Alexia Skok

15 March, 2016

Recap: “Leading change in my organisation”

06_ChangeChangedWhat do the civil society sector’s leading changemakers have to share about their experiences of leading change in their organisations?

Over the past seven weeks, we invited a number of guest bloggers to tackle this question, reflecting from within her or his own organisation. Although the challenges, threats, observations, and methods around driving change came from different standpoints with distinct histories, one thread that connected each voice is that transformation in the sector is needed and there is a responsibility for each civil society organisation (CSO) to push for it.

We have shared some of the key insights from each blog below, and encourage you to comment and share your own thoughts on managing change within CSOs!

From crisis management to transformative changeBurkhard-Gnaerig-D_I-website – 26 January
Burkhard Gnärig, Executive Director, International Civil Society Centre

“Looking back on my experience with managing international civil society organisations (ICSOs) and observing others who do so today, I find very few examples of leaders who managed to use crises to transform their organisations. I observe four different forms of reaction to crises:

  1. Denial
  2. Headless chicken
  3. Solid crisis management
  4. Transformative crisis management

As disruption is becoming a widely used word in our sector and as abrupt changes in government funding are leading to financial crises in a number of countries, ICSOs are entering a phase of major crises. These are very scary situations but they are also great opportunities to transform our organisations into relevant and sustainable entities able to pursue their missions under dramatically different circumstances.”

Plan International’s Transformation through Transparency – 2 Februaryab_albrectsen-closeup-square-lpr
Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO Plan International

“The first decision I took as the new CEO of Plan International was to open my calendar so all my colleagues could see my activities and book time with me directly, without going through a gate-keeper  […]

With greater transparency comes greater trust, which is as essential for leading change internally as it is for good development impact. Employees want to be part of a workforce culture that places a premium on delivering the truth. As a leader being transparent is a powerful way to build buy-in, collective understanding and action. So sharing observations, aspirations and fears is a skill for leaders and leadership teams to practice and master over time.”

Changing CARE: Teamwork & Transformation – 9 February1-1-Jamann_Wolfgang-5866r
Wolfgang Jamann, Secretary General and CEO, CARE International

“Much of the above poses strong challenges to the current business model of a largely ‘traditional’ CARE that can be characterised by a North-South imbalance.  And very little could be achieved, if change would come only from a few individuals or some strong members within the organisation. In fact, the original intent of empowering a small, centralised entity to move the confederation into a ‘harmonised’ and streamlined federation was abandoned. Expectation is now, that through a model of ‘collective leadership at the top’, the necessary buy-in and implementation of difficult steps will have a bigger chance for success.”

Closing the Gap & Transforming the Sector – 16 FebruaryToby_official bio pic
Toby Porter, Chief Executive, HelpAge International

“Reversing inequality is one of the great challenges of our era.  Almost all of the big international agencies are highlighting and campaigning on the need for radical steps from companies, governments and individuals to reduce it. Are we missing the inequality within our own ecosystem? This may be an instance where charities should begin at home.”

Salil_CentreGlobalising Amnesty International – 23 February
Salil Shetty, Secretary General, Amnesty International

“We saw anxiety from a few local NGOs who were concerned about the impact of a large international group setting up shop in their constituencies. This was before they saw the mutually supportive manner of our approach, and focus on not crowding out those that have struggled for justice and human rights for decades.”

ActionAid: Moving towards a networked federation – 1 March1-Adriano_Campolina
Adriano Campolina, Chief Executive, ActionAid International

“ActionAid International went through a tremendous transformation through what was called its internationalisation […] Before internationalisation ActionAid was a northern development NGO where one country structure had direct management and control over operations in other countries. Therefore, it was crucial to ensure that the new structure would break with such power inequity amongst countries.”

DJoanna_Maycockisrupting the status quo: women transforming leadership in civil society – 8 March
Joanna Maycock, Secretary General, European Women’s Lobby

“There has been increasing public attention to the lack of women in political and economic decision making overall: more than 75% of national parliamentarians and more than 80% of members of corporate boards are men. However, very little attention has been paid to the failure of our own sector to address gender inequality in leadership. Most of the evidence I have seen suggests that around 75% of all the staff employed in civil society organisations (CSOs) are women, but less than 30% of the leaders of the largest CSOs are women. But this is not only about having more women operating within a system, it is also about transforming the nature of the systems of decision-making to ensure they are more inclusive, diverse and effective.”

What do you see as the biggest changes international CSOs can implement to drive transformation in the sector?

Is the organisation where you work implementing changes? What challenges are you facing?

If you would like to suggest a theme for us to have CSO leaders address on the blog this year, please put your suggestion in the comments section below, or send an email to!

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