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

Burkhard Gnärig

28 April, 2015

In his reply to last week’s blog post Ken Caldwell asks for a debate on how and when – and whether at all – digital communications will dispense with ICSOs’ traditional role of intermediary between donors and recipients. I agree with Ken: having this debate is both urgent and important. Many ICSOs bring donors from the Global North and recipients of aid from the Global South together and charge a percentage of the donation or grant to cover 07_Disintermediationtheir overheads. As the revenue from intermediary services is the main source of income for many of the largest ICSOs, I am surprised that so far no major debate about the risk of disintermediation seems to take place.

Ken raises important questions concerning donors’ abilities and preferences such as: “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?” The answer for most donors will probably be: “no”. And if that is the case, this means that some involvement of a third party may be required. But let’s leave the donor for a moment. Let’s look at the situation from the recipients’ perspective. MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

21 April, 2015

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.  MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

14 April, 2015

During the latest WEF in Davos I participated in a meeting of heads of leading international civil society organisations (CSOs) and business discussing “Sustainable Development & Climate CollaborateJustice: Working together to advance the Post-2015 Agenda”. On the civil society side we counted about 15 CEOs from organisations such as Amnesty International, the Red Cross and Plan. Business was represented only by a handful of CEOs while some companies had sent their leaders of Corporate Social Responsibility – their CEOs probably in one of the hotels nearby, engaged in meetings they considered more important. Our discussion showed that progressive voices in business and civil society leaders feel similar degrees of urgency in addressing climate change and poverty and that they have similar expectations concerning the outcomes of the UN negotiation processes on Post-2015 and Climate.

This was a good first step towards better cooperation but clearly not enough given the challenges we face: accelerating climate change on the one hand and desperate poverty and rising inequality on the other threaten the foundations of our civilization and possibly our future existence. Therefore we need to turn our growing sense of urgency into bold and transformative action. There are two dimensions in which we have to act: MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

7 April, 2015

When we started working on disruption in the civil society sector very quickly the question arose, whether the dramatic changes we observed in the outside world would eventually threaten the existence of even the most successful and prominent organisations?

Recently I was involved in a discussion about the future of our sector and we all agreed that our organisations would have to go through fundamental change in order to survive and thrive in a fast changing environment. When we reviewed the required depth and speed of change we had to undertake several colleagues voiced doubts whether their organisations would be able to undertake such extensive changes in a relatively short period of time. Suddenly the room fell quiet and one could sense the thoughts most of us struggled with: Will my organisation be able to change fast enough? Could my organisation disappear? MORE