The fearless Young Leaders the World Needs Right Now

28th August 2018 by Amnesty International

This blog was originally published on International Youth Day by Amnesty International. Amnesty International will be contributing to this year’s Global Perspectives 2018: Engaging a #NewGeneration. With this blog and others, in the lead up to the event, we will take a look at initiatives by and for young people that aim to help them improve their lives. These initiatives show how young people are already impacting the civil society sector, and beyond, throughout the world. They will form the basis of our discussions at this year’s Global Perspectives. Please find more Global Perspective related content here.

From gun violence and police brutality to sexual violence and harassment, young people – in all their diversity – around the world are living violent realities. Yet, in a new wave of human rights activism, these young trailblazers are rising up, taking action and calling for change, while juggling school, university and jobs.


“The only way to heal was to take action” – Jaclyn Corin, 17, USA

I never imagined it would happen to me. Parkland was labelled the safest community in Florida, but when tragedy hit and a mass shooting took place at school, I knew the only way to heal was to take action.

When my friends and I came together, we didn’t have a plan. We literally started work on a living room floor. Being young worked in our favour. We weren’t adults trying to guess what worked for young people and we weren’t asking for permission. Other kids from across the nation saw what we were doing and felt they could do it too.

Being survivors of a school shooting meant people listened to us. We were angry and loud. The reaction to what happened to us helped build our movement faster than we could have imagined. It is amazing to see the impact we’re having, but there’s also a sense of guilt, as this has arisen out of something so horrible.

We created March For Our Lives because our friends who lost their lives would have wanted us to take action. We’re doing it for them.

I am inspired by… the kids who are doing something to make a difference – the girl who is running for school board, or the others running March For Our Lives. It’s the people and the present that inspires me.


“Violence in my community must end” – Raull Santiago, 29, Brazil

There are two sides to life in a favela. On one side, there’s a strong sense of community. On the other there is police violence, fuelled by inequality and racism. Every day people are violently murdered because of the colour of their skin.

I’ve seen a lot of violence in my life, with many young people imprisoned or murdered. Others are forced into the criminal underworld just to survive. In Brazil, there’s a national discourse around the drug problem and how the authorities are choosing to combat it through violence. In my community, 12 people have been murdered in the past two months.

I don’t want to sit by silently. As a human rights activist, I am determined to campaign against the ‘war on drugs’ and call for an end to violence in my community. We’re holding demonstrations in the street and staging street theatre to get our message across. I firmly believe these small actions will get our message across to a wider population.

People used to stay silent when someone was killed, but that’s not the case now. Every day, we fight for our lives. It’s a violent reality. My tattoo reads ‘Believe’. Even though it’s hard to have faith, my tattoo is a reminder of how far we’ve come.

I am inspired by… simple down to earth people, such as my mother, father and friends. They’re living the same reality, but are continuing to fight to improve things. Despite the hardship, they still smile. That’s a real inspiration.

Twitter: @raullsantiago 

“We’re not afraid, we know what we’re doing is right” – Matt Deitsch, 20, Florida

March For Our Lives was created because something had to change. The Parkland shootings marked my sister’s birthday, Valentine’s Day. She was at school. When I heard about the shooting, I tried to contact her, but she wasn’t answering. I went to her school, trying to figure out what had happened. My sister survived, but in that moment, I knew the situation had to change.

Everything we’ve done since February 14 has been based on what we think is right. So far, it’s worked. We’ve organised trips to lobby state representatives, held a student town-hall with CNN, where numerous young people came together to speak out, and organised the March For Our Lives, which saw over 800 marches take place in numerous countries.

Lots of people want to make out like we’re something special, but we’re just normal kids willing do something about this problem. It’s crazy to see the tangible difference we are making. So far, we’ve seen 25 new laws passed across 15 states. It’s one thing to see a shift in mentality, but to see something being done to actually save lives is on a different level.

We’re not afraid, because we know what we’re doing is right. We carry on because many people who died in the Parkland shooting made a conscious effort to save someone else. We’re just trying to perpetuate that.

I am inspired by… other students who take a stand, such as Jaclyn. There’s a wonderful senior named Caitlin who organised a protest in Ocala, Florida, an area where there’s loads of gun stores. More supporters attended her rally than the governor’s.

Twitter: @MattxRed 

“I have a voice and I am not afraid to use it!” – Zachir Enrique José, 18, Chile

Young people are constantly told they don’t know their own reality. It’s very frustrating. I identify as non-binary. People don’t know who we are. We don’t exist in language or everyday life. We’re assigned a gender by force, but we don’t get a say in it. When I told my family I was non-binary, they didn’t understand.

I want to make sure young people know their sexual and reproductive rights. Through workshops, festivals, books and fanzines, I am educating young people about their rights. It’s not for everyone, but most people thank me after the workshop. These issues aren’t often spoken about in Chile and when we do speak about them, it’s done in a way that makes them happy.

As a human rights activist, I will continue to raise my voice. I am resilient. Yes, I’ve experienced difficulties, especially as so many people treat sexuality as a joke, but there are people with empathy, so we will continue to empower each other. I have a voice and I am not afraid to use it.

I am inspired by… activists across my network!

“Sexual violence happens so often in Peru, people think it’s normal” – Yilda Paredes, 23, Peru

Behind our smiles, there is fear. A fear of living a life filled with violence.

In Peru, girls and young women are unprotected. We’re not allowed to have an abortion, apart from in exceptional circumstances. Just recently, a man burned a young girl alive in a bus. This happened near to my house.

I have been a victim of harassment. My ex-boyfriend used to stalk me. He threw rocks at my house, followed me everywhere and started rumours. I was forced to change my mobile number and the way I live. I even considered dropping out of university.

I found strength through my friends as well as my work with Amnesty International. When people found out about my situation a lot of girls and women started coming to me for advice, saying they’d experienced similar situations. Sexual violence happens so often in my country, people think it’s normal.

I am now training be a lawyer and I am a human rights activist, campaigning on issues such as women’s rights, LGBTI rights and indigenous people’s rights. There are many of us who want to see a change in our community. We deserve to have our voices heard and respected.

I am inspired by… women such as human rights defenders Maxima Acuna, from Peru, and Marielle Franco, from Brazil, who was shot dead earlier this year. They both fought for our rights.

Twitter: @ParedesYilda

“Everyone deserves the opportunity to learn about their rights” – Karin Watson, 21, Chile

Becoming a human rights activist was a natural process. I’ve been interested in social justice issues since I was 12. From 1973 to 1990, Chile was under the Pinochet dictatorship and there were a lot of human rights violations. Learning about the history of my country inspired me to become a human rights activist. Now I work on issues such as youth, migration and sexual and reproductive rights.

In Chile, girls and women are not allowed to have an abortion and many have died because of it. Last year, the National Parliament passed a ruling, stating abortion would be allowed in some circumstances. It was a great victory, but right after the bill was passed, a new government came into power and limited its impact. Amnesty International is educating young people on this issue through its My Body, My Rights campaign and it’s having a huge impact. It’s beautiful to see how it’s developed.

Nowadays, I work on human rights education, teaching children about their rights. It fills my heart and gives me motivation. Everyone deserves this opportunity. As part of Amnesty International’s Youth Collective, I am working on youth issues at a global level. It’s inspiring, as I’ve met so many people and made so many new friends, which means our work reaches new places.

I am inspired by… my friends, those who I met through this work and along the way. My friends who work on My Body, My Rights, are younger than me, but they’re so strong and passionate. They travelled to remote areas of Chile to educate people. It’s very inspiring.


“Seeing people take action feels good” – Haafizah Bhamjee, 22, South Africa

Period poverty exists, especially at university. You can’t even talk about menstruation, let alone whether you can afford sanitary products, so girls suffer in silence. It’s dehumanising.

My friends and I are trying to change this, through our #WorthBleedingFor campaign. Most people think university is a luxury for the rich, but it’s not. Poor people go to university too. Some students sleep in the library, others line up to receive grocery packs, while lack of access to sanitary pads is a real problem. We’re pushing for universities to install sanitary pad dispensers in bathrooms, we’ve contacted the local government to provide free pads for girls in schools and we’re encouraging girls to speak about their experiences.

Seeing people take action feels good. The change is gradual, but it’s exciting. Just recently, a group of girls made a video about #WorthBleedingFor showing our campaigning work. Knowing we’d reached out and had an impact was amazing.

I am inspired by… Winnie Mandela. She was fiery, driven and never stopped campaigning.

Twitter: @FizzerBlack 

“To be an activist, one must stand up against social injustice” – Shafee Verachia, 26, South Africa

Student fees are continually rising, and it is systematically excluding bright young minds.  This is why, like thousands of other young South Africans, I was part of #FeesMustFall protests – the largest student-led movement in South Africa since the Soweto uprising of 1976, where black school kids stood up to protest against apartheid. In October 2015, we embarked on a systematic shut down of our university system.

Over the course of two years (2015-2016), we experienced police brutality, victimisation and demonization. My friend, and successor as Student Representative Council President, Shaera Kalla, was shot in the back 13 times, at close range by policeman firing rubber bullets. She was unable to walk for almost six weeks. Another student, Kanya Cekeshe, was sentenced to eight years in jail. Hand-grenades were thrown at us and tear gas was fired. I still bear the psychological scars of what I experienced.

Even though our call was eventually met with a favourable response and tuition fees were not increased, it left me feeling agitated and angry. Change is not an event, it is a process and this process is not happening fast enough. Young people need to be at the forefront of shaping change. For too long youth issues have been on the periphery while leaders have been fixated with power and holding on to it. When the youth realize that we have the power and agency to shake the core of the system, we could be an unstoppable force for social justice

I am inspired by…  the youth activists who rebel against a system that ignores and excludes them. It’s these young people who give me hope and make it clear our struggle must continue. As long as there are young people who are going to sleep hungry, can’t afford to go to school or are unable to access their most basic rights, our work must continue.

Twitter: @ShafMysta

“Human rights activism saved me” – Sandra Mwarania, 28, Kenya

I used to think human rights advocacy was just for professionals with a strong legal background. It’s not.

At university, students aren’t listened to. When I was a student, I advocated for students to have an active, powerful voice on issues that mattered to them. Campaigning for youth rights was fun and inspiring. As a young person, I wanted to campaign for positive change.

We go to university to carve successful career paths. However, students are confronted with harsh realities of joblessness, corruption, discrimination and a host of other injustices. I experienced this first hand when I left university. Instead of giving in to hopelessness, I volunteered with social justice initiatives.

I am 28 now and a year into my first stable job. Now I have a job, I feel as though I need to hold on to it and I’m grateful my current role complements my volunteering work. In a way, human rights activism saved me.

Seeing the impact my work is having makes me feel good and it encourages me to keep going. If people try to bring me down, I smile and ignore them. I know my story and I know where I want to go.

I am inspired by…. Amnesty International Kenya’s Country Director – Irũngũ Houghton. Since he joined the team this year, my work ethic has shifted. He constantly coaches me to challenge myself as a human rights defender and young leader.

Twitter: @SMwarania 


“By standing together, we can inspire each other” – Kania Mamonto, 25, Indonesia

At least half a million people were massacred during the 1965 tragedy in Indonesia, and it’s my job to document stories of the survivors. I organise community survivor groups and bridge the gap between generations. It’s important young people understand our country’s past. As a human rights activist, I don’t want to see injustice. I want to work with others, share knowledge and take action, but being a human rights activist isn’t easy in Indonesia.

Last April, I was part of a cultural event alongside numerous other human rights defenders. I was Master of Ceremony. A violent group came and barricaded us into the building for eight hours. It was terrifying. More than 200 people were trapped, including children. They used rocks to smash the glass, we were fired at and were at risk of being beaten. After we were released, my face was splashed all over the media.

The whole incident was very traumatising. I work so hard to make change possible, but that’s not how it’s perceived. I’ve learnt to deal with what happened and I want to educate people about my work. If people have an issue with it, I want them to talk to me and have an open discussion. Standing up for what you believe in doesn’t make you a bad person. We just want justice and equality.

Through Amnesty International, I’ve met and worked with other human rights defenders from across Asia and it’s good to feel part of a global network. It’s an opportunity to share the work we’re doing, as well as our problems and the lessons we’ve learnt. By standing together, we can inspire each other.

I am inspired by… an Indonesian activist called Munir. He was so inspiring, brave and always told the truth. He stood with the people.

Twitter: @Kanimonster_

“When I speak out, I feel empowered” – Manu Gaspar, 23, Philippines

When I speak out, I feel empowered. Making my voice heard was something I struggled with growing up. I told my parents I was gay when I was 19. Compared to some of my friends who came out, I am lucky, as I am still able to live at home.

It’s not always easy, though. My parents don’t approve of my sexuality and it’s hard to find common ground. Most of the time when I go home, I don’t talk to anyone.

I’ve found hope through human rights activism. When I talk about issues I am passionate about, I feel appreciated, as though I am making a difference.

Youth human rights activism plays a huge role in my life. Alongside my role at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), I am also part of Amnesty International’s Youth Collective. So many young people face similar struggles and it’s an opportunity to share my story with others and tell them it gets better – and once it does, it’s a responsibility to ensure other queer people everywhere enjoy their freedom as much as you do. It takes a long time to know yourself, but it helps when you find people who you want to talk to; they become your chosen family. When you find that group, you see things from a different perspective and feel much more appreciated.

I am inspired by… the LGBTI community. Many people had it much harder, and I wouldn’t be able to be myself if it wasn’t for them.



“People should be tolerant and open-minded” – Amal Agourram, 21, Morocco

Women’s rights are violated every day in Morocco. I know people who have been harassed and assaulted, whose right to freedom of expression has been violated, and those who have faced unfair trials. That’s what makes me want to fight for human rights.

After I graduated, I started working with Amnesty International at a local level on its Brave and I Welcome campaigns.

My aim is to create an environment where people are tolerant, open-minded and there’s an understanding of human rights. Through I Welcome, I encourage people to see beyond the refugee label and listen to the stories behind it.

I mostly work with other young people on these campaigns. It’s an opportunity to meet people who have had similar experiences. By taking part, young people tell me they feel a lot less lonely and part of something important. Many of us have also used the skills we’ve gained to educate people at home, about issues such as women’s rights.

I am always thinking about ways I can make a change and have an impact. For me, it’s a hobby. Even when my parents tell me to rest, I tell them that promoting the importance of human rights makes me feel good!

I am inspired by… Nelson Mandela. He inspires us all. I also seek inspiration from people from my hometown. They motivate me to make a difference.


“We can change the way someone looks at the world” –Mariana Rodrigues, 22, Portugal

My dad is a bit of a revolutionary. He taught me to think outside the box, so when I see something I want to change, I do something about it. All my activism is based around this.

When I went to university, I was approached by an Amnesty International fundraiser. The organisation’s work was so inspiring, I decided to become a face to face fundraiser after I graduated.

Fundraising provides an opportunity to change the way people think and to educate people about what’s going on in the world. I talked to a lot of people who had different ideas about refugees. After we spoke, they realised the importance of welcoming people into Portugal. It proved that most of world’s problems stem from a lack information. It is possible to overcome hate

It’s possible to change the way someone looks at the world and Amnesty, as well as my sustainable clothing project, provides a way of doing this. It’s incredible to be part of a youth network that provides an opportunity to meet activists from all over the world.

I am inspired by… people who continue to speak out in places where it’s hard to do so.

Amnesty International


Amnesty International

New Book: Global Best Practices for CSO, NGO, and Other Nonprofit Boards: Lessons From Around the World

22nd August 2018 by Thomas Howie

Discover this ideal resource for boards everywhere, includes a chapter by our founder and former Executive Director: Burkhard Gnärig on International Civil Society Organisation governance.

About the book

There are at least 10 million Civil Society Organizations (CSO)s in the world, each of them with a board composed of individuals doing their best to govern well and wisely. There is no single model of governance to emulate, but are there universal principles and practices that can help boards everywhere perform at the highest level.

This book takes us for a trip around the world to look at what is working for boards. Its discoveries will help not only boards, but also nonprofit staff leaders seeking to assist their boards to optimal performance, and capacity-builders looking to strengthen their civil society sector.

Even if your organizational concerns extend no further than city boundaries, this book is for you. One of the greatest governance challenges today is a lack of diversity on the board. This can seriously hamper an organization’s ability to realize its mission and to understand and serve its community. Reading this book will provide a greater understanding of how the cultural context affects governance and will sensitize the reader to different ways of thinking about governance.

Global Best Practices For CSO, NGO and Other Nonprofit Boards presents case studies from different parts of the world that illustrate effective practice, identifies and discusses interesting and significant differences, and explores global governance trends with implications for us all.

  • Tests for universal truths about roles, responsibilities and practices using criteria established by BoardSource, the premier voice on nonprofit governance
  • Provides information that builds exceptional nonprofit boards
  • Discusses cultural differences in governance that will help all boards to better function in increasingly diverse environments
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  • Reflects on the future of governance worldwide

If you’re a capacity-builder, a board member, or an executive leader looking for guidance on governance, this is the book you’ll want to have on hand.

Where to purchase this book


Communications Manager

International Civil Society Centre

How children in Kenya are influencing local government through local children’s charters

21st August 2018 by Grace Nyoro and Maria Lapa

Kenya is steadily moving towards the full realisation of child rights but there continues to be substantial disparities across the country. While there has been progress in school enrolment, child survival and a reduction in female genital mutilation there are still challenges in gender equality, public participation and access to essential services. The 2010 constitution and related policies make provisions for entitlement to services and participation however, there have been weaknesses in the implementation of these legal and policy frameworks.

During the lead up to the Kenyan national elections in 2017 children across Kenya took part in a children’s charter calling for their voices to be heard in the governance agenda. Over 40,000 children from all social backgrounds expressed their concerns on the Government’s development plans following coordinated and sustained mobilisation over a seven-month period. The result has been an increase in agency with more children embracing their role in making change happen; an activated youth network campaigning on a range of similar issues and commitments from local government leaders.

What is the Children’s Charter?    

The children’s charter represents the socio-political concerns and aspirations of young Kenyan children across the country. It started with a postcard campaign across schools, communities and county assemblies, where face-to-face meetings were held with children to discuss the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) framework and its importance to local and national development plans. Children were then asked to reflect on their own circumstances, the issues that concerned them and what action they would like to see from Kenyan leaders.

The postcard data was collected, analysed and further discussed with children. Many believed that the Government’s provision of free primary education was a significant achievement, they also felt proud to be citizens and wanted a peaceful environment to grow up in. The concerns emerging from children were violence and the continued barriers to education, peace and food security.

Based on these results representative groups of children[1] drafted local charters with recommendations for county development plans. With the support of partners, children were able to hand over and discuss the recommendations with local politicians, this was a significant achievement at the time given the political attention on the re-election process unfolding in the country.

The local charters were then consolidated into a national Kenyan Children’s Charter which was launched on Universal Children’s Day in 2017 by child representatives from each county.

How has the charter influenced the political agenda?

At the time the charter was presented, decision makers showed interest in the recommendations with some making explicit commitments to address concerns raised. There is evidence that some draft development plans are capturing issues raised and in Bungoma County a rescue centre has been constructed as a result of the consultation.

Furthermore, some of the children have now become involved in child-consultations on amendments to the Children’s Act calling for provisions to involve children in public participation processes.

The Kenyan Constitution and legal framework place a strong emphasis on public participation in decision-making. When presenting the children’s charter, children explained that if they represent more than 50% of the Kenyan population and are not being consulted, then the law is not being properly implemented. They asked for the creation of spaces for child participation so they can systematically be part of the decision-making process.

How did the charter represent diverse voices?

During the seven-month mobilisation period there was a deliberate effort to ensure the most excluded children in all countries were represented in this process. Approaches included working with sports associations, utilising popular moments (such as the Day of the African Child), and an emphasis on the leadership of children’s networks and local agencies. With greater representation across counties strong partnerships allowed us to reach a higher and more diverse number of children[2]. Partners included Child Fund, Mtoto News, World Vision, Mathare Youth Sports Association, Moving the Goal Post football and Save the Children.

What have we learnt?

The initiative is one of largest public actions in the global south within Save the Children, with significant learning for future ambitions to ensure children are supported to have a voice within civil society. The opinions gathered by children have helped Save the Children to further clarify its focus in Kenya within its next strategic plan.

For many participating children the charter hand over represents the first opportunity for them to engage with decision makers. We have observed an increase in self-confidence among young people along with more interest from decision makers and the media.

Partnership, transparency and pooled resources have been important principles underlying the project, creating joint ownership and trust.

Lastly, the simplicity of the postcard tool for surveying the views of children encouraged high numbers of participants. It allowed children from eight to eighteen to express their concerns and recommendations in a simple way that was easy to disseminate across the country.

What next?

As time passes we will start to see the full impact of this approach, but for this to happen children and partners will need to be involved in monitoring and accountability of political promises. The partners in the project will be supporting children to monitor commitments and implementation and continue to utilise the charter and popular platforms.

[1] Children are elected in each county to represent their peers and they meet quarterly to discuss concerns and issues raised by their constituencies.

[2] Children’s networks lead on the framing of priorities and presentation to decision makers; child focused agencies facilitated the participation of children; media agencies ensured there was visibility and wider public engagement; a wider network of supporting agencies (schools, youth clubs, business etc) supported the logistics and coordination of the process.


Grace Nyoro

Regional Advocacy and Campaigns Coordinator

Save the Children

Grace Nyoro works as the Regional Advocacy and Campaigns Coordinator, East & Southern Africa Region at Save the Children. Grace works with 12 countries in their region on the campaign to End Child Marriage and for increased public resources to ensure access to essential basic services for children in the region.

Maria Lapa

Project Manager


Maria worked in international development for 5 years, monitoring and evaluating the impact of child rights campaigns for WorldVision and Save the Children. She is now in Portugal working at WeChangers, a start-up company developing an online platform that connects social purpose organisations and funders, where she is responsible for impact measurement.

Technical Intuition: Instincts in a Digital World

14th August 2018 by Alix Dunn

This blog is republished with thanks to the authour, it first appeared on Alix’s Medium blog, which you can find here

When the pieces continue to multiply and don’t fit together.
When the pieces continue to multiply and don’t fit together.

The digital world is disorienting. It permeates every aspect of our lives, but few of us understand how it works. Worse yet, few of us know where to begin if we want to make it work for us. We are discouraged from asking questions when something feels icky or confusing. If you don’t get it, you’re the problem. The technology is magic, and so are the people that build it. Because — in a slight tweak to Clarke’s third law — any technology sufficiently distanced from our own conceptual understanding is indistinguishable from magic.

What would it take to build the right types of knowledge so everyone can demystify, navigate and leverage the digital world for their purposes? For the past decade or so, there have been two dominant answers to that question:

  • Create accessible opportunities for anyone interested to learn how to code
  • Outsource all of that complexity to a small number of people and exoticise the skill set of that dominant class

But we know that neither of these answers gets to the heart of the question.

Enter Technical Intuition

Over the past decade, I’ve worked with activists interested in strategically adopting technology. And even groups with the most resources, clearest political beliefs and noblest aims struggle to build the right types of knowledge to do it well. It is very difficult — sometimes impossible — to act in your own best interests and in line with your politics and preferences when choosing, managing, and using technology. And while I have long been convinced that one-off trainings on hard skills are a dead end, it was only in the past few years that I have worked to explicitly target a type of knowledge I call technical intuition.

I didn’t want our organisational partners to learn to code, I wanted them to learn how to talk to developers. I didn’t want them to outsource complexity, I wanted them to learn what skills they need in-house, which they could contract out, and how that might change over time. I wanted them to become inventive with technologies that they couldn’t necessarily deploy themselves, but could understand enough and in the right ways to articulate exciting new possibilities. I wanted them to ask incisive questions about underlying data that technologies cast off. I wanted them to actively and regularly wrestle with the challenges data use might present and the decisions they would need to make to use it responsibly.

We have looked for ways of unlocking technology careers for those interested in seeking more sustainable financial futures (throw a rock and you’ll hit a boot camp). But what about those who do not want to learn to code, but still want to make meaningful choices about technology? We are faced not just with a pipeline problem but also with a pedagogical one.

And it’s not just for activists, it’s for everybody

The more I have seen technical intuition in action, the more I am convinced that it is a critical form of knowledge (not simply a skill set), and one that we as a society have not sufficiently explored or optimised for.

Technical intuition is a foundation for agency in and about the digital world and a missing cornerstone of the solution to many of our techno political challenges.

Currently, broad public participation in the decisions we make about our digital future is impossible. Asymmetric access to knowledge, power, infrastructure, and resources that drive the creation of digital spaces is driving inequality. Political, economic, and social inequality. And — as we do with most retraining efforts when economies undergo major transformation — we oversimplify the skills needed to broaden participation and access. We focus on narrow hard skills. But the acquisition of narrow hard skills like coding will re-entrench existing economic relationships rather than reshape them.

Before that happens, I suggest that we rethink what capacities we should be working towards for proactive participation and engagement in politics and new economies.

  • It’s not literacy. That is too passive and submissive to systems as they are. We don’t want systems to be legible, we want them to be pliable.
  • It’s not sub-speciality. In-depth understanding of one programming language that you pick up over a night class may unlock job opportunities in tech but it doesn’t help those that want to understand technology without having to focus on it as their primary skill set.
  • It’s not the ability to follow discourse or news cycles about what technical systems are doing to us. That relegates non-technical people to the role of observer.

So what is it?

Technical intuition is a conceptual frame that we know and see but have never worked towards. It is a key to broad-based access to personalised decision-making within and about technical systems.

There are four dimensions of technical intuition.

To Imagine

An imagination equipped with the information and instincts to conceptualise (good and bad) and suggest (good) technical systems even without the skills of implementing the ideas

To Inquire

An ability to formulate questions that can drive understanding and decision-making, and a clarity on how and where (to what experts) you would need to direct those questions

To Decide

A clarity of how your politics and preferences (both personal and professional) connect to the decisions you can and should make about — and within — digital systems

To Demand

An animated impulse of when to be opinionated, active, and targeted if a system is designed in ways that do not align with our politics and morality

What does it look like in action?

There are many examples and situations that we experience daily in which technical intuition can support more agency and decision-making. When we are at work and considering innovative ways that technology could help us accomplish our goals, when we’re making decisions about how to engage online. But technical intuition comes to play even when we are out shopping for groceries.

I’ll use a consumer example that is nearly universal: my grocery store suggests that I sign up for a discount card that I scan at checkout in exchange for a reduction in the cost of my groceries.

How does technical intuition function in this situation?

First, I imagine

  • What data does this initiative generate? Items my family and I have purchased. When I’ve purchased them. Possibly over a long period of time. In aggregate, this data could say many things about my habits, and it is enough granular data that it is unique to me. It could likely be used to predict my movements, my lifestyle (vices and virtues), which could be used for all kinds of purposes.
  • How might that data be used by the store or by those that might purchase the data? The store may use it to micro-target ads to me. Maybe one day they will strategically charge me more based on goods they can tell I need or have a higher urgency for. An insurance company may want to know how much alcohol or over the counter medicine I purchase. Credit agencies may use the data to develop profiles or predictions about my spending habits. In some countries it may influence a social credit score.
  • How might the data connect to other purchases? If it is used with other companies what might multiple sets of data about different purchases say about me? Taking Nectar cards in the UK as an example, they are used in multiple chains like service stations, railway purchases, grocery stores, and big box stores.
  • You might imagine different outcomes. Like what if all of the data is one day made public? Could I be re-identified in a data set that included your weekly shop details over a 5 year period? Would it matter to me? Would it matter to others?

Then, I inquire

Does the initiative offer any detail on how the data might be used? Does it connect with schemes at other companies? How much in savings do I get? Do I want to participate and therefore incentivise this company to carry out this initiative? Are those savings worth the exchange to me personally? Is it worth it to my family? Will this one day be required? What effect would that have?

Then, I decide

I won’t sign up for a card because I don’t think the data I am exchanging for the cost savings is sufficient enough to warrant it. Or, I will sign up, because I think the 10% reduction in cost is worth the likely surveillance — and I may struggle to pay for my groceries otherwise. If that is the case, maybe I will sign up, and will include fake contact details and swap cards with friends occasionally to muck up the data being collected about me.

Then, I demand

After reflecting on this initiative, I am surprised to learn that there aren’t regulations in place about the sale of data generated through it and that the store didn’t attempt to clearly explain to me what the trade offs were for signing up. If it’s an issue that really gets me mad, I follow up in a feedback form, I raise it with friends and family and I raise it with staff at my local branch. I recognise I may have less leverage with companies than I do with say, government initiatives, but I know that most of the gaps in consumer protection exist because customers don’t have sufficient interest and technical intuition to pressure companies to be better — and politicians think we don’t care enough about these issues to warrant or incentivise regulatory action.

What’s next?

There are many people working to develop new forms of communicating complexity, but often they are designed for people either already working in technology fields, or stumbling into something new. New publications are working to increase explainability of complex content; visual designers are leveraging user interfaces as teachers of technical interplay; animators are breaking down complex technical concepts that underpin probabilistic systems; companies are hiring science communicators; researchers are studying explainability…in machine learning research papers; and people are building entire dictionaries of metaphors that can be used to explain technical concepts.

This work is exciting — we should support and encourage it. But we also need to develop more accessible conceptual scaffolding, more clearly connect concepts, and build a path for those interested in understanding how it all fits together. Our aim is not a world in which everyone is a coder, or statistician, or designer, or engineer. Or a world where everyone wants to be a technologist.

We want a world where it is possible for all of us to build technical intuition and reclaim our individuality and agency within and about digital systems.

If you are working on ways to support non-techie communities to develop technical intuition, I would love to hear from you. What are you doing to create insight and understanding? What types of insights are leading to stronger technical intuition? What effects is that having on those you are working with?

Thanks to Janet Haven, Ali Gharavi, Zara Rahman, Lucy Bernholz, Elizabeth Eagen, and Nicole Anand for helping me shape these ideas.

Alix Dunn

Executive Director and Co-Founder

The Engine Room

Alix is a recovering researcher with a passion for applying creative solutions to difficult problems. She is a hunter and gatherer, identifying data and technology strategies that can empower social change initiatives around the world to maximise their impact and make the most of their resources. She co-founded The Engine Room and leads it to be a nimble organisation that provides direct support where, when, and how initiatives need it. She sits on the Advisory Council of Open Technology Fund, and the Technology Advisory Council of Amnesty International. She plays a mean game of chess.

Organizational Culture and Its Impact on Change in the Civil Society Sector

7th August 2018 by Ed Boswell

In June, Helene Wolf suggested in this blog post that “strategy and culture should have breakfast together…” Her comment was made following an International Civil Society Centre -sponsored meeting of programme, policy and operations directors in which participants discussed how to increase the impact of their organisations and their work. Peter Drucker’s observation that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” when strategy and culture are not aligned surfaced more than once during these discussions.

Indeed, in our work with International Civil Society Organisation (ICSO) leaders over the past few years, we have found that failing to make the necessary adjustments to the existing culture when introducing a major change or executing a new strategy is one of the top six hazards to which ICSOs are most susceptible. Sometimes this failure is due to a lack of appreciation for the critical role that culture plays in helping or hindering realisation of change; other times, it is due to the leader’s hope that the necessary culture change will somehow take care of itself. In our experience, when it is not specifically attended to, culture inevitably undermines or even defeats full realisation of the change or strategy.

To circumvent this hazard, leaders need to understand the components of organisational culture, as well as when and how to attempt to change it so that it will support their changes or new strategies. In our latest paper, we define organisational culture — “the way we do things around here”— as the patterns of shared mindsets and behaviours which have been acquired over time by members of the organisation. Culture provides guidance, whether intentional or not, on what is done (or not), how it is done (if it is), and why it is (or isn’t) done. Culture permeates every organisation and plays an important role in providing a strong foundation for organisational success in stable environments. This is because culture operates in ways that ensure its own continuity. Thus, when an organisation needs to maintain the status quo, the culture that has contributed to that current state helps to keep everything on track. However, when a major change or disruption requires a shift in the prevailing mindsets and behaviours, the organisation’s existing culture will likely work to defeat it.

Before introducing a major change or executing a new strategy, ICSO leaders need to identify the mindsets and behaviours that are critical to fully realising the desired impact of the change or strategy, and assess to what extent these mindsets and behaviours are present in the existing culture. The greater the gap between the existing culture and the one required for full realisation, the higher the risk of not achieving the desired change outcomes and the greater the effort in making the necessary cultural shifts.

Leaders also need to assess the strength of the existing culture. Strong cultures that are inconsistent with the new change or strategy can present formidable challenges to leaders’ attempts to change them. In these cases, shifting the culture may prove too great a challenge or may exceed the organisation’s capacity to change at that point in time. The alternative to changing the culture is to “change the change” itself in ways that lessen the gap between the existing culture and the one required for successful realisation of the change.

Unfortunately, the reality is that many important initiatives cannot be accomplished if they are significantly modified.  When this is the case, rather than change the change, leaders may have no other choice than to change the culture.

Culture change should not be taken on casually, nor should the potential need for it be deferred or ignored. Shifting cultural norms is one of the most challenging endeavours an organisation can undertake. Regardless of the final decision—to change the culture or to change the change itself—leaders need to be mindful of aligning the mindsets and behaviours of their organisation with those required by the change or new strategy. Otherwise, they face almost certain disappointment and frustration in not fully realising the intent of their organisational changes or strategies.


Ed Boswell

Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Connor Advisory

With more than four decades of experience helping senior leadership teams around the globe execute major transformational changes, Ed has worked with nonprofits and NGOs, as well as companies in the pharmaceutical, federal government, financial services, and professional services sectors. His work has reinforced to him the role character plays in successfully executing significant changes. Prior to joining forces with Daryl Conner in 2014 to form Conner Advisory, Ed was a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) where he led the U.S. People and Change consulting practice. In this role, Ed was responsible for leading a team of practitioners who helped clients drive large-scale strategic change, as well as transforming HR into a more effective function and optimizing organizational talent. A recognized leader in the field of transformational change, Ed is a frequent speaker on issues relating to leadership, strategy execution, and organizational performance. He co-authored Strategic Speed: Mobilize People, Accelerate Execution (Harvard Business Press, 2010), which provides a blueprint for leaders who are executing transformational change in their organizations. Ed earned his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. While at Penn, he also received The Wharton School Certificate in Business Administration.