Ellie Stephens and Katie Mattern

2 May, 2017

We’ve all heard it repeated multiple times in our lives:  we all work better together. The work we do is greater than one individual, and together we can solve the challenges our world and communities face. We’ve also heard this refrain multiple times in our sector, it’s not a revolutionary idea but it’s one that’s seemingly harder and harder to take ownership of in our work.

This adage has never been more important than it is today, as civil society faces an increasing challenge of legitimacy in an evolving world too often dominated by political and financial elites. According to the CIVICUS Monitor, only 3 percent of the world currently lives in countries where fundamental civic rights are respected and enforced, leaving 6 billion people living in countries where freedom of association, assembly, and speech are curtailed. 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

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

Burkhard Gnärig

19 July, 2016

Disruption is happening all around us: Leading at times of disruptionthe recent arrival of over one million refugees in Europe; the dramatic cuts in some of the most generous donors’ aid budgets; and the fact that each of the last twelve months has been the hottest on record globally. These are just some of the most obvious examples. When disruptions like these occur, civil society organisations (CSOs) are nearly always affected. The International Civil Society Centre tries to support CSOs with:

  1. spotting disruption early so that they have enough time to come to terms with expected changes;
  2. preparing themselves for disruption, strengthening their adaptability and resilience;
  3. managing disruption once it strikes.

In the best case we will spot disruption early, be well prepared, and thus increase our chances to navigate disruption successfully. Let’s briefly look at the leadership challenges these three aspects – or you could also say “phases” – of disruption entail. MORE

Joanna Maycock

8 March, 2016

At the European Women’s Lobby, we unite women’s organisations from across Europe fighting for a Feminist Europe in which gender equality is a prerequisite to achieving the well-being of all people and the planet. As part of our campaigning platform, we call for women to be at the heart of decision-making in politics, government, business, institutions, and in civil society.

EWL Young Feminist Summer School 2015 © Isabella Borelli

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. At its core it is about reconsidering what leadership skills and attributes, and what institutions and structures, are needed for transformative leadership in the 21st century. MORE

Salil Shetty

23 February, 2016

Amnesty International’s Global Transition Programme (GTP) is our process of moving closer to the ground to ensure we have significantly greater impact by becoming a more global movement. By distributing our teams to 15 Regional Offices in key capitals we will be empowered to act with greater legitimacy, speed, capacity and relevance as we stand alongside those whose rights are violated, and join with others to build rights-respecting societies. The reorganisation enables us to work in a more integrated, efficient and effective way across functions and across geographies as well as with greater accountability to our local partners.

The genesis of this change can be © Amnesty International (Photo: Amin/Drik)traced to the International Board’s decision in mid-2010 to recommend a new organisational model to best deliver Amnesty’s Integrated Strategic Plan. Developing the case for change (the “Blueprint”) took a further 12 months of consultation. The subsequent period saw the whole organisation wrestling with the implications of this case for change and there were unquestionably real periods of unrest. The GTP was implemented to address this. This was a Programme of work to determine the practical implications of the proposals, and to develop a challenging implementation process balancing the need for change with achieving buy-in and acceptance from a complex range of stakeholders. All this was to take place at the same time of maintaining the core programmes of work, reactive and planned, when dealing with the very real impact on colleague’s lives. MORE

Toby Porter

16 February, 2016

I am writing this blog at Zurich airport, on my way back from the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting at Davos. Extreme global inequality was rightly a recurrent, prominent theme throughout the four-day meeting, again galvanised by the skilful publication by Oxfam of their calculations regarding the proportion of the world’s overall wealth held by the richest very few.

What is becoming clear, however, is that many civil society organisations (CSOs), working at national level, perceive a not dissimilar inequality in the global development and humanitarian system. Take the figure quoted in the run-up to the World Humanitarian Summit in May – a mere 10 CSOs are said to deliver 90% of the overall CSO share of global humanitarian assistance. Not surprisingly, there are a great many voices starting to say that this too is highly inequitable, and needs to change.

Older campaigners march in Haiti © Josph Jn-Florley/HelpAge International

In a recent blog for Devex I suggested that it was time for us CSOs to look at merging or outsourcing many of their functions at country level. Partly this is a matter of basic efficiency, starting to eliminate the obvious and widespread duplication in the current collective operational footprints in the countries and regions where we operate. MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

5 January, 2016

I am sure that the conversation below is not happening in any of the international civil society organisations (ICSOs) we are working with. Nobody aims to “decline into obsolescence”.
However, “risking anything new” doesn’t look like an obvious choice of our sector either. Still, I believe that this is really the choice we have: either risk innovation or slowly fade away. So, why not make 2016 the year of exciting innovation, the year of prudent risk taking, the year in which transformative change takes hold in your organisation?Cartoon_Blog_Social_Media

Here are three courageous ideas which may help you start the transformation in your organisation: MORE

Alexia Skok

17 November, 2015

Technological, political and planetary disruptions are threats to ICSOs’ existence. At the same time they entail brilliant opportunities to deliver our mission. We have to welcome change in order to reap these opportunities – Be the Change.

Throughout the past year, the International Civil Society Centre undertook an exciting and enriching project that brought together a group of civil society leaders and experts to explore the cultural organisational change that international civil society organisations (ICSOs) must undertake to adapt to disruption; The Building an Organisational Culture of Change working group was born. MORE

Caroline Harper

10 November, 2015

This is the final post in our four-week series of guest blogs by influencers in the civil society sector, reflecting on ideas and topics brought up in the book The Hedgehog and the Beetle – Disruption and Innovation in the Civil Society Sector by Burkhard Gnärig. The below blog  by Caroline Harper, Chief Executive Officer of Sightsavers, relates to the book section “Turning ‘once-a-year accountability’ into ‘real-time transparency’” (pp.167-178).


Trust in international civil society organisations (ICSOs) in the UK is at a low ebb. Media are repeatedly attacking charitable organisations – from CEO salaries to fundraising methods, to administration costs and exhortations that we must ‘stick to our knitting’ and drop advocacy work.

A number of organisations have gone under – the spectacular bankruptcy of Kids Company after receiving millions of pounds from the government is still reverberating. Our sector is not immune. We have seen others (eg. Merlin) disappear for want of working capital. Kids Company had virtually no reserves, but the death knell came from accusations of child abuse – something which strikes fear into the heart of any ICSO working with children. And I now have nightmares that hackers currently attacking mobile phone companies will decide that the charity sector is a soft target… MORE