Burkhard Gnärig

23 August, 2016

Over the past few months a number of unexpected events such as the refugee crisis, Brexit, and the failed coup in Turkey – followed by increasing repression – have been telling examples of the challenges of disruption. To be better prepared for unexpected and often abrupt changes, civil society organisations (CSOs) must strengthen their efforts to detect disruption early. Working together across the sector and cooperating with other sectors can save costs and, at the same time, improve the quality of findings. Based on this understanding, we initiated the Scanning the Horizon project twelve months ago. In a blog post on 18 August 2015 I wrote:

“The International Civil Society Centre aims to bring together the specialists in strategic foresight from the different CSOs in order to update each other on their activities and to discuss how they can improve the quality of their work by cooperating across sector boundaries. The Scanning the Horizon project’s vision is to build a sustainable structure which continuously scans the horizon for potential disruption.”

Where are we twelve months later and what’s next on our to-do-list? MORE

Alexia Skok

16 August, 2016

In 2016, disruptive factors are being whirled04_Certain around civil society in what can feel like a ceaseless tornado of governmental crackdowns, natural disasters, digital revolutions, and global human movement – just to name a few.

So how can civil society organisations (CSOs) prepare for – and overcome – these ever-changing obstacles that affect both their internal and external operations?

Over the past month, leaders and innovators from within the sector responded to this very question in a series of blog entries, covering topics including: preparedness and leadership; business involvement in the sector; the pressing need for Northern CSOs to learn from the South; and paving the way for development mutants. Here are some highlights from our blog series on Managing Disruption: MORE

Giulio Quaggiotto

9 August, 2016

I recently had the opportunity to learn about General Mill’s (the US food giant) “emerging brands elevator” program (also known as 301 Inc). Traditionally, General Mills has grown either through mergers and acquisitions, or by building new businesses from the ground up. Increasingly, however, it found that small brands were much faster at innovation, so it decided to switch its focus and create a “brand elevator”. The program consists of 2 core components:

  1. horizon scanning: to spot the most promising 21_NewPlayersemerging brands;
  2. indispensable partner: to identify ways in which the company can add most value to small, nimble businesses. Often this has less to do with capital injection and more to do with making the expertise and clout of a big multinational available to a small player.

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Lila Buckley and Halina Ward

2 August, 2016

Caption: Women from Paraguay’s Ita Guasu indigenous community discuss their community development plan. (Photo: USAID, Creative Commons via Flickr)

Mulugeta Gebru, Chief Executive of the Ethiopian civil society organisation (CSO) Jerusalem Children and Community Development Organisation (JeCCDO), was in a candid mood when we spoke to him about his rich leadership experience. Twenty years ago, he led JeCCDO through a challenging organisational shift from running orphanages to promoting community engagement. Today, like so many other Southern CSOs, JeCCDO faces new challenges, and the imperative to find new ways of doing things is as strong as ever.

“We have such deep experience, strong engagement, and good learning and processes … Big donors are telling us they want us to sustain ourselves, but no one is willing to invest in helping us stand by ourselves.” (Mulugeta Gebru, JeCCDO, Ethiopia)

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Craig Zelizer

26 July, 2016

One of the most famous quotes of business in the 20th century comes from Nobel Prize Winning Economist, Milton Friedman, “The business of business is business.” As a leading conservative economist, Friedman believed corporations should largely be left to pursuing profit, which would lead to a social good, as then they would hire more people, pay more taxes, and invest/save their profit.

This approach to business has led to somepexels-photo-large of the highest inequality since the great depression, with the top 1% controlling more than 50% of global wealth, many environmental challenges, and an increasingly disenfranchised workforce. Despite these enormous disruptions, there is an increasing push by key leaders in the business community, government, and nonprofit sectors to increase the role and positive impact of business. Business leaders are increasingly talking about the triple bottom line that business needs to pursue: profit, planet and people. That is a business needs to make money to survive, but that at the same time can have positive impact on the planet and diverse stakeholders. MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

19 July, 2016

Disruption is happening all around us: Leading at times of disruptionthe recent arrival of over one million refugees in Europe; the dramatic cuts in some of the most generous donors’ aid budgets; and the fact that each of the last twelve months has been the hottest on record globally. These are just some of the most obvious examples. When disruptions like these occur, civil society organisations (CSOs) are nearly always affected. The International Civil Society Centre tries to support CSOs with:

  1. spotting disruption early so that they have enough time to come to terms with expected changes;
  2. preparing themselves for disruption, strengthening their adaptability and resilience;
  3. managing disruption once it strikes.

In the best case we will spot disruption early, be well prepared, and thus increase our chances to navigate disruption successfully. Let’s briefly look at the leadership challenges these three aspects – or you could also say “phases” – of disruption entail. MORE

Eric Gordon

12 July, 2016

The current blog theme is Digital Accountability, and our guest authors – digital experts from within the civil society sector – recently took part in a four-day CSO Accountability in the Digital Age workshop, facilitated by the INGO Accountability Charter.

INGO_CroppedHere they share the issues explored and outcomes established during this hands-on event. Today’s blog is the final in a series of five.


Individuals, especially young people, tend to interact with other people, mediated by systems or platforms, while being less conscious of the organisation or institution they represent. Likewise, people, again, especially young people, are more commonly motivated to act in the world by personal sharing, rather than collective action taking. I explore these ideas in my recent edited volume, with Paul Mihailidis, called Civic Media, which we define as “the technologies, designs, and practices that produce and reproduce the sense of being in the world with others toward common good.” Civic media comprise all the ways in which people make meaning and take action together, while mostly transcending individual outlets and organisations. Today, the individual actor is likely to see the organisation as facilitator rather than creator of meaning.

P1000125The medium, not the organisational onus, is the message. People care about getting things done and getting feedback about progress. The individual organisation and its reputation matters a great deal until it gets in the way. Then it doesn’t matter at all. The range of activities that comprise civil society, when labeled as media rather than a sector, can and should be imminently flexible. Digital social networks have blurred the lines between business operations and social assembly, customer and citizen, as billions use online social networks to advocate and connect across borders and technologies. At the same time, governments around the world monitor online activity both to enhance services and to suppress speech and facilitate violence, obviating the need for mediating practices. The actions of an ICSO, an activist group with a Twitter account, or a conscientious government minister, seeking to end poverty in India, are more similar than not. MORE

Gautam Raju

5 July, 2016

The current blog theme is Digital Accountability, and our guest authors – digital experts from within the civil society sector – recently took part in a four-day CSO Accountability in the Digital Age workshop, facilitated by the INGO Accountability Charter.

INGO_CroppedHere they share the issues explored and outcomes established during this hands-on event. Today’s blog is the fourth in a series of five.


The refugee crisis, turmoil in the Middle East, a rising right wing agenda, and a shrinking civil society space; civil society is at the heart of these looming issues – fighting and contributing through our programmes, advocacy and public campaigns. However, in a world connected through technology, we are continuing to miss an incredible opportunity; we must put our collective mission first, cast aside our differences, and start moving as one.

Civil society collaboration is challenging and complex – there are always competing agendas, perspectives, and outputs. You can watch the face of any person from a civil society organisation (CSO) explode in agony when you mention the thought of “coalition” work. Despite this, we all know that we must move together. MORE

Jeremy Osborn

28 June, 2016

The current blog theme is Digital Accountability, and our guest authors – digital experts from within the civil society sector – recently took part in a four-day CSO Accountability in the Digital Age workshop, facilitated by the INGO Accountability Charter.

INGO_CroppedHere they share the issues explored and outcomes established during this hands-on event. Today’s blog is the third in a series of five.


New approaches to digital campaigning and awareness-raising are enabling two-way dialogue between organisations and their supporters and volunteers, in turn strengthening both impact and accountability.

In 2016, two-way dialogue with members is the norm, so what does it mean to continue to ‘disrupt and innovate’ in this space? One important new frontier 350.org is working in is how to use the digital tools we have come to rely on for two-way supporter communication to enable accountability laterally across social movements.

350.org

These types of movement accountability are structured through relationships with individuals, networks, grassroots organisations, or other international civil society organisations (ICSOs), and in our experience can often spike around a tragedy or news headline that focuses attention across civil society. Some of the more pointed ‘disruptions’ that 350.org has made, breaking from the standard ICSO mode of operation, have been in response to these kind of major events, on issues that are typically defined outside of the climate movement. Staff who work at the intersection of issues have been able to draw out the interlinkages between different fights for change at important moments, demonstrate solidarity with other struggles, and ultimately contribute to building stronger impact for us all.
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Virginie Coulloudon and Jed Miller

21 June, 2016

The current blog theme is Digital Accountability, and our guest authors – digital experts from within the civil society sector – recently took part in a four-day CSO Accountability in the Digital Age workshop, facilitated by the INGO Accountability Charter.

INGO_CroppedHere they share the issues explored and outcomes established during this hands-on event. Today’s blog is the second in a series of five.


As citizens in many democracies seek greater participation in public debate, international civil society organisations (ICSOs) are seeking a new model for advocacy: one where supporters become fuller participants in priority-setting and tactics, and where leadership demonstrates accountability to those participants on an ongoing basis.

“People power”, unleashed and expedited by newer technologies, can help ICSOs scale their impact – through crowdsourcing projects, for instance, that harness the input of thousands of unconnected individuals, or through networked campaigns that disseminate not only information but also campaign leadership across hundreds of small groups and thousands of miles.

People power enables ICSOs to augment or even replace traditional tools of advocacy. But many ICSOs – like the governments they work to persuade – remain too bureaucratic to pivot quickly, and too mired in hierarchy to convert grassroots ideas into programming decisions. Civil society leaders struggle to adjust, even when change can yield inspiration and a heightened sense of community.  MORE