Burkhard Gnärig

12 December, 2017

When civil society organisations (CSOs) speak about power they usually refer to the power of others, and they refer to power in negative terms: power is used to oppress and exploit, power corrupts. However, such a simplistic and prejudiced understanding of power is an obstacle to CSOs’ endeavours to achieve their missions. Our sector needs to change its understanding of power in order to increase its effectiveness.

Embracing POWER as a positive concept

When looking up the definition of power in a dictionary we find that power is simply “the ability or capacity to do something or act in a particular way”[1]. Power as such is neither positive nor negative. It is necessary in order “to do something”, be it good or bad. This means CSOs need power to achieve the positive aims they are working for. They are part of the eternal power struggle between good and bad, egotism and altruism, short-term gains and long-term sustainability, etc. In this context it is not only necessary for CSOs to strive for maximum power, it is ethically desirable, as long as CSOs use their power consistently and effectively to attain their mission. MORE

Arthur Larok

24 October, 2017

On Wednesday the 20th and Thursday the 21st September 2017, the offices of ActionAid Uganda and the Great Lakes Institute, both in Kampala, and Solidarity Uganda in Lira, were raided by the police.

Investigations by the police on the three organisations are ongoing and the accusations labelled against them are:

  1. that they were involved in illicit financial transactions;
  2. they are involved in subversive activities to destabilise Uganda.

Unfortunately, we are preparing for a long-drawn out attack on civil society generally and so it helps to reflect on possible motives of the attack and what is likely to happen in the near future. Most importantly, we must focus on lessons for civil society as we collectively prepare for more such threats.

MORE

Katell Le Goulven and Eva Kaplan

11 April, 2017

Our current blog series looks into the ways different organisations use foresight and Horizon Scanning within their current projects. To learn about the International Civil Society Centre’s foresight platform, visit the Scanning the Horizon page.


In early 2015, as Ebola was still ravaging West Africa, and markets experienced high volatility, our unit at UNICEF began our annual predications blog by announcing an end to predictability.  At least in this we were correct: volatility has only amplified since and, in retrospect, 2015 seems like a more stable time.

In reaction to this context of rapid change, UNICEF’s Policy Planning Unit sought to systematise our use of methodologies to anticipate emerging trends—both those with negative and positive potential. One such methodology is Horizon Scanning, which involves scanning a wide variety of information sources for trends and clustering them according to predefined categories.  At UNICEF, we use STEEP + H categories (Social, Technological, Environmental, Economic, Political + Humanitarian). Horizon Scanning allows us to pick up on so-called weak signals that might be pointing to the next mega-trend. However, identification of emerging trends is not the same as taking action.  Indeed, a classic bottleneck of Horizon Scanning work in large organisations is the “and-then-what?” phase. Using concrete illustrations where our scanning exercises had impact and helped spur innovation, here are a few lessons that we hope can initiate a discussion with other organisations developing similar functions: MORE

Sara Farley and Jill Carter

4 April, 2017

Our current blog series looks into the ways different organisations use foresight and Horizon Scanning within their current projects. To learn about the International Civil Society Centre’s foresight platform, visit the Scanning the Horizon page.


Look to the outside

Faced with complexity, decision makers, more than ever, struggle to understand how the impact of their actions will play out in the world around them. To overcome this lack of clarity, decision makers can arm themselves with a new, powerful approach: Systems Thinking.

A “system” is a set of actors and interactions that form a coherent whole, perform a specific function, and have a boundary that sets it apart from the rest of the world.  These systems can be centered around a problem (e.g., pollution), an industry (e.g., health care), or even a geography (e.g., the United States). Systems Thinking is a mindset with which a person can look at the components of a system and explore how they interact and what the unintended consequences of those interactions may be.  While systems analysis is starting to infiltrate more and more social sector organisations and large international donors, most systems practice focuses on isolating dimensions of a single system and trying to understand them. At the Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI), where we pursue systemic transformation by helping groups collaboratively innovate, we recognise that no single system offers the full picture. Rather, our work suggests we can only measure innovation’s potential for impact by examining the intersection and interactions between three systems: (1) the problem space of focus, (2) the system from which innovation is sourced (the innovation system), and (3) the context in which challenges and innovations intersect (the context). MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

21 March, 2017

Our current blog series looks into the ways different organisations use foresight and horizon scanning within their current projects. To learn about the International Civil Society Centre’s foresight platform, visit the Scanning the Horizon page.


If you look around yourself – or if you look at the range of contributions here on Disrupt&Innovate – there cannot be the slightest doubt that the world around us is changing fast and fundamentally. And if civil society organisations (CSOs) want to remain relevant and impactful we need to respond by reinventing ourselves. Neither our past successes nor our established routines will secure their survival. Only if we are courageous and bold in discarding much of our past and embracing an uncertain future will we stand a chance to develop relevance and effectiveness under completely different circumstances. CSOs’ change agenda should rest on four pillars: Scan – Disrupt – Innovate – Transform. MORE

Prakash Bhattarai

29 November, 2016
An Overview of CSOs in Nepal

Civil society organisations (CSOs) began to flourish in Nepal immediately after the establishment of multiparty democracy in 1990. Although some were active earlier, they were very few in numbers due to the lack of congruent space to operate independently. However, the democratic setup formed after the success of the People’s Movement of 1990 not only provided an independent space for civil society to operate across the country, but also recognised CSOs’ roles in the socio-economic and political development processes. According to the Social Welfare Council, in 2015 there were nearly 40,000 registered CSOs in Nepal, a mighty jump from the 193 in 1990.

Photo by Punya via CC BY-SA 4.0CSOs have played a crucial role in establishing a human rights and democratic constituency in Nepal, and in areas such as: community empowerment; political mainstreaming of subjugated social issues; promotion of collective bargaining; organisation of marginalised groups; and promotion of democracy and individual rights.

Large CSOs’ relentless lobbying and advocacy also contributed to the establishment of various constitutional commissions, fought against the king’s takeover of people’s power in 2002, and played a leading role in sparking the nonviolent movement of April 2006. Likewise, the rural, grass-roots women’s groups, mothers’ groups, consumers’ groups, and users’ groups have been successful in managing community forests, irrigation facilities, health services, primary schools, and drinking water projects. MORE

Moataz El Fegiery

18 October, 2016

Omar Kamel CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via FlickrOn 17 September 2016, an Egyptian court approved a freeze on the assets of five prominent human rights defenders and three leading civil society organisations (CSOs) as part of larger legal procedures taken against 37 CSOs charged with illegal foreign funding and operating without licences.  In Syria, Bassel Khartabil – a peaceful online freedom of expression activist – has been held in incommunicado detention since March 2012, and has reportedly been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. On 27 December 2015, Naji al-Jourf – a Syrian film maker and journalist who exposed ISIS atrocities in Aleppo in a documentary produced by Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) – was shot dead by an unknown person in the southern Turkish province of Gaziantep. In Bahrain, Abdulhadi Al Khawaja – a leading human rights figure and the founder of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights – remains in jail since his incarceration in June 2011, serving a life sentence following an unfair trial and politically motivated charges. These are just a sample of dozens of distressing stories about the high price paid by human rights defenders in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) who are caught between authoritarian regimes and the proliferation of intractable domestic and international conflicts. MORE

Veronika Mora

2 October, 2016

In April 2014, just two days after the general election which brought the repeated victory of the right-conservative government of Fidesz, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office announced that he would initiate the re-negotiation of how funding is provided by EEA countries – Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein – to Hungarian civil society organisations (CSOs). This signaled the start of a series of unprecedented governmental attacks and harassment of independent civic groups, especially those engaged in human rights, anti-corruption, women’s and LBGT rights.

Hungary My foundation, Ökotars Alapitvany, as the head of the grantmaking consortium which managed the EEA/Norwegian NGO Programme in Hungary found itself in the centre of the conflict, which started at first as a media smear campaign orchestrated by the government. High ranking officials, e.g. deputy state secretaries, accused us as being politically biased, oppositional “cheating nobodies”. However, this was soon followed by official inspections: in late May, the Prime Minister’s Office had announced publicly that the so-called Governmental Control Office (GCO) were to audit the use of the EEA/Norwegian funding – over which, according to lawyers, they clearly had no jurisdiction. It was also quite characteristic of the whole process that we learnt everything from government-friendly media first – official notifications came only after information had been broadcast widely. Although they never answered our repeated requests to clarify the legal basis of the audit, we were forced to cooperate due to the GCO’s wide ranging sanctioning powers. We also found that documents not previously in the public domain, but handed over to GCO by us during the course of the audit, somehow quickly found their way into government-friendly media – always in a damning context. MORE

Marianne Henkel

20 September, 2016
“The horizon of many people is a circle with zero radius which they call their point of view”
– Albert Einstein

Participants of the Scanning the Horizon workshop in Bellagio (Italy) in May 2016.This past month’s gripping and insightful blog contributions have yielded very different experiences with, and views on, horizon scanning. The common denominator between all, perhaps, is an understanding that we are at a point where the international civil society sector is undergoing rapid change, and that horizon scanning is a tool to prepare for shifts in the external environment, to speed up transformation, and catalyse best practice.

Each author has other remarkable insights to share on what horizon scanning is, or can be:

Liberating our minds: Lars Gustavsson (Futurist, author and speaker) specifically makes the case for collaboration on horizon scanning across the civil society, public, and private sectors as a way to foster learning and the emergence of new approaches to development. He points out that bringing about radical change in established organisations is hard, and that foresight is a tool to break up existing patterns of thinking, to think innovatively of the present, and of day-to-day business. Indeed, the questions foresight asks and the tools it offers are made to free our thinking. MORE

Sarah Ralston

13 September, 2016

Futurism is all the rage these days, and it seems to be spreading to the development sector.  I was initially fairly skeptical, and in a recent discussion on this topic with change leaders from a range of different international civil society organisations (ICSOs), it turns out I wasn’t alone. Some were cynical about the latest fad and buzz word, seeing it as a re-brand of something we have always done in how we design programs and develop strategies. Others saw it as an unnecessary theoretical exercise that, no matter how stimulating or robust, will not bring concrete changes or improvements to our work and the impact we are able to have on poverty and injustice.rachelvoorhees via flickr CC https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

To an extent both are true. No amount of analysis or scenario planning in Egypt, for example, could have prepared civil society for the various political shifts over the past several years and the resulting implications on development. But while I still have my doubts about futurism as a discipline, I have become an advocate for instituting a regular, intentional process of what is increasing being referred to as horizon scanning. For one, I do think it can inform what we do and how we do it in a way that may not be radically different from the past, but does have some important new dimensions.  Mostly, however, I have become a believer in using it as an important lever for organisational culture change. MORE