Civil Society in the Corona Crisis

7th April 2020 by Wolfgang Jamann Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

One month of WHO-declared pandemic has meant one month of crisis mitigation for civil society leaders. Ensuring staff care and safety and maintaining the continuity of operations was and is a priority task for any leader these days. In addition, staying healthy, looking after family and friends, is more than an activity on the side. We are grateful for all the efforts that have been undertaken to stay as safe as possible in the sector.

Civil society organisations (CSOs), big and small, global and local, are ‘system-relevant’ – it matters to millions of people that we remain operational and support the most vulnerable and their environment. It comes as no surprise that the SDG principle to ‘Leave no one behind’ has become a unifying theme of solidarity in response to the Coronavirus around the world, mirroring what our organisations stand for.

For CSOs to remain operational in the future will mean refocusing on the potential and foreseeable impacts of the crisis in countries of the global South – a humanitarian, health and food security crisis yet in the making. If we have learned anything from past disasters – man-made or so-called ‘natural’: it is always the most marginalised, the poorest and the least protected who will bear the highest burden. 

We cannot yet foresee whether direct or indirect consequences of Coronavirus will affect livelihoods most. For example, the indirect ones on the horizon might be much graver in the medium to long term – such as re-direction of aid flows towards domestic issues, dwindling global solidarity and growing nationalism, scarcity of economic resources, to name but a few.

Four weeks into the crisis and civil society leaders are strategising and planning for mid-term and longer-term implications. Information (and opinion) overload still need to be interpreted, but there are some valuable resources that are useful for thinking and planning ahead. The Centre has collected a number of pieces that will help navigate the immediate and longer-term future, and so have other civil society networks. 

Already, numerous valuable advocacy initiatives are kicking in. They are occurring in order of urgency rather than priority, such as:

And we hear encouraging statements from global leaders like WHO Executive Director Thedros Ghebreyesus, making sure that the poorer continents do not become testing grounds for the wealthier nations

As more advocacy statements and initiatives are being rolled-out, we need to make sure that there is not a competition of concerns and mandates, but that we remain connected over the aims that we all share.

Further ahead is scenario planning. Futurists and foresighters are looking at weak and strong signals on post-Coronavirus situation. The most unlikely scenario will be “business as before”, once a vaccine or treatments are found. The biggest questions appear around so-called ‘systems changes’ – is the globalist, capitalist, financial and political system good enough in times of increasing global challenges? Where will our societies drift – back into nationalist and inward-looking behaviours, or forward towards global solidarity, interconnected actions and multilateral governance? And how will the current experience affect our dealing with ‘the other’ large global crisis around climate change?

Highly relevant to these future systems will be the role of organised civil society, whether it is around aid, social discourse, political decision-making or framing the narratives that hold our societies together. Civil society in the ‘sector’ (of development, social justice, environment and human rights) has undergone continuous transformations over the past decades, but it is challenged to keep pace with the current crisis, its responsibilities, and yes, the opportunities that come with it. We should not let others define the future of the values and systems that matter for civil society around the world.

Our most significant contribution to overcoming this crisis will be working in collaboration, focusing on the solidarity and empathy. Our humanistic values that bind us and the societies we work in demand that we are forward-looking and strategic in our actions, irrespective of the high operational pressures out there. Putting people, unorganised and organised civil society at the centre of post-Coronavirus planning is the task we need to unite behind and show collective leadership.


Wolfgang Jamann

Executive Director

International Civil Society Centre

Dr. Wolfgang Jamann is Executive Director of the International Civil Society Centre. Until January 2018 he was Secretary General and CEO of CARE International (Geneva). Before that he led NGO Deutsche Welthungerhilfe and the Alliance 2015, a partnership of 7 European aid organisations. From 2004-2009 he was CEO & Board member of CARE Deutschland-Luxemburg and President of the CARE Foundation. Previously, he worked for World Vision International as a regional representative in East Africa (Kenya) & Head of Humanitarian Assistance at WV Germany. After his Ph.D. dissertation in 1990 he started his career in development work at the German Foundation for International Development, later for the UNDP in Zambia. As a researcher and academic, he has published books and articles on East & Southeast Asia contributing to international studies on complex humanitarian emergencies and conflict management.

COVID-19 Resources for Civil Society

30th March 2020 by Thomas Howie

This page is part of a series of COVID-19 resource pages that we are creating frequently to help civil society actors.

Click here to view all available pages.

Click here for our latest events news.

On this page, you will find links to readings, podcasts and videos related to the latest Coronavirus news and analysis. This selection is based on what the International Civil Society Centre and its staff find useful. If you have a recommendation or a suggestion, let us know.

There are three sections to this page:

Staying up-to-date: Links to sites that will keep you abreast of important developments related to our sector and the wider context

Strategic Analysis: We look at the impact and responses to Coronavirus in a general and intersectional way (i.e. impacts on human rights, climate change etc).

Operational and Leadership: A list of what your organisation can do now to navigate these unprecedented times

    1. Staying up-to-Date

    2. Strategic Analysis

    Coronavirus Pandemic-Specific – Response Scenarios and Economic Impacts

    General Analysis

    Intersectional Analysis

    Biodiversity and Climate Change
    Cities and Urbanisation
    • Coronavirus threat looms large for low-income cities (International Institute for Environment and Development).
      Weak infrastructure and lack of basic services mean urban settlements in low-income countries are highly vulnerable, and handwashing and isolation responses to the virus are not possible.
      Civic Space and Human Rights
      Data and Digital
      Gender Equality
      Global China
      • How Will COVID-19 Impact China’s Belt & Road Initiative? (The China Africa Project) – Podcast.
        COVID-19 is the single greatest challenge to China’s Belt and Road Initiative since its launch in 2013, as its interconnectedness once widely regarded as a huge opportunity is might now be seen as the potentially dangerous liability of dependence on China.
      • Is China a Safe Haven? (Matthews Asia).
        China may become the global economic and financial haven, as consumer demand is healthy (buffered by deep household savings) and it has domestic COVID-19 infections under control.
      Multilateralism and international cooperation
      Populism and Authoritarianism

          3. Operational and Leadership Advice

                Remote working



                Communications Manager

                International Civil Society Centre

                Why ICSOs need to make more sense of the city in our urban century

                3rd February 2020 by Aline Rahbany  Urban - International Civil Society Centre

                Aline Rahbany, Director for Urban Programming at World Vision International, explains that in this “urban century” it is paramount for international civil society organisations to rise to the complex and interconnected challenges presented by cities in order to improve people’s lives. She suggests several different ways for ICSOs to do “things differently” in order to meet this challenge. Aline will be out or networking event at the World Urban Forum on 10 February, please join her and us if you are there.

                Be part of our Innovation Report 2020 on ‘Civil Society Innovation and Urban Inclusion’

                We are living in an urban century

                Around us, people are continuously moving to cities, towns and other rapidly urbanising areas. Due to innovation in technology and infrastructure, the world is connected in a way as never before. Cities are providing opportunities for improved wellbeing, happiness and productivity. But not everyone is entitled or able to access these opportunities. Inequality is on the rise. The face of poverty has changed. Urban residents and communities are grappling with increased fragility. Violence, wars and conflicts are increasingly occurring in cities. For the first time in history, a stand-alone goal exists to make “cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” – livable for all. While this commitment should be celebrated, fundamentally the international community continues to fail at producing cities that serve everyone equally.      

                Making sense of the city

                Like other international civil society organisations (ICSOs), World Vision has been investing in alleviating poverty and responding to emerging disasters and crises, mostly in rural, stable communities. Over the past 10 years, as an organisation, we have been forced to direct our attention to understanding the new trends of poverty and humanitarian crises, not least because children are the first casualties. Urban contexts are complex and challenging: there are multiple layers of governance; inequity can be seen with informality and extreme poverty present at very close proximity to high-rise buildings and rich financial institutions; the number of key urban players and influencers is massive. 

                In such settings: 

                • understanding context, needs and opportunities takes time and requires intentional engagement at the local level; 
                • partnering is simply not optional, but absolutely essential for the effectiveness and survival of the organisation; 
                • showing the impact of our interventions is not easy. 

                Over the past 10 years implementing urban programming, World Vision has learned that we need to be doing things differently. It takes a whole-organisation approach to comprehensively address the issues faced by the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in urban contexts. It is not only about innovation in programming, but also taking steps toward more structural, organisational change to increase agility, flexibility and responsiveness to a fast-changing environment.

                We need to do things differently 

                The city provides opportunities to work differently. Population density means we can reach more people living in the same geographic area than with our rural interventions. Infrastructure and mobility allow for faster response. Functional markets present opportunities to boost the local economy. Cities often have financial resources that CSOs can tap into. 

                There is still, however, so much more to learn about working effectively in urban areas affected by poverty, violence, conflicts and fragility:

                • We need to invest more in integrated programming that empowers people. As CSOs, we are still used to developing sectoral interventions; but people do not see their wellbeing in such siloed terms. 
                • We need to learn to navigate the complex layers of urban governance and work effectively with the formal and informal actors who influence the lives of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups. This means stepping out of our comfort zone to connect with actors we have never had relationships with before but who can deepen our impact in these contexts. We cannot let our organizational bureaucracy risk limiting our ability to maximise these critical partnership opportunities.
                • We need to look to the city as a system where challenges are interconnected and recognize that we simply cannot achieve our desired impact if we work alone. This means letting go of organisational egos and being transparent about the investment we are making and the change it is contributing to. 
                • We need to revamp staff skillsets to ensure they are able to connect as meaningfully with the children in the public spaces we help rehabilitate as they can with the local mayor providing support from the local municipality, and the bank investing in the intervention. Versatility in local capacities is key. 
                • Finally, we need to learn more about how to institutionalise our efforts, and how to support and capacitate municipalities and other local and citywide actors who will continue to be there after international organizations leave. 

                Join us! 

                I am very excited to be part of the upcoming World Urban Forum 10 Networking Event on “Civil Society Innovation and Urban Inclusion” where I will join peers from other CSOs to discuss how our organizations have been working differently to address the issues and needs of excluded groups in cities and other urban areas. Visit our website to find out more about World Vision’s work in cities.    

                , ,

                Aline Rahbany 

                Director for Urban Programming

                World Vision International

                Aline Rahbany is the Director for Urban Programming at World Vision International, based out of Toronto, Canada. Aline currently holds a global portfolio at WVI, with previous roles with its offices in Lebanon and the Middle East and Eastern Europe regions. Aline has more than ten years’ experience in the international humanitarian and development field, working on research and learning, strategy development, program innovation and technical support in urban contexts, including fragile cities. Aline advocated on behalf of World Vision for the adoption of urban SDG11 and influenced the development of the New Urban Agenda to be inclusive of children and youth at Habitat 3. She is passionate about inclusive cities and advocating for groups who are “deliberately silenced or preferably unheard”.  

                Join us for urban innovation in 2020

                23rd January 2020 by Vicky Tongue

                Join us at the World Urban Forum in February

                In 2020, we will ‘go urban’ with our Innovation Report. The Centre’s track record as a sector convenor and innovation accelerator places us perfectly to build a diverse group of innovators and thinkers. The aim is to gather and share your stories to benefit others in our 2020 Innovation Report. We kick off our 2020 Innovation Report discussions at a networking event at the World Urban Forum.  If you are there, we welcome you to join us next month. Alternatively, get in touch to register your interest (bottom of page) in being part of the report.

                About us as a sector convenor

                As anyone who works in the civil society sector knows, finding time to collaborate with partners is difficult. Throw in the resources required to complete a shared project, then it does not matter how excellent your idea is, it is going to be a struggle to achieve your objectives. This is where the Centre’s expertise and experience as a sector convenor comes in.

                We’re used to finding the right people and creating an environment for them to share insights and innovations. We play this role for a broad range of actors, from Board members and CEOs to innovation managers and global strategists. This year, we’re bringing our convening expertise to a new community of global urban leads. We want to help bring your innovations to benefit a wide civil society audience.

                Innovation is the name of our game

                Innovations can be game changers for civil society organisations. But what if they haven’t heard about the latest innovations of others, or don’t know how to apply them in the world?

                Our aim is to highlight and explain how innovations can benefit the civil society sector and be used to tackle common challenges. In 2019, we looked at populism, and how civil society tools and tactics are evolving and innovating in response. We included a huge diversity of organisational missions, profiles and experiences from across our events and networks and around the world, highlighting universal practical tips and inspiring insights.

                These diverse organisations and people may never have had the time or the resources to bring to a wide audience their stories of innovation. Yet the wealth of diverse experience generated a fantastic resource for the civil society sector.

                In 2020, we’re turning our attention to the complex landscape of working in cities, where there are many common challenges…

                In 2016, a report we produced, ‘Exploring the Future’,highlighted that for international CSOs, working on urban issues or at the city level was not as big a priority or area of expertise, as poverty alleviation experience in rural settings or national-level focused advocacy.

                Arguably, not much has visibly changed since then in terms of focus or resourcing. However, urban settings and actors are central to the changing nature and locales of poverty and inequality. They also hold the key to solving the climate crisis. The speed and complexity of change in urban contexts is faster than ICSOs can currently keep up with. The interplay with other trends is also multi-directional and unpredictable, requiring greater agility and speed to shift operational modes. 

                Urban contexts pose additional complexities requiring ICSOs to innovate, including:

                • Multiple levels, powerful actors and competing agendas requiring simultaneous engagement and multi-stakeholder approaches, from community mobilisation to city-wide sector, market, policy and institutional capacity-building;
                • Several different roles may be necessary: community mobiliser, programme broker, strategic facilitator and convenor, service providers, and/or institutional capacity builder;
                • Proximity to resources and services does not necessarily mean access for urban poor residents to structures and spaces, due to informality and marginalisation of some groups;
                • Proactive city administrations may outpace national governments, more quickly adopting climate positive policies, or emerging technologies (including for social control).
                Urban Innovation Report 2020 image
                Urban Innovation Report 2020

                Our 2020 Innovation Report will collate and contrast roles and approaches to co-produce new insights, provide a common learning agenda, and communicate effectively to wider audiences about the important urban impacts these organisations are achieving

                Join the Centre and our partners at the World Urban Forum (WUF) on 10 February!

                Where better than the world’s foremost meeting of leaders shaping the agenda of our urban future, to begin our journey to develop our 2020 Innovation Report, build our community of civil society collaborators and supporters for this project, and shape plans for our future sector convening.

                If you’re coming to WUF10 in Abu Dhabi next month, get in touch and come to our networking event with Habitat for Humanity, World Vision and Slum Dwellers International. Or if you can’t, but still keen to join this journey, get in touch anyway!

                JOIN US on 10 February 2020


                , ,

                Vicky Tongue

                Programme Manager

                International Civil Society Centre

                Vicky Tongue is the International Civil Society Centre’s Programme Manager, co-ordinating core initiatives on horizon scanning, innovation and peer convening for CEOs and Global Heads of Division. Vicky has 15 years’ senior programme management with several leading UK-based ISCOs, including Marie Stopes International, Article 19, CAFOD, ODI and Save the Children.

                New – 2020 events and programme flyer, find out what’s on and what we are doing

                18th December 2019 by Thomas Howie
                nternational Civil Society Centre - Events

                Welcome to our 2020 flyer. You can download or view the flyer below to find out about what we plan to do this year and how you can get involved.

                Download 2020 Flyer (PDF)


                Communications Manager

                International Civil Society Centre

                Your invitation to make a difference – Global Perspectives 2019

                30th September 2019 by Wolfgang Jamann


                Event Website

                Millions of people have been on the streets in the past months, and civil society is showing its teeth towards climate crisis deniers and slow political actors.

                Moreover, thousands were in the halls of the UN General assembly last week, pushing for climate and social justice and advocating for an acceleration of the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) that the international community agreed upon four years ago.

                Key aims – the 2-degree global warming cap, and the eradication of poverty, hunger and injustice, seem currently too far away from being realised. So there is an obvious and urgent need to increase collaboration, achieve (and to demonstrate) better impact and intensify social work.

                At the same time, liberal ideas and actors experience grave pushbacks – both through authoritarian regimes and anti-liberal forces in many societies. The amount of hatred and opposition, which young civil society activists like Greta Thunberg receive these days, is unbearable and yet is just the tip of what seems to be happening around the world: an erosion of global values of solidarity and humanity, and growing confrontations between adverse worldviews.

                Being part of a demonstration against inertia around the climate crisis, or enjoying the company of well-meaning globalists at the SDG and climate summits in New York gives us hope and spirit. However, it should not distract us from the antagonised world around us, which needs stronger engagement by and with civil society actors.

                At the end of October, about a hundred representatives of civil society will gather in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to share and discuss strategies of citizens’ engagement, achieve better impact through collaborations, and fight against the pushback on liberal values.

                For a civil society organisation, being legitimate means dealing with questions and doubts, addressing flaws, and renewing societal contracts between social and environmental justice actors and with many other parts of society, especially the people they are serving. Hence, the participants of the International Civil Society Centre’s Global Perspectives conference will be a diverse mix of global and national actors, activist and service deliverers, academia, advocates, and supporters. The perspectives are global, but the actions always contextual. Being in Ethiopia, a country that has made remarkable steps towards embracing civic rights and liberal policies will give participants an inspirational setting for a meeting that will make a difference.

                We are looking forward to seeing you there.

                Wolfgang Jamann

                Executive Director

                International Civil Society Centre

                Dr. Wolfgang Jamann is Executive Director of the International Civil Society Centre. Until January 2018 he was Secretary General and CEO of CARE International (Geneva). Before that he led NGO Deutsche Welthungerhilfe and the Alliance 2015, a partnership of 7 European aid organisations. From 2004-2009 he was CEO & Board member of CARE Deutschland-Luxemburg and President of the CARE Foundation. Previously, he worked for World Vision International as a regional representative in East Africa (Kenya) & Head of Humanitarian Assistance at WV Germany. After his Ph.D. dissertation in 1990 he started his career in development work at the German Foundation for International Development, later for the UNDP in Zambia. As a researcher and academic, he has published books and articles on East & Southeast Asia contributing to international studies on complex humanitarian emergencies and conflict management.

                New – 2019 flyer, find out what’s on and what we are doing this year

                13th February 2019 by Thomas Howie

                Welcome to our 2019 flyer. You can download or view the flyer below to find out about what we plan to do this year and how you can get involved.

                Download 2019 Flyer (PDF)


                Communications Manager

                International Civil Society Centre

                The Together Project: Lessons for collective action in the face of chilling effects on civil society

                26th October 2018 by Vicky Tongue

                The sector Scanning the Horizon futures community this week heard from InterAction‘s Together Project, an inspiring example of collaboration by US-based civil society organisations (CSOs) to counter the ‘chilling’ effects of restrictive government regulations limiting their ability to operate. They achieved this through a combination of solidarity on principle with other NGOs, diverse but targeted and resilient advocacy in different policy and legislative spaces, engaging with ‘champions who can’, and not using simplistic messaging. Five key lessons emerged for our work in 2019 to further explore how CSOs can best work together to respond to current social divides and political agendas linked to nationalist self-interest.


                The Together Project started in 2017 out of the need to address issues of discrimination from the financial sector, such as frozen bank accounts and transfers to local partners, and support members vulnerable to direct attacks in the media or public sphere, or indirect impacts of US anti-terrorism/money laundering laws, regulations, or policies restricting their ability to function. This was largely due to their religious faith and/or countries in which they support partners or programmes.

                Princess Bazley-Bethea, the project manager, took us through some key activities and advocacy carried out to date. The key emerging lessons are:

                1. ‘Find friends who can speak on your behalf, vocalise your good work and elevate your story’

                A large and diverse coalition of support has mobilised through solidarity with the potential exponential effect and implications of/for tomorrow, beyond the specific organisations affected. Behind the formal coalition of five organisations directly experiencing banking access challenges, there is a large informal support network of more than75 organisations, of other faiths and none, and with leverage and ‘voice’ with different audiences. Many flooded congressional offices with messages in support of one charity against which a disapproving think tank was trying to ‘evidence’ links to supposed terrorist activity.

                1. ‘Say who you are, don’t spend time and waste energy saying who you’re not’

                There is still a role for strong empirical data even in these ‘post-truth’ times of poor evidential standards. If you focus too much on challenging allegations, you are just elevating the arguments of those who are trying to discredit you. Line up your audits and your allies! Use mechanisms and associations to show you are transparent and holding yourself to account, through public records and associations with a recognised CSO platform like InterAction. Be stoic in the face of information requests, even when ridiculous – due diligence requests for the shoe sizes of your Board members, we kid you not!

                1. Convince others to recognise their roles and responsibilities and share risk

                Take advantage of relationships with unlikely allies and unfamiliar champions. Despite the risks and small NGO clientele, the banks were compelled by the reputational benefits (‘the bank saving lives’ in emergencies), and with the many Americans who donate to philanthropy. Standard Chartered Bank even attended en masse a day-long Academy to be educated on the issues. Pro bono legal sector collaboration also helped with education, connections, research and briefings.

                1. Counter disinformation with strong human stories

                Prepare to defend yourself against spurious evidence and ‘experts’ mobilised against you. One mainstream media publication alleged links between a U.S. NGO operating in Palestine and terrorism – based on common names and information from social media profiles – to argue for tighter government control of their funding. Debunk such inaccuracies – InterAction’s disinformation toolkit is a great resource– and go directly to the source and insist on both removal and retraction. Counteract on social media and connect it to the bigger picture. Tell powerful stories about the negative impacts of the restrictions, such as the lives lost over the winter in Afghanistan because of delays in the transfer of funds for fuel and other vital supplies. Ensure all staff reinforce aligned, affirming, and objective messaging in all their communications, including personal tweets.

                1. Stress interconnectedness

                Encourage your allies to promote your true story, use smart collaboration with media outlets who can communicate the issues to the public in a balanced and accessible way, especially if you don’t have the capacity for mass public engagement yourself. Invest significant time on outreach and education with political representatives, and elevate the conversation internationally, highlighting the interconnectedness of the issues and the broader ramifications of how they play out in different parts of the world. InterAction made the wider links to constraints on civic space at multi-stakeholder dialogues within the UN and World Bank.

                In summary, it’s clear that working Together today is more necessary than ever in the current political climate, because we never know how things will develop tomorrow.


                To find out more about InterAction’s Together project, join the Working Group, Advocacy Team, attend expert briefings and events, or work on common priorities such as the Charity & Security Network and the World Bank/ACAMS workstreams, please email Princess.

                To find out more about the International Civil Society Centre’s Scanning the Horizon community of sector futurists and strategists, please visit email Vicky Tongue.

                Vicky Tongue

                Programme Manager

                International Civil Society Centre

                Vicky Tongue is the International Civil Society Centre’s Programme Manager, co-ordinating core initiatives on horizon scanning, innovation and peer convening for CEOs and Global Heads of Division. Vicky has 15 years’ senior programme management with several leading UK-based ISCOs, including Marie Stopes International, Article 19, CAFOD, ODI and Save the Children.

                Abuse of power within NGOs is hard to digest

                22nd May 2018 by Wolfgang Jamann A woman wearing a blindfold

                This blog first appeared in German on 

                Oxfam, Save the Children, Weisser Ring – charitable organisations are not immune to cases of sexual assault and abuses of power. Is that surprising? Common sense tells us that it’s not, that of course these institutions reflect the problems that exist elsewhere in society. Morally, however, this knowledge is harder to digest than, say, the faults in the glittering world of Hollywood or in Germany’s media and film industries.

                We naturally place high expectations on moral authorities such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that support the weak of this world. Much like doctors, they should aim to do no one any harm, comply with high ethical standards and set an example in doing so, and keep their actions somewhat removed from the worldly profane. Money, power and exploitation have no business here.

                This became clear a few years ago, with the scandal surrounding Unicef Deutschland. The disappointment felt by thousands of volunteer supporters about high consultancy fees led to disputes, resignations by the CEO and board members, the loss of donors, and serious damage to the image of Germany’s development aid sector as a whole. However, it also eventually led to improvements in governance standards at charitable organisations and clear responsibilities for decision-makers.


                A similar thing is happening now. Misconduct by staff in Haiti, London and Lübeck, and abysmal management by the supervisory bodies are dragging an entire industry into the wake of the discussions surrounding #MeToo and other abuses. Of course, none of the cases should be downplayed, and serious efforts to address the problems and improve protections are urgently needed.

                In the case of development agencies, some associations – in particular Bond in the UK and Interaction in the US – have begun working to improve common standards, reporting obligations and transparency. And here in Berlin, the globally active accountability organisation Accountable Now! is strengthening its standards for ethical action, including measures to protect women and children from assault.

                But this will not be enough. It seems that facts alone cannot curb the excessive amount of criticism being levelled at aid organisations. This is especially true in the UK, where the mass media well and truly declared open season on the sector. For days on end, they ran cover stories, published confrontational interviews, and sent journalists out to hunt down the next “case”.

                The special moral standards to which we hold NGOs can only partially explain the intensity of the criticism. Oxfam, for one, spent years loudly denouncing injustices and inequalities, which earned it many enemies in the establishment and so surely made it a very vulnerable target for a backlash. In today’s world of social divisions, just a few small events can be enough to trigger massive political campaigns.


                In recent years, therefore, aid agencies have become more than just charitable organisations. They have increasingly assumed a political role and have helped to identify and fight injustices around the world. Millions of people’s lives have noticeably and demonstrably improved as a result – and despite corruption, wars and refugee crises, the work of NGOs is a cornerstone for constant (though often too-slow) progress in the battle against poverty and disadvantage.

                In order to continue working effectively, however, these organisations must view the current situation as an opportunity to reflect on their mission and the moral foundations of their work – and to pair this with efforts to further professionalise protections that ensure the safety of their staff and those entrusted to their care.

                Abuses of power are unacceptable, whether they happen in a charitable or state organisation or elsewhere in the economy and society. If they do occur, though, we must focus on making improvements instead of limiting ourselves to hunting down the responsible and guilty parties.

                Wolfgang Jamann

                Executive Director

                International Civil Society Centre

                Dr. Wolfgang Jamann is Executive Director of the International Civil Society Centre. Until January 2018 he was Secretary General and CEO of CARE International (Geneva). Before that he led NGO Deutsche Welthungerhilfe and the Alliance 2015, a partnership of 7 European aid organisations. From 2004-2009 he was CEO & Board member of CARE Deutschland-Luxemburg and President of the CARE Foundation. Previously, he worked for World Vision International as a regional representative in East Africa (Kenya) & Head of Humanitarian Assistance at WV Germany. After his Ph.D. dissertation in 1990 he started his career in development work at the German Foundation for International Development, later for the UNDP in Zambia. As a researcher and academic, he has published books and articles on East & Southeast Asia contributing to international studies on complex humanitarian emergencies and conflict management.

                Disrupt and Innovate in a Data-Driven World

                13th February 2018 by Claudia Juech Statistics on a computer screen

                If you do an internet search for ‘data-driven disruption’ you can find articles about almost every industry being disrupted by digitalisation and new applications of data. Banking, transportation, healthcare, retail, and real estate, all have seen the emergence of new business models fundamentally changing how customers use their services. While there are instances of data-driven efforts in the nonprofit sector, they are not as widespread as they can be. Bridgespan Group estimated in 2015 that only 6% of nonprofits use data to drive improvements in their work.  

                At the same time, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have set a very ambitious global change agenda and we won’t be able to meet their targets by doing business as usual. To achieve the SDGs requires new ideas across the board: new solutions, new sources of funding, new ways of delivering services and new approaches to collaborating within and across social, public and private sectors.  

                The private sector already very successfully uses data analytics and machine learning not only to realise efficiency gains but also – even more importantly – to create completely new services and business models. For example, applying machine learning to wind forecasting is expected to reduce uncertainty in wind energy production by more than 45% and will allow utilities to integrate wind more easily with traditional forms of power supply. And entirely new utility start-ups such as Drift use machine learning technologies to provide customers with cheaper wholesale energy prices by more accurately predicting consumption. 

                In the nonprofit sector, early applications of data analytics and machine learning have mostly focused on improving fundraising and marketing. In a next step, the broader adoption of data analysis techniques and tools has the potential to help nonprofits increase their programmatic impact as well as identify completely new ways of achieving their mission.  

                1. Gain improved intelligence on operating context and needs through expanded use of descriptive analytics techniques. On the program side, teams largely tend to use descriptive analytics – statistical techniques that provide insight into the past and answer: “What has happened?” – on survey data, sometimes complemented by samples from larger raw datasets, e.g. Facebook posts or tweets. In many settings this is the best information available. However, it presents obvious drawbacks: given the expense and time required to conduct surveys we frequently operate based on information that is years old. Also, surveys are often run to confirm or refute certain hypotheses making it challenging to utilise existing survey data to answer new sets of questions. The more we can directly analyse raw data, such as today’s internet searches, the more we will be able to obtain a close to real-time picture of the situation on the ground. Applying data analytics and machine learning to large raw datasets will likely also yield us new and unexpected insights as these techniques and tools allow us to unearth patterns and seek potential explanations for those in contrast to responding to a predefined set of questions.
                2. Identify those most at risk or most affected by a problem more accurately by using predictive analytics. For example, a County Department of Human Services in Pennsylvania recently implemented a predictive risk model designed to improve screening decision-making in the county’s child welfare system. The model integrates and analyses hundreds of data elements. The resulting score predicts the long-term likelihood of home removal and provides a recommendation on whether a follow-up investigation is warranted. The model has been shown to be effective in preventing the screening-out of at-risk children. It has also lowered the number of investigations with potential disruptive effects on low-risk families. One could imagine similar models being applied to screening cases of domestic violence or abuse of domestic migrant workers.
                3. Achieve best possible outcomes for individuals through the application of prescriptive analytics. In healthcare, some hospitals are now generating predictions of a patient’s readmission risk at the time of diagnosis. Patients with a higher likelihood of returning to the hospital within a month receive additional care and supports such as home visits. This has reduced the readmission rates and freed up resources that can be used to treat additional patients. There are many possible use cases for prescriptive analytics in the development sector, particularly in health where we have much existing data on what works in light of specific risk factors. Tools that incorporate these models could assist community health workers in triaging cases and prioritising their workload. They could also be applied to people suffering from addictions or people with learning challenges to prescribe individualised treatment and support plans.   

                As these approaches become more mature and wide-spread in their application their impact will go much beyond making workflows more efficient. They have the potential to fundamentally disrupt how we work and what we define as our core competencies. Today, it may seem challenging to move towards a future where recommending who to support and how could be largely automated. I also don’t want to minimise the challenges in this scenario: the availability of required data and the privacy issues involved.  

                However, I want to encourage us to actively embrace and shape this future as its potential for positive impact is immense. We need to work together to ensure that the automation involved in these techniques and tools will provide valuable insights that support humans in making thoughtful and effective decisions, free up our valuable and constrained resources and focus them on those parts of our work that truly make a difference in people’s lives.  

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                Claudia Juech

                Executive Director

                The Cloudera Foundation

                Claudia Juech is the founding Executive Director of the Cloudera Foundation, which will use Cloudera’s expertise in data analytics and machine learning to change people’s lives for the better. Previously, Claudia was an Associate Vice President at the Rockefeller Foundation, leading the organisation’s Strategic Insights division. Working with grantees and partners around the globe, she and her team used data and information to identify large-scale opportunities to address economic inequality and critical challenges in the areas of health, the environment, and in cities. Prior to joining the Rockefeller Foundation in 2007, Claudia was a Vice President at DB Research, Deutsche Bank’s think tank for trends in business, society and the financial markets. She has a degree in Information Science from Cologne University of Applied Sciences and an International MBA from the University of Cologne.