In 2017, the Centre reported the results of a survey that revealed widespread dissatisfaction among ICSO leaders with their existing governance structures and mechanisms, as well as with the current balance of power within their organisations. Among the most frequently mentioned frustrations were slow decision-making, nagging questions of legitimacy and poor execution—and all of this despite the fact that some of these same organisations had engaged in governance reforms over the previous two years to address their issues.
This past September, leaders from eight ICSOs met in Berlin for the better part of three days to focus on how to best address these frustrations within their own institutions. At this Centre-sponsored Global Governance Lab, the participant cohort embodied a range of roles from board members to CEOs, from deputy secretary generals to program and governance directors. Collectively, they represented federations, confederations and unitary governance structures; faith-based and secular organisations; and humanitarian, human rights and development-focused INGOs, and together they possessed almost two centuries of experience in the civil society sector, with much of that time spent in leadership positions. Most of the participants represented organisations that were actively considering changes or updates to their current governance model and processes.
The starting point for the group’s exploration was to assess in what specific ways the formal and informal power dynamics and governance structures currently at play either helped or hindered the realisation of their organisation’s intent. While each organisation had its own unique answers to this question, a number of themes emerged across the ICSOs. In fact, despite differences in formal governance structures and processes, the issues identified by the leaders in the Lab were strikingly similar across the cohort. Some of the common themes that emerged were as follows:
The impact that an organisation can potentially have in the world is compromised when its power dynamics and governance structures are not aligned with the achievement of the intent of the institution.
Power arrangements and governance structures that may have worked well at one point in the organisation’s past are often not the same as what is required in the current circumstances.
Informal power often undermines formal structures and processes, even well-established ones.
Money and access to resources (like funders) are major determinants of who has a voice and influence.
Money creates uneven power relations not only between organisations and their funders, but also within organisations, when financial contributions of one member organisation result in greater decision-making or voting power.
Long tenure with an organisation combined with a loyal network of relationships can also create a strong base of power and influence for individual actors.
Those who have decision-making power are often not the same as those with the power to implement, block, or ignore strategic decisions that have been made.
Power is asymmetric—that is, it takes more power to create and build momentum for action and change than to destroy or block necessary action and change.
Any significant power shifts and/or meaningful governance reforms almost always require that some individuals and/or parties give up or share power that they have long held or protected.
Hence, modifications to power dynamics and governance structures require committed and courageous leadership to withstand the inevitable resistance to change.
Interestingly, while all the organisations who participated in the Lab identified specific changes they needed to make to better achieve their organisation’s intent, the changes that were most frequently highlighted did not involve transforming the formal governance structures or processes. Instead, their recommendations most often cited shifting the informal yet potent power dynamics in their organisations. We will cover these specifics in our next instalment of this blog.
Ed Boswell, CEO and Co-Founder, Conner Advisory
(Along with Wolfgang Jamann, Ed co-designed and co-facilitated the Global Governance Lab.)
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.
20th November 2018 by Chiara Di Stefano and France Charlet
Today, young people are digital natives, used to high-speed, instantaneous interactions on social media and other online platforms. Manyestablished organisations– like the OECD–face a challenge: to be more agile in listening to young people so their vision and their needs are reflected in our work.
The OECD goes to Global Perspectives every year to hear from civil society organisations active across the globe and understand the main concerns of the people they aim to serve. It’s a space where we can speak face-to-face with people, gather insights from current civil society engaging with young people and think about ways to do better in our own organisation.
This year, Global Perspectives was also an ideal setting for tackling a subject at the core of the OECD’s current agenda: the future of work and skills.This conversation has many stakeholders, but it’s particularly important to grasp the next generation’s needs and concerns so our policy recommendations are fit-for-purpose.
In a workshop, OECD and Global Perspectives participants discussed what it takes to deliver an inclusive world of work – and the implications for civil society. Civil society organisations care a lot about their role as employers, youth mobilisers and policy shapers. In addition to helping amplify the voices of workers and future workers, part of the discussion focussed on how CSOs need to cultivate the right skills and the culture in their own organisations.
Thanks to the International Civil Society Centre, we also heard from young people in other workshops. What we heard encouraged us to move beyond the question of “how the OECD engages young people”to “how young people can engage and activate the OECD”.Youth is not a group “to reach”.They are essentialpartners for anyone – including organisations – who want to change the world.The OECD is serious about delivering “better policies for better lives”, and we are excited to learn from and partner with civil society organisations for greater and more positive impact on the world we share.
Chiara Di Stefano, public affairs manager leading relationships with civil society organizations. Previously worked in Brussels both in the private sector and European Commission. Studied in the UK, France and Italy.
Campaigns manager at the OECD. France previously led international advocacy campaigns for Save the Children, World Vision and other international and national NGOs. She worked in London, Bangkok and Brazzaville and specialised in building institutional capacity for campaigning through fundraising, training and strategy development.
15th November 2018 by Deirdre de Burca and Magda Toma
This blog entry was originally published on Forus-international.org. All rights reserved.
Members of the Forus secretariat recently attended the annualGlobal Perspectivesevent in Berlin, Germany from Oct 31st- November 2nd 2018, organized by the InternationalCivil Society Centre(More information about the event).
The theme of this year’s conference was “Engaging a New Generation”.
Forus hosted a “Campfire Session” during the conference called “What future for civil society and how important is youth engagement?” This session provided an opportunity for Forus to begin its planned consultation on the future of the sector with wider civil society, as part of the roll-out of its newPilot International Initiative (2018-2020)“Building essential infrastructure for the NGO sector & encouraging the emergence of supportive ecosystems“.
This initiative was presented and strongly endorsed by Forus members during its General Assembly in Santiago Chile this year. The Forus International Initiative envisages an initial, broad process of consultation with civil society globally over the coming two-years on the question of how the sector can be further developed and strengthened in the future.
The title of the Forus campfire session during the conference was “What future for civil society and how important is youth engagement?”. The session began with a short presentation of some of the major challenges currently facing civil society in a rapidly changing external environment.
The challenges discussed included:
The increase in the number of new social movements and the tendency of young people to gravitate towards these movements rather than towards NGOs ;
The increase in the number of illiberal and authoritarian governments around the world, resulting in a shrinking space for civil society ;
The new demands being placed on civil society, as a key stakeholder in the implementation of Agenda 2030 ;
The increase in public demand for greater accountability, transparency and good governance from civil society and NGOs in particular ;
The fact that CSO funding sources and modalities continue to be project-based.
The group discussion that followed was lively and wide-ranging.
It yielded the following conclusions:
A broad and inclusive definition of civil society is needed
Thedefinition of “civil society”used in these discussions should be broad and diverse enough to be inclusive of all civil society actors, from the least to the most organised ends of the spectrum. The definition should include spontaneous and distributed social movements, small community and grassroots organisations, not-for-profitsocial enterprises and co-operatives, small and large NGOs, international civil society organisations, trade unions etc.
Build relationships between NGOs and social movements
More sustained efforts should be made to dooutreach and build relationships between NGOs and social movements, which should result in greater mutual understanding and a better appreciation of the “added value” of each and the potentially complementary roles they can play in bringing about badly needed social and political change. Ideally, funding could be provided by NGOs to social movements for the achievement of broad aims (for example – to create public awareness about the need for climate action) and without too many conditions attached. The role of NGOs could be to broadly monitor progress on the achievement of the objective set. In this way social movements can be resourced to do what they do best without too many onerous reporting requirements considering their lack of formal organisation.
Recognise each other’s added value
CSOs with more formalised organisational structures (eg NGOs) shouldnot try to impose their agendas on the social movements when collaborating with them. Instead, NGOs should play a more supportive “background” role and allow the social movements to do what they do best (eg mobilising and public campaigning). NGOs should largely play an “enabling” role where social movements are concerned and make their resources and expertise available in a non-directive way. The added value of traditional NGOs and ICSOs is seen to lie more in long-term engagement and advocacy directed at governments and institutions.
Create “youth-friendly” spaces within NGOs and trade unions
NGOs, trade unions and other CSOs with more formal organisational structures shouldcreate “youth-friendly spaces” within their structures where young people’s voices can be heardand be allowed to influence discussions and decision-making. At present many NGOs and trade unions are organised in such a way that there is no opportunity for young people to engage or be heard, and the language used by these organisations is not at all youth-friendly.
Privilege the resourcing of small flexible local CSOs
Small, flexible, local CSOs should get much more attention from donors and funders than they have to date. Large institutional NGOs have tended to receive more government attention and resources, although locally-based civil society organisations including peer to peer organisations can often be more effective at representing the needs of local communities and can engage young people more effectively. Many large traditional ICSOs in particular, especially those involved in direct service delivery, are seen to face the possibility of increasing irrelevance over time.
Ensure a good inter-generational mix in the staffing of CSOs
The importance of having a good inter-generational mix in civil society organisations was emphasisedas CSOs were felt to have a very different set of values and outlook if older people were at the top of these organisations.
Large international CSOs should regularly revisit their core mission and purpose
The larger the NGO the more risk there is that they will become overly – institutionalised and bureaucratic. It was felt to be very important for ICSOs to revisit their core founding values on a regular basis and to remind themselves of what motivated their creation in the first place. It was considered very important for ICSOs, in particular, to regularly review and update if necessary their core mission and purpose and ensure that the functioning of the organisation remains fully consistent with the core mission. Large CSOs should be willing to “re-invent” themselves if necessary based on these assessments.
Progressive CSOs should learn important lessons from populists
Progressive civil society should learn from the tactics of the populists and use them to advance progressive causes. This is often difficult however as populists try to present simple solutions and responses to complex problems. Explaining the complexity of some of the world’s problems often results in a weaker message. Progressive civil society needs to reflect on and develop better strategic influencing strategies.
Mobilize the masses so that a critical tipping point can be reached
Public awareness-raising remains a very important activity. There is a need to mobilise the masses and promote positive values so that a “tipping point” can be reached. CSOs should unite more around public awareness-raising work.
ICSOs should Identify risks and engage in intelligent risk taking
International civil society organisations in particular need to carry out risk identification which will allow them to engage in “intelligent risk-taking”. They need to learn to work with other ICSOs and other actors and to build strong national and local organisations. There should be an emphasis on employing local staff and building strong and relatively autonomous local systems of governance.
Best practices and solutions from the Global South should be identified
The identification of best practices and solutions can come from the Global South. A crisis of funding can often provide an opportunity and can help to identify new and more effective ways of working.
The discussion on the future of civil society and the engagement of youth during the Campfire Session was very stimulating and wide-ranging.
Forus intends to carry out a series of such consultations at upcoming international civil society events over the next 12 months.
Deirdre de Burca currently works as the Advocacy Co-ordinator with Forus (formerly known as the International Forum for National NGO platforms). Forus is a global network of 69 national development platforms and 6 regional coalitions. Deirdre previously worked as Director of Advocacy for World Vision's Brussels office. She was also a member of the EU Steering Committee of Concord's Beyond 2015 EU Taskforce which played an essential role in influencing the position of the EU and its Member States during the UN negotiations on Agenda 2030. Deirdre was one of the founding members of SDG Watch Europe - a broad alliance of European civil society organisations established in June 2015 and which works to ensure the full implementation of Agenda 2030/the SDGs by the EU and its Member States.
Magda Toma is the Director of Forus (former IFP), a global network of civil society, bringing together 69 national development NGO platforms and 6 regional coalitions. Magda studied Political Science, European Affairs and Development Cooperation. She specialized in the relationship between the European Commission and development NGOs. Before working for Forus, she worked for CONCORD Europe, for the European Commission - DG EuropeAid and for B & S Europe, among others.