“In a slow moving world, all the organisation needs is a good CEO. In a faster context, teamwork at the top is necessary to deal with transformations, almost all the time.” (J.P. Kotter, Harvard Business School)
Most of those leading and managing civil society organisations (CSOs) have embraced the idea of responding to disruption and rapidly changing work environments. We invest in innovation, in culture and behaviour change; we restructure, go south, globalise, seek new roles and partnerships. International CSOs (ICSOs) exchange experiences, successes and failures, and most of us believe in transformation – not the least because transforming people’s lives is the core of our business.
A development and relief organisation like CARE, proud of its 70 year old history, has changed significantly over the decades. The ‘A’ and the ‘E’ stood initially for ‘America’ helping ‘Europe’, later on it changed to ‘Assistance’ to ‘Everywhere’. In future it might transform again – will we find a good, caring acronym for a truly global network of peers.
CARE has developed and agreed upon a Vision 2020 – and has embarked into some difficult and ambitious change processes. I was brought in to lead this change, and help to move a fragmented confederation towards this goal. The discussions and learnings with peers in the International Civil Society Centre network, coupled with some identified deficiencies in our internal setups, had already laid the groundwork for our change agenda. And while some ambitions seem high, the organisation is now well on its way.
Various components take different speeds. We have agreed upon a common, global program strategy, and are in the process of implementing it throughout the organization. It was wise to start us off on content, rather than on structure. Most Chief Executives and Change Managers burn for what we do, rather than how we do it.
A second phase of CARE’s transformation is about getting obstacles out of the way. The governing bodies have decided on a far reaching reform, including an independent Board and a broader inclusion of constituencies across and outside the membership. CARE will maintain its confederated structure, but build stronger accountability mechanisms and performance measurement into its global setup. We are improving systems of operation and investing in the ability to deliver impact on the ground.
Most significant will be the broadening of the organisation by new members from the Global South, who will form the majority of CARE by 2020. This will be coupled with regionalisation and more diverse and meaningful partnerships around the globe. The main drive for this is to multiply our impact locally, regionally and at a global level.
Much of the above poses strong challenges to the current business model of a largely ‘traditional’ CARE that can be characterised by a North-South imbalance. And very little could be achieved, if change would come only from a few individuals or some strong members within the organisation. In fact, the original intent of empowering a small, centralised entity to move the confederation into a ‘harmonised’ and streamlined federation was abandoned. Expectation is now, that through a model of ‘collective leadership at the top’, the necessary buy-in and implementation of difficult steps will have a bigger chance for success.
Leading a highly decentralised, consultative, and individualistic organisation like CARE in a significant change process requires an approach that sets clear direction, but actively considers what it will take for key players to come along. You don’t make the necessary progress through compromises or consensus, nor through playing on power imbalances. When an organisation has agreed upon where it wants to go, leadership needs to be exercised collectively, maintaining discipline over the course, and rigour about the necessary steps. This is how teamwork at the top will work for CARE International.
Dr. Wolfgang Jamann meets with refugees at Slavonski Brod camp for Migrants in Serbia. January 2016. Photo: Srdjan Veljovic/CARE