Disrupt & Innovate

Come together, right now!

8th January 2019 by Kathrin Kirste

When asked about what the Centre does, people familiar with us give very different answers: You will hear buzzwords like a hub for collaboration, an accelerator of innovation, a manager of disruptive change or a platform for foresight and future scanning. All will most likely namedrop our owners 15 of the world’s largest international civil society organisations (ICSOs) such as Amnesty International, Oxfam, World Vision or Islamic Relief – or refer to us as a facilitator that tackles civil society’s most pressing issues.  

All of this is true. Yet, to fully understand our unique offer and added value, it is worthwhile to look at our story.  

Our genesis from exchange towards action 

In 2007, the Centre started off with a bold idea by two heavyweights of the civil society sector; Peter Eigen (founder of Transparency International) and Burkhard Gnärig (former global CEO of Save the Children, Terre des Hommes and Greenpeace Germany). Seeing an increasing, but yet unmet need, for genuine exchange between the sector’s leadership, both wanted to create a safe space for critical self-reflection and mutual learning.  

The idea must have struck a chord: only months later the four global CEOs of Amnesty International, Oxfam, World Vision and Transparency International became founding shareholders of the Centre. Programme Director Asa Månsson still remembers how contracts were signed: This was a milestone for the sector; all these organisations committed considerable financial resources and capacity to put the Centre on a solid footing. For me this was the ultimate recognition of the importance of working together”. Ten years on, the Centre today has 15 shareholders and three core supporters, among them organisations as diverse as Plan International, Greenpeace, Sightsavers and VSO.   

The Centre was founded not just as a convenor but also to hold a mirror up to its shareholders. Speaking truth to power is of critical importance in a time where global trends disrupt the environment ICSOs operate in. For example, we are experiencing decreasing trust in institutions as shown in the Edelman Trust Barometer, rising populism with phenomena such as Trump or Brexit happening, growing inequality between rich and poor but also all-encompassing digitalization, also tagged as fourth industrial revolution, that will transform the way we interact, work and live 

Representing a strong global voice for human rights and sustainable development, International Civil Society Organisations have a responsibility to engage and bring about the best change possible for our societies in a constantly changing world.  

We work together because the world’s most pressing issues cannot be solved alone 

The Centre’s mission is to challenge its owners and to eventually improve their resilience and impact in responding to civil societies’ most pressing challenges.  We believe the best result possible responding to these challenges can only be achieved together. Together among cross-cutting causes such as children’s development, gender equality or climate protection, together with local and regional partners and together with other sectors such as business, governments and academia. Together, we have a huge lever to keep our promise for a more sustainable and equitable world.  

That is why the Centre provides both a space for critical reflection and support for joint action. At least, twice a year the Centre brings together the international CEOs and international Chairs to exchange, learn and most importantly develop concrete collaborative projects. In manifold formats throughout the year, such as the Innovators Forum or the Global Heads of Division (Programme Directors and Operation Directors), we bring together ICSOs leadership with change makers and innovators from other sectors to enhance critical thinking and get the wheel moving for our collaborations.  

Of course, there have always been sceptics who doubt the success of collaboration or consortia because they are too cumbersome, too unreliable or too slow…or because power imbalances get in the way of working together. However, the Centre has 10-year proven track record of successful collaborations among our owners and partners. These joint actions bring our community to life and are made of three key ingredients for success: trust between our members, commitment to contribute considerable resources, and the conviction that we can achieve more together. For our initiatives, we leave egos and logos at home and strive to achieve the best impact possible for the communities we work for. Thanks to our comparatively small membership model of leading ICSOs, we are able to act with agility simultaneously giving an immense global reach.  

For example, we started an initiative such as the Leave No One Behind coalition. A collaboration of 12 ICSOs and local partners restlessly working on making marginalised voices heard and count by including them in every step of the SDG implementation cyclefrom data compilation to policy implementation. Many inclusive initiatives are out there, however, none has so far proven the reach and lever to establish inclusive dialogues between governments and marginalised communities. We are proud we are filling this gap and together contribute to making the SDG promise a reality.  

Similar initiatives such as the Civic Charter a global framework for people’s participation has been developed under the Centre’s auspices. All over the world, Civic Charter community members spoke out and took action when other members were arrested or under attack, and thus, promoted solidarity between human rights defenders. We also gave wings to the Global Standard of CSO Accountability and our subsidiary organisation Accountable Now, implementing a global reference framework and putting some order to what among accountability experts is called“mad” (Multiple Accountability Disorder).  

Our supporters enable greater impact for the people we serve  

Numerous foundations such as Rockefeller Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Bosch Foundation or Heinrich Boell Foundation have supported us. We work in truly cross-sector partnerships with government agencies such as the Swedish Development Agency (SIDA), multilateral institutions (like Unicef or the OECD), think tanks, other global and regional networks as well as businesses (i.e. PriceWaterhouseCoopers). One of our supporters, Claudia Juech, formerly Managing Director for Strategic Insights at Rockefeller Foundation says I always appreciated the Centre speaking truth to the sector but doing so constructively and solutions-oriented. We need more organizations like the Centre that can effectively nudge the sector to advance its thinking and doing”.  

Yet, we are only able to do so with the help of our supporters. They enable us to speak truth to civil society leadership, to leverage our owners commitment, to kick-off broad-scale collaboration and to eventually improve the livelihoods of countless local communities worldwide.  

For sure, challenges will always be bigger than what one organisation can tackle alone. That’s why we continue looking for supporters that help the Centre to push their shareholders for better results. We promise to make your contribution count because we believe that supporting collaboration is one of the best ways to achieve lasting impact for the people we serve.  


Kathrin Kirste

Development Manager

International Civil Society Centre