Burkhard Gnärig

21 April, 2015

How the hedgehog learned to run

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Today we are publishing my book, “The Hedgehog and the Beetle – Disruption and Innovation in the Civil Society Sector”. What have hedgehogs and beetles got to do with civil society organisations? Let me briefly explain:

When I was a child, my family like most others in Germany who could afford a car, had a Volkswagen ‘beetle’. And when we drove in our little beetle we saw many dead hedgehogs on the roads, killed by cars like the one we drove. For about 15 million years hedgehogs had used the perfect survival strategy: they would roll up and wait until the aggressor gave up. But with the emergence of cars that strategy suddenly became the worst thing to do.

The situation became so bad that the hedgehog was threatened with extinction. Hedgehogs
very urgently needed to come up with a more effective approach to self -defence. Hedgehogs survived because they learned just in time that they had to diversify their defensive strategies and that the right strategy to cope with cars was to run rather than roll up. I recently read somewhere that, when crossing roads, hedgehogs run faster the wider the road is: they have learned a lot.

Civil society organisations (CSOs) today face a similar situation to the one the hedgehog was confronted with: technological change threatens successful strategies of the past. In such a situation, focusing on the one thing you have been successful with over a long time can be fatal:
• In the face of climate change and other planetary boundaries traditional development policies do no longer make sense
• Digital communication threatens to replace much, if not all of the intermediary role many civil society organisations play between donors in the global North and recipients in the global South and
• Social networks increasingly serve as effective platforms for campaigning, questioning the future role of traditional campaigning organisations.
13_SurvivedReacting to these and other fundamental changes with “business as usual” does not look like an effective strategy.New challenges and opportunities require new and more appropriate replies.In order to remain relevant and deliver important contributions many CSOs will need to go through an in-depth transformation at the end of which they will have found a vastly modified or completely new way of striving for their mission.

The book The Hedgehog and the Beetle and this platform aim to encourage CSO leaders, employees and activists to take their guidance from the hedgehog and come up with new and more effective strategies to navigate change and fulfil their mission. Please join us and #BeTheHedgehog – contribute to transforming your organisation and our sector as a whole.

We invite you to
Read the book The Hedgehog and the Beetle and leave your comments on this website
• Enter into the discussion on this blog post and on the new ones we will publish weekly
• Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn and share your views with friends and colleagues

We all dream of a peaceful, just and sustainable world. Together we can make it happen. Please join the debate and contribute your experience, knowledge and commitment. The book concludes: Let’s learn from the hedgehog: this is not the time to roll up in a defensive position – this is the time to run. So let’s get up and move.

  1. Ken Caldwell23 April, 2015

    Thanks, Burkhard, for a really useful and thought provoking contribution to the debate on the future of the sector.

    It would be great to see some more debate on how and when digital communications will lead to donors using new online intermediaries to go straight the project they wish to support, cutting out the traditional role of the INGO. My view is that it will depend on three factors:
    * Does the donor feel confident in their own ability to assess and prioritise the projects they wish to support, and have the time to do so?
    * Does the donor trust the intermediary to get their funds safely to the project?
    * Does the donor trust the project managers to spend their funds well?
    In situations where the answer to one or more of these questions is no, then the donor is likely to look for a trusted intermediary – although this may not be a traditional INGO!

    What is the experience of others, both within our sector and in other sectors?

    Ken Caldwell

    1. Rhianon Bader3 August, 2015

      Hi Ken,

      I just wanted to share that there was an interesting comment from Kate Stanley on the blog post that your above comment inspired: http://disrupt-and-innovate.org/can-disintermediation-happen/

      It would be interesting for there to be a survey among individual donors on this topic. I wonder if this has already been done.

      Rhianon (Communications Coordinator, Disrupt&Innovate)

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