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Virtual Team Leadership Course

New online course

Post-pandemic Virtual Team Leadership Skills Essentials

New course dates for early 2022 to be announced soon

The first run of our new course ends on October 15. New course dates for early 2022 to be announced in December 2021. 

You may have led a virtual or hybrid team before the global pandemic, and felt that some things were missing….or likely you were thrust into leading your team this way due to the global pandemic. Either way, you probably have discovered that while some general team leadership principles still apply, virtual teamwork and virtual collaboration do require some distinct practices. How to build trust in virtual teams? How to motivate your team members? How to manage your team’s work flows with maximum productivity? How to provide for engaging as well as productive virtual meetings? And how to monitor and manage team performance? All of these dimensions are a little different in virtual teams. There is a lot of chatter on the web about tech and tools, but what are evidence-based practices towards effective virtual team leadership? This course will help you master this new dimension of your leadership!

What others are saying

“The course was a very special gift at this complex time: because of the very relevant reading materials/podcasts selected, because of the exchange with amazing participants, and because of the wisdom and facilitation skills of Tosca Bruno-van Vijfeijken and Ahmed Abdelhakim Hachelaf. They so ably framed the issues that we are all confronted with by working virtually, and proposed solutions that made a difference from the very first day. Deeply grateful for the depth of their experience which they so generously shared.”

—Sofia Sprechmann, Secretary General, CARE International

“The course was a special gift: the very relevant reading materials, podcasts and videos you selected; because of the exchange between participants and because of the wisdom and facilitation skills of Tosca and Ahmed”

 —Monica Maassen, Oxfam

“The course enabled me to facilitate great discussions on our working environment post-pandemic, and also to better understand the conditions in which colleagues work in order to accomplish the work objectives”

—Illah Evans, HelpAge International

“A brilliant course on Post Pandemic Leadership Team Essentials. Tosca and Ahmed share a wealth of materials and facilitate insightful discussions about how to successfully lead in virtual and hybrid working environments”

—Alex Cole-Hamilton, independent consultant

About Tosca

Tosca Bruno-van Vijfeijken has worked on international development and civil society issues for 30 years, in international development practice (World Bank, United Nations, NGOs and think tanks), in academia and as independent consultant. Tosca supports senior social sector leaders with their needs for leadership development and organizational effectiveness solutions. She has facilitated f2f workshops on virtual team leadership for major global INGOs and has blogged about the topic here. Tosca has also hosted INGO leaders with a lot of experience in virtual team leadership as guest bloggers here and hereYou can learn more about Tosca here>>

About Ahmed

Ahmed is an Education & NGO ‘pracademic’ with 13 years of experience in development, research, training, monitoring & evaluation. Ahmed managed projects and teams across borders and designed and implemented numerous capacity building programs in human rights education, leadership & course design, offering him experiences ranging from top-ranked international institutions to conflict affected locations. Ahmed recently worked as a research coordinator at the International Institute for Islamic Thought, and as a contributor to the design and delivery of an Humentum e-course on Agile Leadership Behaviors.. This course was co-designed by the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, USA. Ahmed  obtained his Master’s degree in public administration from the Maxwell School; he also has a Doctorate of Science from the University of Algiers II. He is a frequent presenter on civic and human rights education in the Middle East and North African region.  Ahmed contributes both course content and facilitation of the Virtual Team Leadership for Tomorrow e-course

How you will benefit

  • You will improve your understanding of what specific challenges to expect when leading a virtual team
  • You will walk away with specific and proven, evidence-based solutions and approaches. 
  • You will learn lots of virtual team management tactics, tips and tools. 
  • You will learn from your peers in the program – how they overcame team challenges 
  • You will learn how to retain your best team members by knowing how to motivate them
  • You will learn how to improve your personal resilience as a leader – more important than ever given what we all have gone through!. In other words, how to bounce forward and not just bounce back. 
  • Finally, the world will not return to ‘what was normal’ after COVID-19; your team members have different expectations now about working from home and expect some autonomy on these issues. Your organization is probably changing its ways of working big time for the long term. You will be able to exert strategic leadership by influencing how your team and your organization are building the new employee experience. 

Now as for your practical questions…

The course will have a six-week duration and you will be part of a cohort of peer leaders. Cohorts will have a limited size to provide for interactivity as well as personalized attention. Depending on what course tier you choose, you will benefit from:

  • Weekly narrated slide decks
  • Worksheets to apply what you have learned and to provide for reflection
  • Curated readings, podcast episodes and videos
  • Four group coaching calls and two ‘drop in’ hours with the coach for Q&A
  • Use of cases and scenarios to apply what you have learned
  • Instant chatting function for peer support and access to the coach
  • Personalized, in-depth coaching support (for those who purchase the highest course tier)

They will all be scheduled at the same time each week, starting from the week of September 6 through October 15, for easy scheduling (the exact time will be determined once the composition of each cohort is clear, so that we can take time zones of participants into account). 

You should expect the course to take 2-3 hours of your time each week at a minimum; of course, as with every learning investment, the more you make use of the learning resources, the more benefit you will gain.

Yes, we will use these calls to showcase and practice how virtual meetings need to be interactive in order to be effective and engaging. Moreover, we will engage in peer coaching so you will actively engage with your peers.

You will be encouraged to use worksheets and a learning journal to reflect on your application of lessons learned in your teams. You will also sometimes use case studies or scenarios to practice the skills you will have learned. Finally, all participants will be given an opportunity to host a section of a virtual meeting, based on the virtual facilitation practices you will have learned, as a form of practicum.

You can register and pay by credit card for the mini course via our Teachable platform.

 If you need to receive an invoice for your course payment, please email us at:

We understand that there may be circumstances in which you may need to cancel. In that case, we are happy to issue refunds (minus a $50 administration fee.) as long as you have notified us in writing at least five (5) business days before the course start date, Monday, September 6, 2021. This means Friday, August 27, 2021, is the last day to notify us of such a need to cancel. Please email us at in that case. Please note we will not be able to issue refunds past Fri August 27, 2021.

Choose a Pricing Option that Fits your Leadership Needs

Make use of our Early Bird offer with Coupon Code VTLEB10 to a 10% discount. Price includes VAT/sales tax, mandated by Teachable based on respective country policies. Offer valid from August 1st until midnight August 20th 2021.

We offer three levels of participation:

I want the most personalized coaching support


Make use of our Early Bird offer with Coupon Code VTLEB10 to get a 10% discount. Price includes VAT/sales tax, mandated by Teachable based on respective country policies

All the Benefits of Plan 2 and 3 PLUS:

  • One on One Access to Coach during Individual Coaching Sessions (two sessions per course)
  • Priority Real-Time Access to Coach (text, email, video meetings, as needed; response within 2 work days)
I want access to group coaching and peer learning


Make use of our Early Bird offer with Coupon Code VTLEB10 to get a 10% discount. Price includes VAT/sales tax, mandated by Teachable based on respective country policies.

All the benefits of Plan 3 PLUS:

  • Four Live Group Coaching Calls
  • Two ‘Drop In’ Meetings for Q&A during the Course
  • Slack Channel for Peer Learning and Chatting and further access to Coaches
  • Bonus monthly ‘Open Office Hours’ after the Course Ends, with access to Coaches

Just Give
Me the


Make use of our Early Bird offer with Coupon Code VTLEB10 to get a 10% discount. Price includes VAT/sales tax, mandated by Teachable based on respective country policies.

  • Weekly Curated Readings
  • Weekly Narrated slides
  • Curated Podcast episodes
  • Curated Videos
  • Worksheets/Learning Journal

If you want to avoid being this type of boss….

—then consider joining our course!

Nine tips for virtual NGO team leadership from a pro

Guest post by Amanda Briggs-Hastie, Head of Fundraising Support, Oxfam International. Amanda also spent several years in INGO leadership roles at GreenpeaceThis guest post is a bit longer than usual because it is so chock-full of practical lessons.

I have spent six years building and managing virtual (global) teams. I’ve stumbled many times in figuring out how to make virtual team leadership work, so here are my top 9 practical suggestions: 

1. Embrace the challenge of being the best possible virtual leader you can be — or don’t bother trying. 

This requires leading and managing in a different way.  You need to see yourself as the virtual team-working architect, consciously planning and designing how you will lead and develop a team in a remote working context. For example: How you will have a shared strategy, owned by everyone? How will you make sure your team feel bonded to each other even when apart? How will you build those critical one-on-one relationships with each of your line reports? I see many virtual teams failing because their managers continue to manage their teams in pretty much the same way they did their in-office team and wonder why their teams are but a group of isolated and demotivated workers.  

2. Consciously design your culture and way of working together – and revisit it often! 

Discuss which sort of team you want to be and what rules and ways of working you need to get there – including those specific to a virtual team. Then choose a small number of rules you will all live by (and can remember).  

Our team’s WOW (ways of working) are: 

  • We say Hi! – We check in and support each other professionally.  
  • We speak our truth – We tell the truth with integrity and sensitivity, also when it’s difficult.  
  • Appreciate differences and create space for individual styles.  
  • We are all on the same page – We take a united approach. We support each other’s views. 

Here is a lovely presentation and screensaver so our team can look at it all the time. We also do a session on WOW at every meeting to make sure it’s current, understood by any newbies and represents the heart and soul of our team

3. Have basic but good virtual working software tools 

It’s best to stick with the basic stuff people are already familiar with. Ask yourself, what is the software the least tech savvy team member can easily master? In my experience the following are the best tools and uses: 

Skype chat groups –for day to day team chat and all the instant questions you might ask your colleagues if you were in an office e.g. “Morning everyone! – What did you get up to over the weekend?” (we share photos and stories) or “Hey anyone know where that 5-year strategy file is saved?” or “Wow, Thembisa, that was an incredible workshop you just ran – well done!” 

WhatsApp – same as above. Useful for when the team are travelling and for after hours when people are away from their computer screens. Our WhatsApp group is filled with pictures of our kids, cats and holiday snaps! 

Zoom – A fantastic video conferencing tool. Use this for all your team meetings, for one-on-ones with your team and with a bit of planning Zoom can even be used for large meetings. We used it for a global skill-share with up to 300 participants. It has lots of clever functionality such as break-out rooms and instant polls and is very easy to use (plus affordable). 

Google docs and spreadsheets – Use for working collaboratively on documents e.g. writing a strategy document together, a shared travel calendar, a joint workplan. This way everyone has easy access, can edit together, see who has written what, see each other’s comments etc.

4.  Facilitation, facilitation, facilitation 

Let’s face it there are a lot of issues with having meetings virtually: 

  • People are less likely to turn up 
  • It’s harder to get full understanding with less body language to aid interpretation 
  • It’s much harder to maintain concentration 
  • People tend to be less likely to speak up or take the initiative/lead 

So good virtual facilitation is essential. Whoever is leading the meeting needs to understand these challenges and how to overcome. These skills can be trained (our team even have a virtual meeting facilitation workshop we run) but don’t under-estimate how much confidence, preparation and skill it takes to do virtual facilitation well. 

Some practical ways we facilitate meetings are: 

House-keeping rules always apply (and are reiterated at the start of meetings):

  • Be visible: Cameras on and use a headset to avoid noise disruption 
  • Be present: Absolutely no emailing or other distractions 
  • Be engaged: speak up and participate (you can use the chat function if you don’t want to disrupt the current flow of conversation). 
  • Keep meetings to 45 mins max before a break. 
  • A clear agenda, objectives and good time management 
  • Have an icebreaker at the beginning of each meeting, even if it’s just your usual team telling you what they did at the weekend or what excites them about the meeting topic. 
  • Use visual stimuli: presentations on screen with engaging charts, tables, animated gifs, cute cat pictures etc.  
  • Use quizzes, polls and break-out rooms to make your session more fun, and interactive. 
  • Experiment with creative facilitation techniques e.g. each person has 2 mins to say everything that comes to mind on the topic; ‘fishbowl ‘ exercise with a couple of people discussing an issue and others allowed to ask questions or ask to join the ‘hot seat’. Or pretend to do a radio interview where the facilitator gets in interviewees and asks them their thoughts on an issue whilst others watch (or they can pretend-dial in as listeners with questions)

5. Be present with your team  

Managers often have to attend meetings, which their own teams are not involved in directly or have other tasks that take them away from the team. It’s really important your team knows where you are and what you are doing most of the time, so they don’t end up feeling cut off from you. In a virtual world team members otherwise may have the impression you just seem to be missing or unavailable and it’s a very short journey to your team feeling deserted and unsupported, even if you are working hard in the background trying to smooth the way for their work.  

There are some easy practical ways you can address this: 

Use a shared calendar like Google or Outlook. Set it up so that your team can see full details of your calendar at the same time as theirs and vice versa. This way they can see you are in a 1-on-1 with David right now and so they won’t try and call you. This way too, the team sees all the other meetings you have as team leader, gaining insight into your busy role. N.B. Ensure you set it up with correct permissions so the team can see full details not just the frustrating “busy” description (you still can choose to keep some meetings private).  

Be active yourself in the team chat. Be the first to say “Good morning!”, bring up non-work related chat (this makes it OK for your team to do the same) and to generally be involved in discussions on the chat. The chat is really where your team exists and if you are not there regularly, you’re missing from the team. It’s a great idea to post little updates on meetings you’ve had so the team can stay connected with what your doing: “Just spoke with finance, there is a new budgeting process we are going to have to follow, talk you all through it in our meeting on Friday” 

Always respond asap, when people message you. When people send you instant messages they often need to chat or get an instant answer so you should respond asap, even if it’s just to say, “Cant talk right now, should be free in 2 hours”. Oh and if you are in a 1-on-1 with Saad when Fred messages you it’s best to just be open about it and say “Hang on Saad, Fred is just messaging me and I don’t want to be distracted, I’ll just send him a quick message to tell him when I’ll be free”. That way Fred and Saad both feel valued – it’s obvious stuff but easy to get wrong. 

6. Keep your team connected and motivated by the org mission 

If you work for an NGO, you are mission driven, but remaining connected to programme delivery can be tricky when you work in your spare room and have little interaction with the programme team. This has been a persistent challenge! You need to create opportunities for connection: regular program presentations, opportunities to participate in program strategy and delivery work, program visits etc.  

7. Be relationship more than task focused  

I think relationship focused people make better leaders of virtual teams – by nature they seek to overcome the challenging distance created by working from behind a screen. They know that a motivated, informed and included employee will deliver on the tasks.  

Some things I think are key to delivering this are: 

Weekly 1-on-1’s – You need to have them more often than you would in an office, because you need to overcome the isolation factor. Some of your team may not see or speak to any colleagues for days when they are home working. I spend the first 20 minutes or so of all my 1-on-1’s connecting with my team member on a personal level, as a friend, before I go anywhere near task related topics.  

Inductions. So much of getting to grip with a new org happens round the coffee machine: “So which team do you work in? And what do they do?” etc. In a virtual team you have to engineer that organisational understanding without the chance encounters and help them feel part of the whole org. I meet with newbies daily in the first weeks. 

Use your 6th sense and don’t let things fester. One of the problems with virtual working is that a doubt can fester without the frequent contact you have in an office. For instance, the thought – “I’m not sure my manager thinks I am doing a good job”- flows through us all at some point, but when you see your manager daily you can see from their behavior and body language that’s not true. In a virtual team where you don’t get that informal feedback, such thoughts can turn into a total loss of confidence quite quickly. Virtual managers need to read between the lines or anticipate these issues and address them quickly before they get out of control. 

Managing work/life balance for your team. As with office work, virtual working can easily lead to burn out. It’s easy to roll out of bed, switch on the laptop, and keep going (especially when working with different timezones, and team members will work different hours). You need to ensure your team learns the discipline to switch off. Don’t forget to promote good work life balance habits, set an example, and make it ‘ok’ to switch off and stop working

8. Meet often, including some “in person” time

Meeting often is critical to make sure you don’t turn into a team of people working in silos (something virtual teams are prone to). Meeting on Zoom weekly as a team helps us stay connected and bond, and focus on shared team strategy and objectives. Virtual teams do still need to meet in person sometimes though. Our team meets in person twice a year. During those meetings we do fun team building activities as well as team strategy and work planning.  You could do it online too but it is so much easier to get everyone together with post-its and a big wall chart. I have found that if it’s been more than 6 months of not meeting up the team bonds loosen a little no matter how hard you have worked in the year before that to keep everyone together.

9. Last but by no means least -Make it fun!  

Working virtually has huge personal life benefits but it does require more effort and discipline. So it’s important to make sure it is fun. It’s the little things that matter: the banter on the chat, the photos from our weekends, how we recognize and celebrate each other for personal and work achievements etc. We also organise a virtual Christmas party (the most fun ones I’ve been to). I’ll finish with a description of how we Xmas party: 

  • We bring our own drinks, party snacks, decorate our desks, and wear Santa hats etc.  
  • We log in to our video conferencing programme (Zoom) with cameras and Christmas jumpers on! 
  • We play charades, guess the baby/workstation/job we wanted when kids were etc. and other games complete with cheesy slideshows. We’ve even done a bake-off competition virtually! 
  • One of our team member sends us a party bag posted to us in advance (with chocolate, silly t-shirts to wear etc.) 

Why we need virtual water coolers: Four reasons why virtual NGO team leadership has its challenges

The context

Do you lead and manage (largely) virtual teams? It can definitely be a suboptimal experience, both for you as a team leader and for your team members. Most of us NGO managers and leaders do a lot of virtual team management these days. Yet NGOs have not planned for this, and managers and leaders are not equipped with virtual team leadership skills. Some NGOs do increasingly have technology tools at their disposal, but they have not necessarily planned how to use these well. And some think, incorrectly, that having the right technology will be the answer. But it is not. As with any technological intervention, what matters is how people interact with the technology. The behaviors that need to accompany the use of the technology matter most. Moreover, on the whole, if you ask NGO staff, I would venture most would say that they still prefer face to face communication as being more effective (as well as more pleasant!). In the meantime, I have heard many a story of a manager who typically has 6-8 Skype meetings per day, which altogether makes me wonder whether that is optimal….

How I learned about virtual team leadership

For the past six years, my former team at the Transnational NGO Initiative at Syracuse University and I provided a shared Senior Leadership Development Program to a group of major NGOs (ActionAid International,Amnesty International, Greenpeace International, Oxfam International and CIVICUS) As part of this, last year we offered a workshop on virtual team leadership. This blog posts reflects our research findings as well as input from workshop participants on some of the most pressing reasons why virtual team leadership can be so challenging.

Virtual teams face particular challenges

Research[1] indicates that virtual teams face some challenges that are either specific to this type of team or are germane to teams in general but are extra vexing in the case of virtual teams.

Here is a list:

  1. ‘Social Inhibitors’ to team work | Most importantly, it is simply more difficult to establish trust in virtual teams. Language and cultural differences are harder to navigate when one cannot observe body language. And it is more difficult to establish and communicate a desired team culture as a leader.
  2. ‘Social loafing’ is more possible | Humans tend to hold back in giving their best effort and ideas to the work, when they work in the relative anonymity of virtual teams. They also are more prone to withhold new information. Social loafing is compounded when people sense that their individual contributions will not be noted or rewarded in the same way as when it comes to face to face teams.
  3. Motivating staff can be more challenging | In virtual teams, staff are at higher risk of social isolation. They are also less able to  access opportunities for skill development and career growth. Staff are thus at a higher risk of demotivation and employee loyalty and engagement may suffer.
  4. It is more difficult to monitor team performance | It is harder to enforce norms for team communication and team performance: observing who is deviating from those norms is harder. Holding individuals accountable for lack of performance is harder, as is recognizing team members for their contributions. It is also more challenging  to utilize team member skills to the full in virtual teams.

Your experience?

So what is your experience? To what extent do you relate to these issues identified in the research? And what other challenges have you encountered in your practice?

If you want your NGO to learn about good, research-based practices that will help you manage and lead your virtual NGO teams in better ways, then please contact me:

Additional resources

Regretfully, most in-depth resources on virtual team management and leadership are behind ‘pay walls’. The two following short readings, while somewhat superficial by necessity, are freely available:

Watkins, M.D. Making virtual teams work: Ten Basic Principles, Harvard Business Review, June 27, 2013

Ferrazzi, K. Getting Virtual Teams Right, Harvard Business Review, December 2014

Bosma, M. How to Build Culture in Remote Teams, Toptal Enterprise

[1] Credit goes to Kishauna Soljour, former program coordinator of the Transnational NGO Initiative at Syracuse University who also obtained her PhD at that University. Kishauna’s research significantly informed this blog post. I also am indebted to Catherine Gerard, Director of the Program on the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration at Syracuse University, who help crystallize the messages from our research.

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It takes a village to raise a child. And in just the same manner, it takes the talent of multiple people to build a consulting practice. Without the support services of Pia, Kevin and Daniel (in alphabetic order, by last name), we would have never gotten to where we are now!


Piyali Ganguly Chatterjee

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Piyali is a highly motivated person with strong multi-tasking and organizational skills with almost 9 years of working experience as Administrative Assistant and Freelancer. She provides virtual services via the Fiverr platform as Personal assistant, Voiceover artist, Translator, Social media manager, Audio/Video editor, Content writer and proofreader. Piya provides much needed support to Five Oaks Consulting in the fields of post-podcast production, Youtube channel management and email marketing and does so with thorough professionalism. Fiverr Profile:

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Providing creative ideas and design solutions
Kevin Mann has been heavily involved in advertising and design, as well as teaching it for almost 25 years. His career has taken him to a variety of creative agencies - large and small, regional and national. Kevin has worked in advertising and design for consumer-packaged goods, healthcare, travel, technology, telecommunications, and education. Kevin has experience leading teams from concept development to implementation of branding, print design, television and digital campaigns. For 15 years he served as an Adjunct Professor of Advertising at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. His Campdesign business focuses on design and advertising for small and medium businesses with a concentration on solving challenges for non-profit organizations. Kevin is responsible for Five Oaks Consulting’s beautiful website.
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Daniel McElrath

Providing business support services
Daniel is a student at Syracuse University researching Finance and Entrepreneurship with experience working for both for-profit and non-profit organizations. He has a background in marketing and operations and is responsible for researching and building business systems for Five Oaks Consulting that put it on a solid foundation. Daniel has been with Five Oaks Consulting since its very beginning. His goal is to help improve operational efficiency and efficacy. Daniel is passionate about “good” business and looks to continue integrating his values into his work.
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Ahmed Hachelaf

Generations for Peace Institute as Peace & Conflict Education Specialist
An Education & NGO ‘pracademic’ with over 13 years of experience in development, research, training, monitoring & evaluation. Ahmed managed projects and teams across borders and designed and implemented numerous capacity building programs in human rights education, leadership & course design, offering him experiences ranging from top-ranked international institutions to conflict affected locations. Ahmed recently worked as a research coordinator at the International Institute for Islamic Thought, and as a market research manager of a collaborative project on e-course design and delivery with the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, USA, and Humentum. Ahmed was also the co-founder and co-director of the transnational Twiza and Mouakhat Projects. He obtained his master’s degree in public administration from the Maxwell School; Ahmed also has a Doctorate of Science from the University of Algiers II. He is a frequent presenter on civic and human rights education in the Middle East and North African region. Ahmed contributes both course content and facilitation support to the Virtual Team Leadership e-course. As of July 2021, Ahmed joined the Generations for Peace Institute as Peace & Conflict Education Specialist


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 …

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

Beyond Diversity Training – What Works (Part One)

Mandatory diversity training, the need for short-term wins and a nuanced approach to a global challenge A guest blog post by Richard Eastmond; Richard is the former Senior Director for People, Operations and Corporate Services at Amnesty International. He currently serves as an independent consultant. Richard is solely responsible for the views expressed is this …

Beyond Diversity Training – What Works (Part One) Read More »

Beyond Diversity Training – What Works (Part Two)

Diversity Training: Maintaining Local Nuance when Addressing a Global Challenge This is Part Two of a guest blog post by Richard Eastmond. Richard is the former Senior Director for People, Operations, and Corporate Services at Amnesty International. He currently serves as an independent consultant. For Part One, see above. Richard is solely responsible for the …

Beyond Diversity Training – What Works (Part Two) Read More »

Diversity training does not work. So what does?

For good reasons, there is lots of attention going to efforts to make our organizations more diverse, more equitable, and more inclusive. Diversity and unconscious bias related discussion and training abound in our international social sector. Clearly, NGOs are following the lead of many corporations and government entities that have installed such training and awareness-raising initiatives.  …

Diversity training does not work. So what does? Read More »

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 …

The Future of Transnational NGOs: From Anxiety to Strategy Read More »

Photo happy face, attached to arrow, made up of lights against dark background

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.

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NGO managers and leaders need to convene at times for strategic deep dives to survey the future, consider choices, decide on change agendas, or re-evaluate past efforts. Skillful facilitation by somebody who has sector-level perspective, knows peer experiences, understands leadership perspectives, and can highlight potential blind spots is crucial for success of this type of exercise.


Translating an anti-racist organizational commitment into practice


Helping NGO leaders understand big challenges to their sector’s effectiveness, relevance and legitimacy


Managing a shift in the paradigm


Providing thought leadership to ensure the future-fitness of ‘influencing’ NGOs


Helping NGOs look change right in the eye


Testing a competency model


Benefit from a full range of professional expertise

About Us

Tosca Bruno-van Vijfeijken

Principal Consultant


An experienced INGO and philanthropic actor-focused consultant, leadership development trainer and coach, change management expert, author, evaluator and analyst with strong knowledge of international development, civil society organizations, leadership development, organizational development/organizational change, social development and gender and leadership. Excellent strategic, organizational, team management, communication and mentoring skills. Strong analytical, research and evaluation skills. Co-author of ‘Between Power and Irrelevance: the Future of Transnational NGOs’, with Hans Peter Schmitz and George Mitchell, and published by Oxford University Press (July 2020). Co-author of several academic articles in peer reviewed journals; author of many practitioner-oriented reports, blog posts and essays. Podcast host of ‘NGO Soul+Strategy’. Tosca is a Dutch national who has worked in multiple regions around the globe and who currently is living in the United States.


Tosca’s experience spans think tanks, NGOs, the World Bank, UN and academia. She has worked on civil society issues and social development since 1988. Prior to being the Principal Consultant at Five Oaks Consulting, Tosca worked in a European think tank focused on governance in Sub-Sahara Africa and the Caribbean; various UN agencies and an American NGO in Cambodia; as Social Development Specialist in the World Bank; and as ‘pracademic’ at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Management at Syracuse University, USA, where she directed the Transnational NGO (TNGO) Initiative. The TNGO Initiative focuses on the governance, leadership development and effectiveness of transnationally operating NGOs.

Tosca has worked at the grassroots level in Cambodia as well as with top leaders of global, complex NGOs. She has produced published research, analytical reports, evaluations, essays and other ‘thought leadership’ outputs. She is a co-author of the book ‘Between Power and Irrelevance: the Future of Transnational NGOs’, which has already drawn a lot of interest.

Tosca has directed, managed and administered programs and had led multiple teams. She has engaged in senior leadership training design and delivery with over 250 NGO leaders, coached executive NGO leaders and facilitated strategic planning meetings as well as workshops.

Tosca taught graduate level students including many mid-career students and has mentored many young professionals in international development and in nonprofit leadership.

She works on governance issues from a place of experience, having volunteered on several boards (InterAction, the US national platform for INGOs; Public Interest Registry, the whole sale operator of the Internet domain name .ORG which 10.5 million NGOs and nonprofits use across the globe; ProLiteracy, a premier adult literacy nonprofit in the US; and Cadasta, the start-up organization which supplies communities on their way to empowerment tech tools for accessible, affordable documentation of land rights. Tosca can provide a sector level overview of the changes nonprofits and NGOs should expect and has analyzed the effectiveness of change management approaches used by NGOs – she occasionally interacts with NGO boards on these topics. Organizational culture work is one of Tosca’s particular interests.


From 2005-2018, while at Syracuse University, Tosca led about 20 senior leadership development training programs for nonprofit and INGO client organizations. Sometimes these were open enrollment programs; sometimes they were customized programs for major global NGOs such as ActionAid, Greenpeace, Amnesty, Oxfam, CIVICUS and Population Council. Tosca also led a two-year program with Population Council to institutionalize their in-house leadership development capacity. She also led several consulting teams on change management, on the request of Save the Children, CARE, Oxfam and Amnesty International.

Tosca launched her independent consulting practice in January 2019. Thus far, she has worked with Oxfam America on thought leadership as to the future of ‘influencing NGOs’; with Transparency International on a review of its National Chapter accreditation process; and with Population Council and ProLiteracy on leadership development and executive coaching. She consults with ActionAid International on its Governance Review and with Heifer International’s board and senior leadership team on strategy formation; she also is on retainment with Heifer’s C-suite team for various strategy implementation, change management and board interaction related tasks. Tosca has provided evaluation services to the Jewish Distribution Committee (JDC) and to the Transparency and Accountability Initiative. She has spoken at gatherings of leaders of Oxfam and the International Civil Society Centre about leadership during crisis, organizational resilience and innovation. She has also presented to leaders at World Vision, Church World Service and MEDA, and in academia about her co-authored book. She has consulted with WWF’s think tank, the Luc Hoffman Institute, on the future of global North-founded, transnational conservation NGOs. Tosca has coached young leaders hosted through American Councils on virtual team leadership and general leadership skills. She has designed online courses on virtual team leadership skills for social sector leaders and regularly facilitates an e-course on Leadership Behaviors for Humentum clients. In 2021, Tosca and a small team of talented freelance contributors launched a pilot online course ‘Post-Pandemic Virtual Team Leadership Essentials’; this offer will be repeated depending on demand. Tosca has consulted with Trickle Up and Keystone Human Services International on Theory of Change formation and broader strategic planning. She also consults with client organizations on organizational anti-racism and diversity, equity and inclusion strategies, and is a public speaker on the merits and limitations of diversity training. Tosca continues to teach as occasional Adjunct Instructor at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University (USA). She is an Ambassador in the Leap of Reason Ambassador network, an invitation-only group of high-profile nonprofit leaders, analysts, funders and consultants whose mission is to encourage a high performance-orientation among NGOs and nonprofits. Tosca is also a member of Charity Navigator’s Consultative Council of Nonprofit Leaders. She also acts as InterAction Fellow in an honorary, voluntary role. InterAction is the largest coalition of INGOs in the United States. Tosca supports InterAction members in thinking through what ‘next generation’ norms INGOs should consider adopting in the near to mid-term future, to remain relevant, legitimate and effective.

Areas of support and focus

  • skillful change management
  • understanding of NGO sector level changes
  • cutting edge leadership development and evaluation of such interventions
  • virtual team leadership
  • organizational culture work
  • review of governance arrangements
  • design and facilitation of planning meetings, strategy retreats and training
  • organizational learning and evaluations
  • organizational diversity, equity and inclusion strategies
  • gender and leadership work
  • feminist leadership work
Consulting philosophy

Tosca believes in accompaniment, not ‘sage on the stage’ or ‘fly in, fly out’ styles of consulting. She prefers to work with a defined set of organizations in which mutual trust, honesty and truly deep understanding of the organizational identity, mindset and DNA (culture) of client organizations is growing ever stronger. Tosca typically specializes in mid to large size, globally operating INGOs that have ambitious global agendas and frequently have complex organizational forms, although she also enjoys working with start-up, ‘rebel’ type of actors in civil society who challenge ways of working. And she enjoys exposing the two types to each other, to spur innovation.

Work history

2019 – Principal Consultant, Five Oaks Consulting, USA

InterAction Fellow (honorary), InterAction (the largest coalition of INGOs in the US)

Member (honorary), National Nonprofit Consultative Council, Charity Navigator

Moynihan Research Fellow (honorary), Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, USA

Ambassador, Leap of Reason community (honorary – an invitation-only community of professionals promoting an outcome orientation among NGOs)

2003-2019.1 Director, Transnational NGO Initiative, Maxwell School

1997-2001      Social Development Specialist, World Bank (headquarters as well as Vietnam)

1993-1994       Independent consultant, working with UNDP and PACT (an American NGO), Cambodia

District Electoral Supervisor, United Nations Transitional Authority for Cambodia (UNTAC)

1986-1992       Program and Research Officer, European Center for Development Policy Management (ECDPM), Netherlands

Full CV and list of publications available upon request
Skype: toscabvv48      Mobile: +1.315.720.2135       email: tosca@5oaksconsulting

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Consulting profile Tosca Bruno-van Vijfeijken

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With Five Oaks Consulting, you benefit from access to a full range of professional expertise that includes decades of international development and social justice experience. We understand the views, mindset and culture of transnational NGOs, as well as other CSOs and what it takes to optimize their organizational assets.

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Work with us and you get a whole world of experience.

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