comfort them by minimizing differences between being an Egyptian organization versus a Country Office.

The outline of the “new organization” we wanted to become was very ambiguous with lot of unknowns.  As time went by, ambiguity decreased, and we found concrete answers to numerous questions we had at the early stages. Equipped with more answers, clarity did translate into bolder ways to confront and explain the reality of the future to our colleagues.

If I do it all over, I would be bolder earlier, but would continue calming staff about the future. I would better balance my messaging about what will remain the same versus what will be different.  It is essential to cater to the fears and concerns of staff, as we move forward in the transformation.

Obviously, while we had our fair share of problems in the past six years, it could have been a lot rougher if we had not worked on bringing our colleagues along, starting from senior management, middle managers and field staff.  Colleagues had to see themselves as part of the change and get excited about our future. 

2/       Change is not a projectLooking back, I would avoid treating the journey as a project.  It is too limiting to think about this change journey in terms of a plan, resource use, Gant charts and a risk management matrix.   When we started the process, the emphasis was on what are the steps required, what resources will we need? What were the risks of not achieving or not being on time to complete planned steps?

We were describing a project rather than a journey to achieve a vision. Thinking like a project made us overly focused on the details and we lost sight of the intention.   When you couple that with a high level of ambiguity, it becomes impossible to navigate and manage the complexities.  Aspects such as staff concerns, government questions, questions posed by the CARE confederation members.  It just became impossible to navigate and manage all the moving parts.

Our intent to transform, our new north star should be the lens to evaluate our progress.    What mattered is what our strategy should look like, which business model should we adopt.  Such views helped us to focus on what is important at any given moment, and it also helped achieve tasks with clarity and focus while not losing sight of the big picture. My senior colleagues and I stayed grounded and were able to put things in perspective as we tackled one challenge after the other.

In the end

In the end I am proud of what we achieved, as we pressed to create buy in by our colleagues. We expanded circles of engaged staff while keeping the visionary intent to nationalize our entity as the primary way to evaluate our progress.

Writing this post has encouraged me to document a more detailed description of the journey and what we learned.  We are still discovering what it means to be a southern member in an international NGO. But that is for another blog post: to speak of power dynamics and how they shift (or not) in an INGO. Stay tuned!

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Organizational culture, national culture and how they come together in INGOs

Equity, diversity and inclusion

Questions rummaging through my mind

How do national culture differences affect organizational ways of working — and ways of managing and leading?

How does the presence of many different national cultures among staff shape the organizational culture of an NGO?

To start with the obvious: The staff of INGOs typically consist of people from many different national cultures. This is even more so the case as many INGOs have focused on increasing the diversity of their staff body—including for managers and leaders. National cultures from global North no longer predominate, although global North-imprinted organizational cultures tend to remain in place for a lot longer. So how does the presence of all these national cultures shape the organizational culture of an NGO?

A new resource

Recently, I became aware of an interesting new research-based source on national culture differences—updated research by Erin Meyer, the American-French academic who works at the famous INSEAD business school in Fontainebleau, France. Her book, The Culture Map (2014) has been recommended to me by several NGO types. Erin has launched a new website, the Culture Mapping Tool which allows you (regretfully only on a paid basis) to compare specific sets of countries in neat ways with each other, based on the following dimensions:

  • Communications: from ‘high context’ communication styles to ‘low context’ ones
  • Evaluating: from indirect negative feedback to direct ones
  • Leading: from hierarchical cultures to egalitarian ones
  • Deciding: From top-down cultures to consensual ones
  • Trusting: from relationship-based cultures to task-based ones
  • Disagreeing: from confrontational cultures to those that avoid confrontation
  • Scheduling: from linear-based cultures to flexible time-based cultures
  • Persuading: from applications-first cultures to principle-first ones

The questions this sparked in me

Erin’s research sparked the following questions:

  • How does the presence of all these national cultures in INGOs shape their organizational culture?
  • What happens when the NGO manager’s leadership style, informed by national culture, is in clear tension with–let’s say–the espoused leadership model of ‘transformational leadership’, feminist leadership, servant leadership, you name it? This would suggest the person has to be one kind of leader in the daytime, but at night and on the weekend be another person? So much for authentic leadership and ‘bringing your whole self to work’ ideals in that case?
  • Who came up with these newer, aspirational leadership models that are now popular in some INGOs anyway?
  • As leadership and management of many INGOs increasingly is populated by a much more diverse set of people in terms of national culture, when and how will this make the organizational culture less global North-normed?
  • As INGOs have increased their leadership coming from national cultures in the global South, I sometimes see people being ‘spit out’ quite quickly by the dominant culture. Is this because the person’s identity (their lived experience, the non-NGO functional or professional background they may have brought, etc.) is different, and the predominant org culture is unwilling to ‘enlarge the tent’ and embrace this?
  • We know from the research on staff diversity that a greater diversity of people, while definitely beneficial to the organization’s outcomes, productivity, innovation, and creativity in the medium term, in the short term may lead to greater chances of miscommunication, mistrust, increased tension and conflict. As many NGOs are becoming more truly global, will the presence of an ever-greater number of national cultures further enhance these short-term challenges?
  • For those NGOs intent on increasing their global balance of affiliates, sections, members etc, will these new members submit to ‘isomimicry’, i.e. the expectation from the global North members that their organizations will look like them, or will they introduce different forms of ‘organizational being’ to truly diversify the NGO?
  • And what does this mean for change management approaches? To draw from another source on national differences in what’s expected from leaders and managers, (the GLOBE project, following the initial work on national cultures by Geert Hofstede, the Dutch researcher): surely differences in, for instance, performance orientation, power difference, assertiveness, uncertainty avoidance, future orientation, humane orientation, and ingroup collectivism affect how change leaders and change managers need to go about their work?

Many questions, few answers….. but let’s think about this together

I have few answers to the questions above (primarily some gut sense and anecdotal observations), but it would be very worthwhile to brainstorm on them together. Let’s talk if this sparks further ideas or thoughts! Ping me at tosca@5oaksconsulting.org

In the meantime, here’s an earlier blog post from me about why I am quite skeptical of hiring and promoting ‘cultural rebels’ as a strategy towards organizational change.

Links for further reading and thinking

A summary of dimensions derived from the GLOBE project, a very interesting long term research project on cultural differences in leadership and management models:

https://courses.lumenlearning.com/wm-principlesofmanagement/chapter/dimensions-of-cultural-difference-and-their-effect/

Erin Meyer’s Culture Mapping Tool:  (regretfully, the tool is no longer available for free)

Erin’s book The Culture Map

One could argue that being comfortable in a global North-based national culture is a source of informal power. Here is a handy visualization of this particular form of informal power, plus many others. My colleague-consultant Esther Kwaku and Iare co-created the list based on work we did for the International Civil Society Centre this past year. With credit to MEDA, the Canadian development agency, who had the list converted into this nifty graphic image (they liked the list as a prompt to spur useful conversation).

A short video with me about how I define organizational culture

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Black and white picture of woman planting flag on tiny island in ocean

The many ways in which informal power shows up in civil society organizations

The many ways in which informal power shows up in civil society organizations

Black and white picture of woman planting flag on tiny island in ocean

Our question

How can we as civil society entities be more self-aware of how *informal* power shows up in our organizations?

How can we as leaders and managers be more self-aware of how forms of power that are not related to positional power play out?

This has been on the mind of many of us in the past few years.

My colleague-consultant Esther Kwaku who also runs the neat social enterprise the Nerve Network and I did some work earlier this year which, amongst many things, surfaced insights around the fascinating ways in which informal power plays out in our organizations. Some of these ways you will be aware of; others may certainly cause you to reflect on what’s really happening in our organizations — even during our attempts to shift and share power. The result is a thought-provoking list, we think.

Adding a visualization

And then Dorothy Nyambi, CEO at the development agency MEDA and her colleagues took it upon themselves to commission a sharp graphic designer to visualize the list – so that they too could use the content. Thank you, MEDA!

The result

Result? Voila!  Download your copy of the visualization of the many ways in which informal power shows up here:

PDF version of the Informal Power viz

PPT version of the Informal Power viz

How does informal power show up in your civil society organization? Feel free to use the content as well in your work (please credit us as creators, of course). Enjoy having good conversations about this!

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