Alexia Skok

16 August, 2016

Disruption in Civil Society: How to Handle What’s Thrown at Us

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:

Leading at Times of DisruptionBurkhard-Gnaerig-D_I-website1-e1427473088586 – 19 July
Burkhard Gnärig, Executive Director, International Civil Society Centre

“Spotting disruption early requires systematic and thoroughly planned activities of strategic foresight. Such activities will hardly be possible in organisations whose leaders are convinced that a ‘business as usual’ approach will serve them well. Good leaders understand that disruption is a likely challenge, and opportunity their organisation faces. They communicate this understanding without creating panic, and invite staff to discuss possible disruptions and the options to navigate these. They secure the resources for professional horizon scanning, and make sure that foresight is not only the task of specialists, but of all staff in the organisation. They create a culture where new thinking and seemingly unlikely assumptions are welcome and, as a matter of routine, seriously considered […]

Great leaders will go ahead and convince their organisations that it is wise to prepare for disruption even at a time when nobody can be sure whether it will come, or where it will come from. They will strengthen their organisation’s resilience by sharing responsibilities and streamlining decision making. And they will have their own vision of their organisation’s future – and if they don’t have one, they will find help with devising one.”

We cannot charity our way to meeting the SDGs: business for goodCraig_Z – 26 July
Craig Zelizer, Founder and CEO, PCDNetwork

“Is business for good a sound development practice or another PR gimmick?

What does this all mean for the international development and social change community?  There are four key lessons I would like to highlight below.

1) We cannot charity our way to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals – The total cost of achieving all the SDGs is estimated to be greater than USD 30 trillion. Over the past few years, Official Development Assistance has been around USD 130 billion according to the OECD, while foreign direct investment in developing countries is over USD 600 billion per year. Thus, the world needs to look at business as a key way of making significant progress on the SDGs.

2) There is a push for capital for good – While many are still pursuing the highest return on capital without regards for the negative social or planetary impact, there is an increasing push of using $ for social good. The range of vehicles is ever growing, and include socially responsible investingimpact investing, and social impact bonds […]

3) People need jobs – According to the World Bank, over the next decade, the world will need to produce 600 million new jobs to keep pace with the entering global youth workforce.  While development actors and governments have a key role to create an enabling environment, it is largely the private sector that will need to take the lead.

4) The Era of Innovation and Disruption is here. Adopting a more market-based approach (in the right conditions) can help generate long-term funding and impact.”

LilaHalina_WardGetting good at disruption: learning from Southern CSO leaders – 02 August

Lila Buckley, Senior researcher, International Institute for Environment and Development and Halina Ward, Independent Analyst and Facilitator

“We’ve been asking a range of Southern CSO leaders from low and middle income countries about their experiences of tackling disruptive organisational change. We’ve been looking at good and bad disruption (for it’s clear that both apply). And we’ve also been exploring in conversations what international CSOs could do to help more, and to help better, along the path to ‘getting good at disruption’.

There was plenty that was familiar in our conversations about organisational responses to disruption. We heard about experiments with new business models (like the Alliance for Responsible Mining’s income from Fairmined certification, or technology disruptor Kopernik’s Last Mile Consultancy); about bringing private sector know-how into boards and core staffing; about commitment to distributed leadership approaches that can empower staff in lean times (as with the African Model Forest Network); and the value of conscious organisational learning as a core capability (as practiced by many of our interviewees – often against the odds).

‘Our style of leadership is ‘distributed’: everything is based on personal responsibility; each one of us is a leader one way or another …’ (Mariteuw Chimère Diaw, Cameroon)”.

Building elevators for development mutants – 09 Augustgiulio-quaggiotto
Giulio Quaggiotto, Senior Programme Manager in Innovation Skills (Alumni), Nesta

“As I argued in the past, we are living in the era of development mutants: nimble new players, often originating in emerging markets, are challenging the role, the tools and ultimately the legitimacy of “big development”. Just like their private sector counterparts, established nonprofits with long histories are struggling to adapt. They acknowledge that “they need to retool as bridges and connectors”, but for a number of reasons taking the backseat to enable the mutants to take over the show is proving difficult (a situation well summarised in this recent piece on the future of Oxfam).

So what would it take to make a genuine transition from donors and funders (with the power unbalance and biases that go with it) to “development mutants elevators”? Here’s a few thoughts:

  • Making local assets and solutions mapping and “mutants first” the new default position in program design. This would require a fundamental retooling of staff and the mainstreaming of approaches such as positive deviance or lead user innovation.
  • Creating new financial tools to support local innovators “no strings attached” – and without necessarily requiring them to formalise themselves through a social enterprise or a CSO would also be paramount.”

Has your organisation overcome disruption? Are you in the process of transformative change? Share your tools and resources in the comments section below.

The International Civil Society Centre will be hosting a Managing Disruption Innovation Lab on 18 – 19 October in Berlin (Germany).

Join this dynamic and highly interactive knowledge bazaar, and exchange and learn, inspire and be inspired, on how civil society organisations (CSOs) can manage disruption and fast-paced change.’

During the two days, you will obtain the tools and know-how to prepare your organisation for disruption and manage transformative change. Register here.


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