Five Oaks Consulting

Miscellaneous

Is all this talk about a ‘power shift’ in our sector really amounting to substantive changes?

Is all this talk about a 'power shift' in our sector really amounting to substantive changes?

How 17 INGOs are going about it

Is all this talk about a ‘power shift’ in our sector really amounting to substantive changes?

And if it is – what has actually changed in the past 3-5 years?

This was the topic of a small ‘benchmarking study’ of 17 international civil society organizations (ICSOs) that are co-owners of the International Civil Society Centre. My fellow consultant Esther Kwaku and I looked into what actually shifted, in terms of decision rights, processes, and structures. And we looked at sources of informal power, as much as formal ones. The results?

The Centre shared the full findings with the agencies who had chosen to be the focus of the study. It also aggregated the findings in a shorter report for the public — credit to Esther for writing this summary!

Is all this talk about a ‘power shift’ in our sector really amounting to substantive changes? Read More »

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

Miscellaneous

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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Nothing Lasts Forever: Exit Planning is Essential for INGOs

Nothing Lasts Forever: Exit Planning is Essential for INGOs

Guest blog post by Charlie Danzoll, independent consultant. The views expressed in this post are Charlie’s. You can reach him via LinkedIn.

For all the energy, time, and resources INGOs invest in starting new initiatives, their plans for moving on are often sorely lacking.

 

Whether it is transitioning from INGO status to a nationally governed entity or withdrawing from the country, an INGO planning for closure of its country presence is faced with a dilemma: How can the organization responsibly manage such a contraction when doing so pitts its commitment to core values against the cold hard reality of resources that have run out?  What does responsible transition or exit look like? How can organizations better prepare to uphold their vision, values, and commitments during and after they leave?

While many organizations plan for transition and exit at the project level, and these plans are sometimes included in country-level strategic plans, INGOs don’t often define milestones or benchmarks for country-level transition or exit. Poor planning and execution of country transitions and exits contribute to the very critique of neocolonial aspects of aid. They manifest as, for instance:

  • Disgruntled staff, partners, and stakeholders;
  • Organizational inertia and dissonance;
  • Gradual bleeding of already scarce resources;
  • Insufficient resources to support transition and exit;
  • Focusing on financial risk at the expense of staff and organizational legacy; and
  • Underinvestment in staff income security and opportunities for professional growth.
  • All of this increases the perception that INGOS are not accountable to the people and communities they serve.

Consequently, I argue that preparing for transition and exit is a matter of strategic importance and should be addressed at the very beginning of the work in that country. By naming a transition/exit strategy as a priority, investing early in its design, and maintaining this commitment throughout the program/project life cycle, INGOs can uphold their missions and values through the end of their initiatives and beyond.

Admittedly, the prevailing challenge is operationalizing this advice. “Walking the talk” is often quite difficult.

I therefore recommend the following:

  • Review and adopt the lessons from the excellent  Stopping as Success Project;
  • Set organizational intentions, including principles, benchmarks, and policies for exit and transition;
  • Build transition and exit into the organizational ways of working and strategic planning processes—i.e., viewing them not as a failure but as normal parts of the business cycle;
  • Earmark unrestricted organizational resources for transition and exit;
  • Define transition and exit activities as core costs and advocate that donors accept them as an accrual (similar to how staff severance is accepted as a core cost);
  • Dedicate time and resources to staff wellness as it relates to transition and exit; and
  • Balance the need for financial risk management with enhancing impact and legacy.

Commitment to aligning an INGO’s mission with on-the-ground realities starts with recognizing transition and exit as organizational imperatives that need to be planned for well in advance. Planning should begin years (as opposed to months) before such a strategy is needed and be included as part of country-level strategic planning and program/project design.

The true test of an organization’s legacy and, ultimately, its impact will be how well the transition is planned, managed, and carried out. Therefore, it is time to prioritize responsible transition, exit, and closure.

Nothing Lasts Forever: Exit Planning is Essential for INGOs Read More »

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The Future of Transnational NGOs: From Anxiety to Strategy

The Future of Transnational NGOs: From Anxiety to Strategy

In this blog post, George Mitchell and Hans Peter Schmitz, co-authors, provide a synopsis of one of the main arguments in our brand new book ‘Between Power and Irrelevance: the Future of Transnational NGOs’. You can read more about our book here, including where you can buy it — for a limited time period with a 30% discount.

Geopolitical shifts, increasing demands for accountability, and growing competition have been creating a more challenging environment for Northern-based transnational nongovernmental organizations (TNGOs). In addition to changes in TNGOs’ external environment, TNGOs’ own ambitions have increased. Many TNGOs today have adopted a greater focus on addressing the root causes of societal problems, often complementing direct service provision with longer-term strategies for sustainably improving environmental, social, and political conditions. Prominent TNGOs have expanded their strategic repertoires to include new forms of activism, including rights-based approaches to development and supporter-led digital campaigning. Over time, TNGO interventions generally have become more complex, requiring more resources and greater collaboration within and across sectors.

Why all the existential angst?

But TNGOs find themselves today at a point where their rhetoric of creating sustainable impact and social transformation has far outpaced the reality of their more limited abilities to deliver on these promises. Many individual TNGOs have moved to address this gap through organizational reforms, but these efforts have not yet addressed the larger challenges that exist at the systemic level. Meanwhile, there is continuing and sometimes growing criticism of TNGOs along several fronts, including charges of ineffectiveness, limited efforts to hand over control to local partners, and failures to live internally the values that TNGOs promote externally.

What is at the heart of the challenges confronting TNGOs? Many observers have argued that TNGOs have become too large and too focused on their own survival instead of their missions. Others have blamed the overall aid system and its inability to fundamentally change the economic conditions of millions of people living in poverty. And some have blamed increased competition and professionalization, perceived to be inimical to the sector’s ethos. These criticisms identify important issues, but they all miss a fundamental problem faced by virtually all TNGOs: TNGOs are constituted as nonprofits and therefore operate within a specific institutional and normative architecture that constrains their ability to embrace new strategies and roles essential for their future effectiveness, legitimacy, and survival.

How the sector’s architecture is failing TNGOs

In our new book, Between Power and Irrelevance: The Future of Transnational NGOs, we consider how the underlying normative and institutional conditions of TNGOs—what we refer to as the sector’s architecture—are expressed in restrictive legal regimes, societal expectations, and cultural beliefs that make it hard for TNGOs to pursue their expanded missions. The difficulties are not simply due to the magnitude and complexity of global problems or the failures of individual organizations. Instead, key stakeholders of the sector, including individual and institutional donors, the general public, and governments, have been too slow in shifting their outdated expectations about the appropriate roles of TNGOs. The gap between TNGO rhetoric and their ability to deliver on their promises is growing because TNGOs’ new strategies focused on sustainable impact are not matched by the required capabilities for executing such strategies effectively.

The modern institution of the nonprofit facilitates and carries forward centuries-old traditions of charity in which social value is consummated in the act of giving itself and in the virtuous intentions and actions of staff and volunteers. Although recent decades have seen the term impact become a ubiquitous buzzword throughout the sector, underlying societal expectations about how nonprofits should raise funds and operate have failed to change in step. Today, more and more TNGOs have adopted the rhetoric of impact and have staked their reputations on claims of not just being good stewards of donor resources, but of also making a demonstrable difference in the lives of those they claim to serve. Philanthropy is becoming more data-driven and outcome-oriented, stakeholders are demanding new forms of accountability and participation, and more sophisticated operational strategies are requiring longer-term time horizons and significant new investments in organizational capacities. However, the organizational forms and norms of the sector’s architecture are preventing TNGOs from fully embracing the kinds of changes needed to successfully adapt and evolve, and above all else, to reach their potential in serving their missions. We show, for example, how the architecture provides a permissive environment for ‘successful irrelevance’ (survival based on fiscal propriety, regardless of impact), how it binds TNGOs to a Northern donor-focused accountability model, and how it inhibits specific organizational investments in areas such as digital technology, measurement and evaluation, governance reform, leadership development, and collaboration necessary for long-term mission success

The need for collective action in addition to individual reforms

To make TNGOs fit for the future, individual actions and limited organizational change initiatives will only go so far. The sector must move beyond the false comfort of the status quo and confront the architecture with collective action. TNGOs have already decided what kinds of organizations they want to be, now they must work together to create an institutional and normative environment in which those kinds of organizations can flourish.

Order ‘Between Power and Irrelevance’ online at www.oup.com/academic with promo code ASFLYQ6 to save 30%!

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Leading mission-driven organizations in the Internet tech sector: takeaways for INGO leaders

Leading mission-driven organizations in the Internet tech sector: takeaways for INGO leaders

I am experimenting with Facebook Live interviews as part of an interview series on ‘Leading with Meaning’. While at the ICANN conference in Kobe, Japan, I interviewed Jay Daley, owner of TechObscura consulting company and somebody with 30 years of experience in the technology sector. Jay and I are both board members at Public Interest Registry PIR is an organization with nonprofit status which, at the wholesale level, operates the .ORG and .NGO Internet domain names, which so many of us in civil society choose for our web presence. Fifty cents of every dollar that PIR earns through selling domain names goes to the Internet Society, whose mission is to make the Internet accessible, safe and trusted for people all over the world. The main reason why I chose to interview Jay is because of his astute observations on organizational leadership, strategy and people management. Take a listen!

Leading mission-driven organizations in the Internet tech sector: takeaways for INGO leaders Read More »

Surveying the field: a stash of short reflections by major NGO leaders and scholars

Tosca’s has undertaken hundreds of interviews with NGO leaders as well as scholars. For a sample of the wide range of people she interviewed while at the Maxwell School, these brief, conversational interviews give you a flavor

https://www.maxwell.syr.edu/moynihan/tngo/interview_series/TNGO_Interview_Showcase/

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