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.

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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 Xing.com 

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.

URGENT EFFORTS TO ADDRESS THE PROBLEMS ARE NEEDED, BUT PLEASE DON’T GO AFTER ALL NGOS

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.

AID ORGANISATIONS ARE NOW ALSO POLITICAL ACTORS

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.

How are Blockchain and Big Data currently being used in the civil society sector?

30th January 2018 by Thomas Howie International Civil Society Centre - A woman working on a laptop

The International Civil Society Centre is hosting its second Innovators Forum on 27-28 February 2018. The Forum will explore the benefits and possible uses of Blockchain and Big Data in the civil society sector. Before the Forum, guest authors will dive into specific examples or innovations around digitalisation and digital technology, in this week’s blog we want to give a brief overview of the main terms and some examples of their uses.

Many CSOs around the world have realised the potential linked to both Blockchain and Big Data and are currently experimenting with how these technologies can support their work.

BIG DATA – WHAT IS THAT?

The term Big Data refers to extremely large datasets that can be analysed for trends and correlations by connecting different data on a large scale. Due to the size and complexity of the data sets used, new links and patterns can be uncovered. This means that problems that were previously not possible – or simply too complex! – to explain can now be tackled. Most CSOs work with Big Data to improve knowledge about marginalised or ignored groups of people and to identify better ways to serve them. Here are three examples of how:

COLLECTING BIG DATA

Plan International is leading the way in developing a digital birth registration tool. Its aim is to help register the millions of undocumented births around the world to lay the groundwork for better health care, education and access to other government services. The system draws on mobile phone technology to reach people and places that governments fail to document, mostly due to the lack of resources.

USING BIG DATA

Caroline Buckee, a Harvard University epidemiologist, used the data of 15 million mobile phones in Kenya to demonstrate how human travel patterns contribute to the spread of malaria. Based on this data, she helped pinpoint where best to focus government efforts to control malaria.

CONNECTING THE DOTS OF BIG DATA

The Centre-hosted project Leave No One Behind is combining smaller data sets to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Using evidence collected by ICSOs in four pilot countries, the goal is to identify the drivers of exclusion in local contexts, and support joint advocacy that will encourage governments to be accountable for their SDG promises.

BLOCKCHAIN – WHAT IS THAT?

Blockchain is a network technology can complete any kind of transactions or verification processes in a transparent way. It is a distributed ledger that everyone can view. Thus a transaction, sending a data block (hence the name), is viewable to all and not reversible or modifiable, making Blockchain transparent and accountable.

Many CSOs and social entrepreneurs are using Blockchain technology to increase the efficiency of their operations or increase accountability around the social issues they aim to tackle. Here are a few small examples:

TRANSFERRING FUNDS FASTER AND CHEAPER

Disberse facilitated the transfer of donations to a school in Swaziland using Blockchain-based technology, saving £375 in international bank transfer fees. The United Nations World Food Programme distributed cryptocurrency-based vouchers to 10,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan.

INCREASING ACCOUNTABILITY IN SUPPLY CHAINS

Blockchain can be used to track and verify interactions between different actors around the globe. Bext360 and Fairfood International aim to ensure fair wages and prices for producers and farmers by monitoring the entire supply chains of coffee, coconuts and other products.

These are just a few examples of the way Big Data and Blockchain are being used to innovate in the civil society sector and beyond. We want to discover more ideas, case studies and stories with our partners, colleagues and friends from across civil society. We also want to look at some of the challenges that come with the use of these technologies: How do we ensure that data is properly secured and not misused? How do we design projects in an inclusive way and increase the number of people who benefit from technological opportunities?

The Innovators Forum will be a starting point, but we will cover different aspects of digitalisation and digital technology through the year 2018. If you want to get involved or share your own work in this space, get in touch!

Thanks to Bond for the inspiration for this article.

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Thomas Howie

Communications Manager

International Civil Society Centre

Thomas joined the Centre in June 2017 as the Communications Coordinator. He is responsible for developing and implementing the Centre’s global communication strategy, as well as the Disrupt & Innovate platform – a place for civil society professionals and activists to discuss current innovations and future trends in the civil society sector. Prior to the Centre, Thomas worked for 5 years in the European Parliament firstly as the Digital and Social Media Coordinator for the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, and then, after the 2014 European elections, for Jude Kirton-Darling and Paul Brannen as Head of Communications, where he worked on issues such as the EU-US trade deal, issues around Brexit and as a specialist on the Petitions Committee. Thomas graduated from Bristol University with BSci in Geographical Sciences and holds an MA in Peace Studies from the University of Bradford, where he completed research into the role of civil society in the post war peace settlement in northern Uganda.

International Civil Society Centre presents new Executive Director

14th November 2017 by Thomas Howie Wolfgang Jamann, New Executive Director of the International Civil Society Centre

The International Civil Society Centre announced today that Dr. Wolfgang Jamann has been appointed as its next Executive Director, effective 19 March 2018. Kevin Jenkins, Chair of the Board, expressed his satisfaction that one of the leading personalities of international civil society will take over the leadership of the Centre. Jenkins said: “With his extensive leadership experience in the sector, Wolfgang is perfectly equipped to guide the Centre’s work. We are very much looking forward to working together with Wolfgang for the benefit of civil society world-wide.”

Wolfgang Jamann has more than 20 years of experience in development assistance and humanitarian response, most recently as Secretary General and CEO of CARE International. He has lived and worked in Africa and Southeast Asia. Prior to his current role at CARE, Wolfgang was CEO and Chair of Welthungerhilfe, a leading humanitarian and development CSO in Germany. Earlier in his career, he worked in different roles and countries for Care, World Vision, the United Nations Development Programme, and the German Foundation for International Development.

Jamann stated: “People in many countries are facing poverty and hunger, oppression and exclusion, and citizens’ rights are increasingly violated. At the same time, digital communication, new forms of activism and a new generation of global citizens present unique opportunities to secure better lives for all people on our planet. I am very grateful for the opportunity to lead the Centre into its next decade, and excited about the space for collaboration and learning that the Centre brings to the sector to address these challenges together.”

The Centre’s co-founder and first Executive Director, Dr. Burkhard Gnärig shared his excitement about the appointment: “I couldn’t have wished for a more experienced and better equipped successor”.

The International Civil Society Centre helps the world’s leading international civil society organisations maximise their impact for a sustainable and more equitable world. The Centre develops strategies for navigating change, scans the horizon for exciting opportunities, enables learning and cooperation among civil society organisations, supports them with developing effective leadership and promotes robust accountability. Based in Berlin, Germany, the Centre is a not-for-profit organisation owned by 15 of the world’s leading international civil society organisations.

For enquiries or further information, please contact Helene Wolf, Deputy Executive Director at hwolf@icscentre.org or +49 30 20 62 46 97 – 16

Thomas Howie

Communications Manager

International Civil Society Centre

Thomas joined the Centre in June 2017 as the Communications Coordinator. He is responsible for developing and implementing the Centre’s global communication strategy, as well as the Disrupt & Innovate platform – a place for civil society professionals and activists to discuss current innovations and future trends in the civil society sector. Prior to the Centre, Thomas worked for 5 years in the European Parliament firstly as the Digital and Social Media Coordinator for the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, and then, after the 2014 European elections, for Jude Kirton-Darling and Paul Brannen as Head of Communications, where he worked on issues such as the EU-US trade deal, issues around Brexit and as a specialist on the Petitions Committee. Thomas graduated from Bristol University with BSci in Geographical Sciences and holds an MA in Peace Studies from the University of Bradford, where he completed research into the role of civil society in the post war peace settlement in northern Uganda.