Burkhard Gnärig

6 October, 2015

In the workshops and conferences of the International Civil Society Centre I hear so many stories illustrating how difficult it is to change civil society organisations (CSOs). Most who work in our sector will not be surprised about such complaints, on the contrary, they will have their own stories to add. But shouldn’t we be surprised about our difficulties with change? Isn’t change the very DNA of our sector?

If we look at the vision and mission statements of some of the best known CSOs globally we find change at the very core: MORE

George McLaughlin

29 September, 2015

It’s been a busy summer! Since our Secretary of State, Justine Greening, launched the DFID Civil Society Partnership Review in July we’ve been listening to the views of civil society organisations: those we fund; those we don’t; those we talk with regularly; and even some we hadn’t heard of before. The Review will establish how DFID can have a more effective, strategic relationship with civil society and will define our future objectives, approaches and instruments for our partnership with civil society. Engagement so far has focused on our five lines of enquiry. I am grateful to the International Civil Society Centre for providing this opportunity to share with you some of the emerging themes from our discussions over the summer with civil society. I also want to acknowledge the fantastic work Bond have done in supporting engagement in the review.

The Review’s outcome won’t be business as usual. We want to build on what we do well together, but we also want to incentivise real, sustainable transformational change in the development sector. The Review is not yet finished, so it would be premature to fully predict the outcome, however, what we do know is how we work with civil society in the future will change. And it needs to change to respond to the issues the International Civil Society Centre and others have been highlighting for some time. MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

22 September, 2015

In our most recent posts we discussed the “burning platform” as a leadership tool, looking at hope and fear as opposite drivers of change. I believe that hope is the much more effective driver and that civil society organisations (CSOs) need to become much better at using hope to drive the change they want to see.

Hope feels so much better than fear. When scanning my Twitter account last Wednesday, the day after we launched the video of the discussion with Daryl Conner, I was excited to find three positive messages on the issue of Planetary Boundaries. One referred to the 98% reduction in ozone depleting chemicals as an inspiration for the climate negotiations, another one reported about US and Chinese cities committing to ambitious climate protection goals, and another one shared the decision of the world’s largest PR firm to no longer work with coal producers and climate change deniers. Reading and retweeting these made me feel optimistic and invigorated: progress at so many different levels bodes well for the climate negotiations which will take place in Paris in a few weeks’ time. MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

8 September, 2015

In 1988 Daryl Conner coined the metaphor of “the burning platform” which ever since has played a prominent role in many change management concepts and projects. As Daryl recounts on his company’s website the metaphor comes from a survivor of a burning oil rig who only had the alternative of certain death in the flames if he stayed on the platform, or probable death if he jumped into the freezing sea where he would survive a maximum of 20 minutes. He jumped – choosing probable death over certain death – and survived.

One reason why the metaphor of the burning platform is so popular is that it reflects human behavior so well: most of us try to avoid change at nearly any price. Change disrupts our routines, takes us into unknown territory and usually carries risks we would rather avoid. MORE

Winnie Byanyima

1 September, 2015


Do organisations have to wait for the crisis to be serious before they can conduct transformative change? I think this depends very much on who defines what “the crisis” looks like. Is it the gradual drying up of donations from cash strapped governments and publics in rich countries? Is it the closing of civil society space, in both the North and South; or is it a humanitarian system stretched to breaking point? These are very real and practical threats to an INGO model we’ve had for the last fifty years or so. They are getting more and more serious and we will need to adapt and respond to them.

But when I became the first African woman to lead a major International NGO, I knew I was coming to an organisation that understood that a more fundamental crisis was already here, and already serious: a growing crisis of INGO legitimacy. MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

25 August, 2015

I am just reading Frank J. Barrett’s fascinating book, “Yes to the Mess”. Barrett is a Professor of Management and Global Public Policy – and he is an accomplished jazz musician. In the book he brings his two vocations together. He describes jazz musicians playing together, improvising on a theme which each of them is allowed and expected to moderate and which they all work on together. Barrett presents jazz improvisation as an approach managers should use in times of disruption. He writes: “Jazz players look for and notice instability, disorder, novelty, emergence, and self-organization for their innovative potential rather than as something to be avoided, eliminated, or controlled. Indeed, jazz bands are very much human systems living at the edge of chaos.”

When we talk about “embracing disruption” we mean exactly what Barrett describes: civil society organisations (CSOs) are also systems increasingly living “at the edge of chaos” and need to learn to say “yes” to the mess. MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

18 August, 2015

There are three major dimensions in navigating disruption. The first one is to detect disruption early. If you find out about a specific disruptive change well before that change affects your organisation, that gives you time to prepare for disruption and have your strategies ready once it strikes. The second dimension is to embrace disruption. This means developing a positive mindset towards disruption. If you can’t avoid disruption you better learn to love it and to disrupt yourself before somebody else will do it. The third dimension, finally, is to manage disruption once it strikes. Disruption means change – transformative change which comes along fast and fundamental, not incremental change which allows for hesitation and delays. We have discussed the terms of transformative change before.

Today we look at our first dimension: How can we detect disruption early, and, even more importantly, how can we identify the most relevant disruptors? MORE

Danny Sriskandarajah

11 August, 2015

If you are visiting Disrupt&Innovate, I assume you are (like me) interested in how to ensure that civil society remains a powerful force for good. You are also probably worried about the growing threats to civil society actors across the world. Indeed, you are probably from and/or work in one of the 96 countries where there were serious threats to civic freedoms in 2014. In fact, you are almost certainly from one of these countries because 67 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 6 out of 7 people live in a country where these civic rights are under threat.

Assuming the above, I wanted to share two emerging observations from having been in numerous conversations about what to do to resist attacks on civic space.

The first is that civic space cannot be ‘saved’; it has to be fought for, constantly. MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

4 August, 2015

Some months ago during a discussion about the role of CSOs I was asked whether it was OK for CSOs to threaten national security. I asked what the question meant and found out that it referred to Greenpeace challenging the Indian government on environmental destruction in the context of coal mining. I replied that I could not see how a handful of activists protesting peacefully could threaten the national security of a country as powerful as India. Shortly afterwards I found out that the very public fight against Greenpeace was only the tip of the iceberg.
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