Today, huge inequalities are contributing to divided and segregated societies and have created antagonising governments riding the waves of populism. Space for civic action, freedom of speech and assembly, and human and civil rights are drastically limited, through both open and opaque government measures. Millions of refugees and war victims need solidarity and services at highest levels of excellence. And the planet’s environmental boundaries are fragile and almost exhausted.
External and internal challenges to the work of Civil Society Organisations are greater than ever. The current climate in which ICSOs operate is difficult and precarious. Plotting the right course will be essential for civil society to survive and thrive. Current internal challenges to our sector, sometimes threaten to override the purpose of work. For example, the moral basis and public trust for ICSOs work are challenged and sometimes eroded through ethical wrongdoings (as exposed by the cases of sexual misconduct). Likewise, through the questioning of the current aid system, and by the legitimate claims for power shifts to the global South.
As I have been entrusted to move the International Civil Society Centre (ICSC) into its second decade, there is a great need for the sector of organised civil society institutions to be modernised, just as more established institutions like UN Security Council or international treaties.
The ICSC is here to support organised civil society in that transformation. Using new technology and talent, it will initiate collective action and ambition to influence critical developments for the achievement of a more just and equitable world, in which no one is left behind.
The task at hand is big, but the Centre has already come a long way in a short space of time. 10 years ago, two visionaries founded the Berlin Civil Society Centre, to provide a space for collaboration and forward thinking on civic space. The founders Burkhard Gnärig and Peter Eigen managed over those years, to create a broad base of International Civil Society Organisations (ICSOs) who carry the Centre today – our shareholders. They provide incredibly valuable services, support and aid to marginalised and underprivileged people. They defend human rights, and improve the world we all live in. Through their diversity, intellectual and financial capital, the leading ICSOs and their partners are helping to achieve the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals. They serve as watchdogs (challenging corrupt and irresponsible governments), provide a moral compass, create perspectives for children and youth, support women in their fight for equality, drive policymakers towards the protection of our environment, and provide dignity to the poorest of the poor.
This collective of (soft) power is the underlying basis for the Centre’s objectives. To help ICSOs be at the top of their game, we aim to serve them (and the sector) as a think tank, space for collaboration, trend spotter, challenger and supporter of continuous transformation of operating models, structures, processes and organisational culture.
There are great pressures exerted through the Fourth Industrial Revolution, digitalisation, new forms of communication and demands for more transparency and demonstrable impact. Challenges come also through new generations of supporters (and opponents), influencers, value brokers and thought leaders – our friends and allies for the future years to come, who expect different ways of engagement, and many want to see strong moral grounds coupled with more agile and contemporary ways of working.
In tackling these challenges and taking our sector forward, I look forward to hearing your thoughts about how we can do that together. In addition, I relish the chance to get going on exciting projects.
Blockchain and Big Data can transform how international civil society organisations (ICSOs) work and what they achieve. To benefit from them, collaboration between ICSOs is essential. At our 2018 Innovators Forum on 27-28 February 2018, experts gathered to work on new projects using Blockchain and Big Data to solve problems.
If the civil society sector does not organise now, then the potential of Big Data and Blockchain may be lost altogether. That was the feeling among 30 innovators and digital experts gathered at our 2nd Innovators Forum.
The motivation to act now is to avoid making the same mistake our sector made with the internet. In the early days of the internet, no one knew its true potential. However, big corporations were quick to react, capitalising on this digital innovation. They took the lead and made decisions that affected our lives and way of working. The likes of Google and Facebook capitalised, while civil society voices were not heard on important issues, such as data privacy and security. Ever since, we have been playing catch-up, rather than leading digital innovation. (more…)
A few weeks ago I recruited a new colleague to our small Centre secretariat team. The pattern of many previous rounds was repeated: We reviewed a number of very qualified and competent young female candidates, struggled to invite equally impressive male applicants for an interview and in the end offered the position to a very dedicated, ambitious and talented woman who wants to develop a long-term career in the civil society sector. I have met and worked with many women like her over the years at the Centre and in the civil society organisations (CSOs) we work with.
But very few of them advance to the senior management positions they aspired to take on when they start their career in the CSO sector. Looking at the leadership of the majority of large CSOs, these women never make it there. According to data from 2012, the Women Count report, women make up 68% of the workforce of the 100 CSOs with the highest income in the UK but only 25% of the most senior positions. In Germany, about 75% of the workforce are female; in CSOs providing social and care services the number even goes up to 83%. However, only about 42% of CEOs are women, sometimes only in co-leadership with a man. Of the roughly 30 leading international CSOs we work with at the Centre, only one third have a female global CEO. The representation in boards is by no means more gender balanced.
So what happens on the way to formal leadership positions? The very few studies that focus on the CSO sector suggest the “typical” explanations: Women can’t or don’t want to work full-time because of family responsibilities and therefore remain in the operational low to mid-level positions; male Board and CEOs recruit and promote “look-a-likes” to work with them or succeed them and women themselves hesitate to take on formal leadership roles because of their own prejudices and doubts whether they are ready or well-equipped enough.
Our sector is leading the way on gender balance and gender justice in programming, advocacy and research. Most large CSOs have mainstreamed gender issues across all their work with very impressive results for women’s empowerment worldwide. But when it comes to our own organisations we lag behind many other sectors who have systematically started to increase female leadership, sometimes only under pressure from governments who introduce quota, but also because they understand that gender balanced management achieves better results (and profit) and that it simply does not make sense to leave a large part of their talent pool untapped.
The gender imbalance in our own organisations’ leadership should no longer be acceptable for us. How do we systematically support women in their career development so that they acquire the skills and qualifications but also the confidence to apply for and accept formal leadership roles? What can our organisations do to provide the work conditions and culture in which women thrive just as much as men? How can we change our recruitment, retention and promotion processes in a way to increase gender balance within our top leadership and governance?
These and many more questions have to become a much stronger part of the current discussions in our sector around governance, power shift and legitimacy. I will start by talking to the women I know, some of them who are in leadership roles in the sector (or elsewhere) and the many who aren’t (yet) – so that together we can develop ideas how to achieve gender balance at the top. To the many women I don’t know: Please let me know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org