Miriam Niehaus

7 July, 2015

ICSC_Logo1As we talk about how political, planetary, and technological disruption affects civil society we sometimes get caught up in what we do not do well and how overwhelming the challenges we face are. So we decided to look for positive and motivating examples out there: We ran the Twitter challenge #BeTheHedgehog and asked for examples of particularly innovative projects and ideas.

To us, hedgehogs symbolise radical innovation because as curling up into a ball – their very successful defence strategy for millions of years – became ineffective when the car was invented, hedgehogs changed their strategy and learned how to run.

This is what we ask of ourselves and others: Don’t stick to what has always worked but be innovative, brave and bold like hedgehogs. Plus, share those ideas so we can all learn from each other.

Here we would like to share some of the fantastic “civil society hedgehogs” which people suggested to us and why we think they are particularly noteworthy: MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

30 June, 2015

Two years ago we ran our first major project on disruptive change in the civil society sector. We found that disruption was starting to affect the programmes, roles and incomes of international civil society organisations (ICSOs). Our sector would need new and innovative business models in order to remain relevant and deliver useful contributions to tomorrow’s world. This led us to last year’s project which explored possible new business models and the conditions for their implementation. We learned that introducing new and rather different business models would only be possible if we succeeded in changing ICSOs’ existing organisational cultures: the topic for this year’s project had been identified.

As part of our project on culture change we recently organised a workshop at the Rockefeller Foundation’s wonderful Bellagio premises. As we are working on a report about the outcomes I would like to share with you some of the findings which surprised me most: MORE

Robert Glasser

23 June, 2015

If the world’s most reputable astronomers at our most prestigious scientific institutions announced tomorrow that an enormous meteor was on a collision course with Planet Earth and that the impact would kill tens of millions of people, cause the mass extinction of at least one-fourth of the species on the planet and dislodge enough debris into the atmosphere to alter the climate for centuries to come, it would trigger an overwhelming public outcry for immediate action.  Nations would join forces to destroy the comet before it reached Earth, and urgent steps would be taken to prepare communities, in the unthinkable event that these efforts failed.

Ironically, this is precisely the threat we face today from climate change.   Our best scientists have confirmed that we are changing the climate, that rising global temperatures, which are already causing enormous damage, will in a matter of decades devastate life as we know it— MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

16 June, 2015

In last week’s blog I identified leading by vision as one of the key components of transformative change. Today I would like to reflect about the meaning of this component.

Over the past decades many CSOs have learned a lot from business. They have brought in business consultants; they adopted management techniques, auditing standards and strategy processes; and they employed a number of leaders with a business background. Altogether, they have benefited from opening up to a business perspective. Today, many CSOs are larger, more professional and more efficient than they used to be. At the same time, CSOs are in danger of forgetting the single biggest sector specific asset they have: their vision of a better world and their mission which shapes their specific contribution to achieving such a world. Neither business nor government have a vision or mission of a comparable quality, and both have to work hard to motivate their staff. CSOs can count on the intrinsic motivation of staff and activists; they only need to make sure not to damage or destroy this motivation. MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

9 June, 2015

The conditions under which most civil society organisations (CSOs) work are changing fast: persistent poverty requires new approaches, rising inequality generates conflicts, fast growing middle classes increase the pressure on scarce planetary resources, climate change progresses unabatedly and biodiversity is under threat; shrinking political space limits CSOs’ room for manoeuvre, the Internet disrupts traditional forms of communication and digitisation in general affects most aspects of their work; aging supporters and changing expectations of the younger ones challenge CSOs’ financial basis. These and many other changes occurring in parallel mean that CSOs need to change fast and fundamentally in order to stay relevant and attain their missions. MORE

May Boeve

2 June, 2015

The leading international civil society organisations (CSOs) are not always (or even often!) seen as movement actors or leaders, and this has always puzzled me. How can organisations that exist to further the public good and create social change not be?

As a student activist I assumed all CSOs were comprised of people who were, first and foremost, part of movements, and the staff all comprised as activists first and foremost.

It was only much later, when I had the opportunity to participate in the fascinating Network Leadership Innovation Lab, that I began to understand why that may not be the case. 350.org, the climate change advocacy campaign where I currently serve as Executive Director, was selected to be a part of this learning group because we are at once an organisation, existing within a network, existing with a movement.


Burkhard Gnärig

26 May, 2015

Even the most successful CSOs once started with a few volunteer activists who defined how they wanted to contribute to a better world and began working towards their mission. Due to lack of funds everybody had to work on a volunteer basis. Activist thinking determined the organisation and its activities. Later, when funding became available the first salaried staff were employed, often recruited from the organisation’s pool of activists. And, over time, many CSOs developed two separate pillars: a volunteer/activist one and a salaried/expert one. With the rapid financial growth over the past decades and the required professionalization, the gap between the pillars widened and became increasingly difficult to bridge. MORE

Åsa Månsson

19 May, 2015


Did you know that when the car was invented, hedgehogs, which had protected themselves for millions of years by rolling up into a ball of spikes, started to run to cope with the new danger? When the world changed, the hedgehogs came up with a new strategy on how to survive and thrive – they changed too. To us at Disrupt&Innovate, this is a great example of radical innovation.


Burkhard Gnärig

12 May, 2015

There is no question: international civil society organisations (ICSOs) think big. Just look at some of their vision or mission statements: WWF aims “to stop the degradation of the planet’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature”; 23“Plan’s vision is of a world in which all children realise their full potential in societies that respect people’s rights and dignity”; “Amnesty International’s vision is of a world in which every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments”; and Oxfam says: “Our vision is a just world without poverty. We want a world where people are valued and treated equally, enjoy their rights as full citizens, and can influence decisions affecting their lives.” Wonderful and highly inspiring endeavours.

If you compare this with similar statements from some of the largest global companies you will find that for once ICSOs are playing a much bigger game: MORE

Dennis Whittle

5 May, 2015

Co-author: Renee Ho, Feedback Labs

Intermediation is not going away but it is changing and we should all agree that’s for the better. It’s changing in two fundamental ways:

1. Who is intermediating?
2. How are they intermediating?

In the old paradigm, large organizations such as the World Bank, the United Nations, CARE, Save the Children, and the Red Cross hired the experts to i) analyze problems and ii) design solutions. They then iii) mobilized the money to fund those solutions, iv) hired the staff or consultants to deliver the solutions; and then finally v) organized any monitoring and evaluation.

The who and how are changing for i) through v)……. MORE