A future scenario workshop at our Global Perspectives 2018 conference explored what an international civil society organisation (ICSO) in 2030 successfully ‘Engaging a #New Generation’ would look like. The group predicted a very different global environment of megatrends with great impact and influence on young people. Although only 12 years’ away, there was systemic and rapid change in social and political organisation, technology and data-driven inequality, precarious work/economic situations, and intense climate change, antibiotic resistance and genetically modified food systems.
In this context, the successful CSO of 2030 would have characteristics fundamentally different from the mindsets, skills, structures and ways of working today. Radical and cause-driven, it would be focused on campaigns, advocacy/policy and amplifying what others are doing, with devolved peer-to-peer accountability and consensus decision-making communities both internally and with supporters.
One clear idea was intergenerational ICSOs working on major complex multi-generational issues. We imagined an organisation where all staff – regardless of age and number of years of professional experience – know how to catalyse change, engage the public, and mentor others. This includes multi-directional mentoring across a four- or five-generation workforce, in an organisation where everyone receives leadership training. With CSOs’ professional and technical staff expertise also seen as available through a `draw down´ service to partners, this would also increase in importance.
Undoubtedly, the ICSO of the future will need to expertly balance experience and youth for powerful leadership and ‘manage the intergenerational mix’. There is some general analysis out there but not much detailed exploration for our sector in particular. How much are organisations thinking about this and preparing internal scenarios, tools and processes to make this an easy and effective transition? We may explore this further with the Global Heads of Division in 2019, which will include HR Directors for the first time. Please get in touch if you are already working on this.
A number of ICSOs in the foresight community Scanning the Horizon are experimenting with or interested in engaging young audiences in developing future scenarios. The purpose of which is to inform their current cycles of organisational strategic planning. In a recent webinar organised by the Centre, Amnesty International shared insights from their first ever youth futures workshop within the organisation’s 2018 Global Youth Summit, with 100 young volunteers and activists. An initial round of internal thinking narrowed down the strategic topics to explore in the scenarios, including technology and human rights, economic inequality and cultural power. In groups, the young people then answered three overall questions:
The participants then created the vision of the world they wanted to see in 2030, completing a blank newspaper front page as the framework to define the future headlines they could help shape. The practical exercise enabled them to identify influencing strategies for different actors under each theme, make connections between topics, and gave them the confidence to replicate the exercise in their own peer networks. Amnesty International now plans to repeat this targeted process with more young people in regional spaces.
As UNICEF’s ‘Adolescents shaping their future: a foresight toolkit’ notes, involving young people in foresight process is important for a number of reasons, including ‘living with the consequences’ of current decisions and policies longer than those making or planning them in the present. Foresight does not require accurate predictions, but rather diverse and participatory generation of ideas about multiple potential futures. This should make it a relatively exciting and easy entry point to include young people, and increase open and more democratic exchanges, including where young people ‘have limited say in their lives or community affairs’. This could include some ICSO processes!
Engaging youth in developing future scenarios might be a first step towards ultimately making foresighting processes fully intergenerational as well. In developing a preferred vision of the future and how to get there, recognising and incorporating different perceptions of time is important. How far away does 2030 seem to people of different ages and stages of their lives? Integrating varied notions of time may highlight different senses of urgency or perceived levels of agency to change situations, and shake things up beyond incremental or even cynical thinking, to a more ambitious and optimistic outlook of what can be achieved. Appreciating different temporal dimensions may be important in intercultural foresight processes as well.
It is clear that there is both appetite and need to explore thinking on intergenerational working and future strategy development processes, and how ICSOs can implement these in more systematic and practical ways. The conversations will continue with our communities and through our convening in 2019.
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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
I just attended a fascinating meeting of futurists and experts of strategic foresight, who the International Civil Society Centre brought together in Nairobi, Kenya from 19-21 June. Here are a few points I took away, which may be relevant to others in our sector:
On the first day, Jackie Cilliers and Zachary Donnenfeld from the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in South Africa presented their model for scenario planning on “African Futures – Key Trends to 2035”. We learned how to use big data for modelling and forecasting and then tested the presented model by developing different scenarios for Africa’s future. There was wide agreement among participants that big data will play an important role in shaping our sector’s work and that this model would be a helpful tool when using big data to (re-) shape their programmes. Models like the one ISS uses can help our sector find concrete ways to use big data towards achieving our mission.
Day two of the meeting started with Irungu Houghton, the Director of Amnesty Kenya, who provided an overview on key challenges facing civil society organisations. Two of the most critical points he mentioned were:
The subsequent discussion focused on the question: Why does our sector changes so slowly, even though we mostly know what has to be changed? Lack of flexibility in organisational structures, inappropriate governance, and lack of personal courage were some of the answers mentioned.
I was invited to contribute to the discussion based on my work on new business models for Plan International’s work in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is one of over 50 countries that have recently lost their “developing country” status and now need to finance their further development by relying mainly on their own resources. For ICSOs, this means that many of their funding sources dry up and they need to either find new money or close down their programmes and leave the country. If they decide to stay, ICSOs need to raise the bulk of their funds in-country, which requires them to take a much more entrepreneurial approach. The main bottleneck for such strategic foresight at present is the lack of overall direction. Many ICSOs have not yet decided whether they will stay or leave when countries lose their “developing” status. This decision is urgently required in order to provide a solid basis and direction for scanning the horizon.
The subsequent discussion on “Populism and Politics of Demonization” was informed by presentations from Mercy Corps’ Anna Young and Amnesty’s Irungu Houghton. Both shared situations of political persecution faced by themselves personally and by their organisations. The trend which has clearly emerged is that ICSOs are no longer “automatically” seen as neutral and well-intentioned actors. Even service-providing organisations that stay clear of contentious advocacy work can no longer be certain that their work will be tolerated, let alone supported. This situation will probably get worse before it will eventually improve again. Therefore, political developments have to be very much at the top of every organisation’s scanning agenda.
Day three looked at different scanning approaches as a basis for joint learning. Piero Fontalan from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) provided an overview on how scanning is being done in his organisation, and Jason Taylor from Plan International explained how he and his team implement strategic foresight. What fascinated me most was Jason’s story about how the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone Park changed the course of rivers in the park. When wolves reappeared, elks changed their grazing habits by migrating out of the valleys. Overgrazing near the rivers stopped and the rivers became narrower and more stable in their course. For our topic of foresight, this means: take great care to analyse the complexities of future developments – one aspect rarely changes without affecting many others.
This was the first time the Centre’s foresight community met outside Europe. As a consequence, we had a much more diverse group of participants. A visit to Nairobi’s tech community in “Silicon Savannah” closed a very lively and productive conference. In a globalising world, Scanning the Horizon can only be a global affair. Moving our community’s 2018 meeting to Africa acknowledges the growing importance this continent has in shaping the future of all of us.