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19. Juni 2018 - 11:20

Find us here: https://icscentre.org/blog/

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Mapping of how ICSOs are preparing for change

12. Juni 2018 - 6:30

 

Given the strident advance of some trends, especially technological, the pressure to anticipate and react to change early on has grown considerably. Where do ICSOs stand in terms of future preparedness? Members of the civil society foresight community Scanning the Horizon requested a mapping of how ICSOs prepare for change. The assessment[1]  sought to provide an overview of what ICSOs do to identify and explore trends and potential disruption in the mid- to long-term, and how they plan to respond (see also the key findings).

Indeed, all organisations surveyed are undertaking steps to identify and assess trends and
disruptors. However, levels of intensity – as measured by the number of activities, diversity
of stakeholders involved and envisaged actions – vary greatly. Scanning is mostly carried out by senior management at the international headquarters, followed by those at the country or regional level, international and country-level senior leadership, and to a very limited degree by other groups in the organisation. Anecdotal evidence, e.g. from more participatory organisational restructuration processes, suggests that wider engagement helps organisations become more open to change.

Further, few organisations appear to have a clear-cut mandate or plan for their scanning work specifying a set timeline, goals and responsibilities and dedicated funds – a finding that corroborates an earlier review of ICSOs’ scanning approaches from 2016.[2] Instead, much of the engagement tends to be ad-hoc, partly building on work on top of people’s daily jobs, in evolving, not clearly defined processes. That likely makes them more dependent on the motivation of a few champions and limits the leverage of such processes with internal stakeholders, including the executive management and Board. That being said, about a fourth have some regular – if at times embryonic – engagement with trends at the senior leadership or other levels in place, and a couple of organisations look to joining up hitherto distributed practices into a more coherent approach.

Respondents focus mostly on mega-trends and trends in their own sector, building on an analysis of existing trend reports[3] for either. While this is an efficient approach, spotting disruption will inadvertently remain a weak spot. Little seems to be done in the sense of true horizon scanning, like an internal seismograph to spot emerging issues and potential disruptors. A look at the so-called S-curve is useful to understand the implications:

When drawing information on trends from sector reports or the mainstream media, these developments have typically reached the mainstream, what is called the “reactive zone”. Screening relevant scientific and fringe sources of information, including thought leaders, helps raise awareness of trends much earlier, giving the organisation more time to take strategic action and assume a pioneer role or watch the trend unfold for a while.

However, it also seems that a number of trends ICSOs mention as significant remain by and large unacted upon at the moment. These include continued closing of civic space in
countries of operation, urbanisation and climate change. Few seem to be taking concrete
action or to have developed a systematic response beyond spurring innovation and agility more broadly. By comparison, most developments relating to funding or modes of delivery of development and humanitarian aid seem to induce more, and more targeted responses.

A couple of interviewees mention that the scope of change organisations can assess and deal with is limited: “We are now more attuned to trends, but it can be distracting – after all, you have to actually do something in the present. …The big question is, of course, have we done enough to remain relevant to our target group as an INGO, have we changed radically”. This is a valid and critical issue.

Adaptation capacities are limited (and always will be), which requires two complementary approaches: for one, honing those capacities, and second, a sound mechanism to detect and scope new challenges and opportunities, so as to be able to prioritise quickly and not be caught out cold.

So where do ICSOs stand in terms of future preparedness? The picture is highly heterogeneous, but a number of organisations might benefit from a more conscious and systematic approach to spotting and assessing change. Some key questions are:

  • How can we become more apt at spotting potential disruption and emerging issues?
  • Can joint assessment of change beyond senior leadership help organisations become more agile, including in decentralised organisational structures?
  • How can organisations ensure they act on critical challenges that are detached from their missions but influence their capacity to deliver on them?

We will carry these discussions forward in the Scanning the Horizon community.

 

[1] This was done via an online survey from December 2017 through February 2018 and a series of complementing interviews in February with select survey respondents, both targeting senior ICSO staff charged with strategy, trend analysis and organisational adaptation to change.  We reached out to 31 ICSOs with an invitation to take the survey and shared the invitation via social media. We received 18 responses from ICSOs. A workshop co-hosted by ODI, Plan International and Scanning the Horizon on 6 March 2018 served to present and discuss the findings with members of ICSOs’ senior management, thereby complementing and corroborating the desk work.

[2] Internal questionnaire-based review of scanning approaches among Scanning the Horizon members, with 12 respondents.

[3] Such as the US National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends (2016) report, the UK Ministry of Defence Global Strategic Trends Out to 2045 report (2014) for mega-trends, and Bond’s Tomorrows’ World (2015) and Scanning the Horizon’s “Exploring the Future” (2016) reports for development sector trends.

 

 

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What’s for breakfast?

5. Juni 2018 - 6:25

Culture eats strategy for breakfast. This phrase came up more than once, when the Centre for the first time brought together three groups of global leaders from international civil society organisations (ICSOs): Programme, Policy and Operations Directors who met for two and a half days in Berlin to discuss and learn together how to increase the impact of their work and their organisations.

The conversations, both in the plenary and in the three separate peer groups, confirmed that most ICSOs are undergoing fundamental changes within their structures, funding models and ways of working. This requires massive efforts from all parts of the organisation, including the moving or dispersing of international headquarters, new governance structures or the reorganisation of entire divisions.

But first and foremost it requires a very different culture within our organisations to bring the new systems to life and achieve the long-term change we aim for. The importance of organisational culture has been part of the Centre’s discussions around transformational change in the past years. As most organisations now have advanced on their change journeys, the question moves to the forefront of the agenda.

The crisis around safeguarding is one devastating example that it is not enough to have sufficient policies and processes in place if they are not fully embraced, practised and enforced by all parts of the organisation. But also the ambitious goals of many organisations to work closer to the ground, collaborate more with partners and deliver on the key promise of the Sustainable Development Goals to leave no one behind require very different approaches to collaboration and ways of working.

The three groups of leaders at different points in their meetings started to unpack what this means for their roles, their teams and their wider organisations: How do we create the spaces for the challenging and uncomfortable conversations we need to have in order to move forward? How do we work together differently in our respective roles to stop the cases where power has been abused both internally and externally? What kind of leadership is needed for the kind of organisations we want to be? How can we support each other in this work?

Culture change is certainly the hardest part of any change process. People have to change their behaviours: Some have to give up or share their power, others have to step up and claim their space and leaders have to set the new framework and live by it every single day.

Only if we think through the needed changes in culture more consciously and make it a key part of our strategic planning and implementation, we can truly reap the benefits of our ambitious change agendas. If we can match our strategic visions and implementation with a culture that is truly global, representative and transparent, this can also contribute to our legitimacy and narrative about the change we want to achieve in times when civil society is under heavy scrutiny and pressure.

Strategy and culture should have breakfast together – poverty, inequality and injustice should be on the menu.

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The GDPR is an opportunity for civil society, not just a challenge

29. Mai 2018 - 6:30

As inboxes full of updated privacy notice emails can attest, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is here. The GDPR is the EU’s regulation on data protection, which came into force on May 25th and grants individuals greater knowledge of and control over their personal data. As a regulation, it is a binding legislative act, not just a directive, and will be directly binding and applicable in EU member states.

Civil society organisations face unique, sometimes daunting challenges to implementing the GDPR. Some of these challenges are specific to the GDPR, but most relate more broadly to how we interact with technology and data as a sector. Facing each challenge thoughtfully will help us think more clearly about what we’re doing and how we can do things better in future, not just for the GDPR but for our constituents, too.  

At its core, the GDPR means we can no longer gather personal data “just in case”, and that we must clearly articulate why we need to collect and store it. The Engine Room’s work focuses on supporting civil society to increase their impact through strategic, responsible use of data and technology. The attention on the GDPR has given us a lot of opportunities to continue developing and sharing these intentional approaches.

Think about the long-term strategy

Treating GDPR compliance as a one-off endeavour is a potential pitfall facing NGOs tackling implementation. As it stands, NGOs may already be pursuing technology and data projects in one-off bursts, without considering ongoing tool maintenance or how technology integrates into existing work. We’ve long advocated for taking a more critical and strategic approach to implementing technology and data projects, and think that there is a lot to be gained from doing the same when it comes to the GDPR.

By taking the time now to build strong processes, we can support our organisations’ data governance processes well into the future. Creating processes – like guidance documents on regularly deleting data you don’t need (after considering its value carefully!) or steps for responding to a data breach – can be much more valuable than any one-off checklist. Thinking about compliance as an attitudinal shift, not a single-day project, is key.

Strong operations create strong programmes

Some organisations may see GDPR as an ‘operational’ issue that is peripheral to their overall mission and de-prioritise it as a result. There is a long history of operational issues receiving less attention and fewer resources within the sector. This happens both because organisations lack operations-focused staff with the necessary skills, and because funders are not always willing to provide core funding for organisational development.

When implementing the GDPR, it can be helpful to dedicate an internal point-person (or team) to managing the process of compliance. It might be useful to establish an explicit internal prioritisation of operational tasks, and have a conversation with funders about the necessity of this prioritisation. In our case, it meant creating internal educational documents and templates that would help the entire organisation understand the importance of the GDPR and how it will enhance our work going forward. No matter what, it means realising that strong operations, policies and practices are fundamental to building strong programmes and achieving our mission(s).

Advantages to being an NGO

One of the great (but tricky) things about the GDPR is that it’s cross-organisational. It affects all data held – whether for finance purposes, communications or programmatic work – and it affects the activities of technology teams. That’s to say, it’s complex.

But so are the challenges that civil society organisations tackle. We’re already mapping information flows, connecting disparate ideas and trying to increase collaboration, sometimes on a daily basis. These same tools are critical in continued adherence with the GDPR. At The Engine Room, we managed this kind of GDPR-specific collaboration by creating things like an audit document that outlines everywhere we hold personal data, how we collect it and who is involved. This required input from every corner of our organisation, and sparked conversations that are continuing today.

The GDPR also provides an opportunity to look outside of our organisations to find new ideas and collaborators. There are many existing networks that bridge NGOs and technology, and the GDPR offers an opportunity to both grow these and create new ones. As one example close to us, the GDPR has popped up on the responsible data mailing list, a space where people share challenges and develop best practices to prioritise the rights of those reflected in the data we hold. It also was the topic of a community call, which highlighted both shared concerns and resources. The eCampaigning Forum (ECF), a network of practitioners using digital media for advocacy, also has a very active mailing list where the GDPR has been under detailed discussion.  

What’s next?

Thinking about the GDPR is a valuable opportunity for many NGOs to consider our data in a more holistic way. By placing the GDPR within a larger context of building responsible data practices, we can increase the effectiveness of our projects and better serve our partners and the communities we work with and for. After all, it isn’t just about the GDPR itself, but about the ethical management of the data we hold.

To take this broader approach, it’s important to find communities that perhaps work in a similar area as yours and who also want to make their responsible data practices an ongoing project. For specifics, see a little bit of what we’re doing about implementation. Remember to document, document, document, as demonstrating an intent to prioritise the data rights of individuals will always be a good thing to have in your favour. Use the GDPR as an excuse to do a ‘spring clean’, and take stock of your work, but also make sure to think about how it interacts with your long-term processes.

The GDPR presents a challenge for many resource-strapped organisations, but it is one that we can all face together. With collaboration and coordination, we hope that its implementation will be a positive step for the sector’s long-term tech and data projects.

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Abuse of power within NGOs is hard to digest

22. Mai 2018 - 6:30

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.

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Macedonia is ready for the Civic Charter

15. Mai 2018 - 6:30

As a human rights organization, CIVIL is always in contact with the citizens, on the ground, and has been highly visible, effective and successful in the promotion of the Civic Charter.

In a swift and uniquely composed and conducted campaign, CIVIL teams have reached thousands of people in direct communication, and many more through the CIVIL’s media platform, which is rich in content and highly influential in the society. Workshops and meetings, as well as the conference at the end of the campaign, have involved decision-makers at the local and national level, including politicians, government officials, institutions, civil society and media. Active citizen participation in decision making processes at local and national level have proven to be imperative for building a healthy democratic society.

Our analysis has shown that local governments have been put under pressure by the central government for a long time. Although the previous regime has fallen and a democratic government formed, the process of democratic transformation is very slow, and local level decision making is still facing big challenges. Fear of institutions and active citizenship is deeply rooted.

Nevertheless, CIVIL has shown visible success in encouraging active citizenship and strengthening public awareness on the Civic Charter.

The support citizens have given to the Civic Charter, at public squares throughout Macedonia, has shown that there is a strong will for cooperation and participation on issues within the area of the Civic Charter. As many have told us, they know best what the needs and priorities of their communities are. And they agreed with the Civic Charter.

The workshops and the conference have shown that there is readiness for cross-sectoral cooperation and partnership between civil society, the local and central government, business community and political parties in the field of citizen participation in the decision-making processes.

CIVIL through mutual interaction, pointed out to the participants of these sectors of society that if there is a wish, on the one hand, and political will, on the other hand, that joint cooperation will encourage effective participation, but will also contribute to the changes that the citizens need at the local and national level.

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Putting the mantra “Leave No One Behind” into action

8. Mai 2018 - 7:00

Leave no one behind – a brave and bold ambition that forms the theme of the Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to eradicate poverty and injustice by 2030. The international community, including the civil society sector, takes this as guidance for its programmes and projects. As part of that ambition, one area of focus will include the most marginalised communities and people in every country. And there are many: discriminated ethnic minorities, mutilated war victims, impoverished children, desperate refugees and displaced families, to name but a few.

Last week, the global ‘Leave No One Behind’ (LNOB) coalition met in Dhaka, Bangladesh, bringing together several of the largest international civil society organisations. The aim: to join forces to raise the voices of the most marginalised. The group has been working in five pilot* countries over the past six months and is developing a plan to combine data, distil learnings and use those for better programming and advocacy nationally and globally.

Bringing together many actors from different national contexts has many complexities, but provides for valuable learning, and hopefully, greater impact through a collaborative approach. In one country, for example, Vietnam, this coalition is already becoming the principal voice of civil society vs the Voluntary National Review which is submitted annually to report progress on SDGs. One overriding theme at the meeting was indeed, how the coalition can input into those government-led monitoring mechanisms, which too often lack disaggregated data and the voice of marginalised communities. And it proved beneficial to have representatives of the Bangladesh Government attend part of the meeting, which was hosted by the influential NGO BRAC, in order to discuss better linkage of monitoring between state and civil society.

Figuring out what marginalisation means is a key, and difficult task, because of its highly contextual nature. Bangladesh, again, is a good example of this, as it is now hosting one of the largest vulnerable and marginalised refugee communities, which fled from neighbouring Myanmar last year. Giving Rohingya people a voice is imperative, without losing consideration of those communities that are less visible.

Inclusive data gathering needs to cover quantitative data according to the many SDG indicators that exist. But every marginalised person has a story, which should be told so that underlying causes for discrimination and injustice are understood and addressed. In a world of increasing use of big and small data, their protection and the concerns for privacy need to be dealt with seriously, especially as marginalisation often has highly political dimensions. The LNOB coalition is seeking expert advice on data use so that people‘s rights are not violated.

The High-Level Political Forum of the UN exchanges progress and challenges on the Goals every year. The LNOB project is aimed at this Forum and will be represented there this year. It will link up with similar initiatives to bring the voices of the most marginalised and poorest into the centre of discussions. Without prioritising them, the international community will not achieve the Goals, nor live up to the needed structural changes that need to happen in social, economic and political terms.

If your organisation is interested in joining the coalition or in finding out more, then please contact the project manager Peter Koblowsky at pkoblowsky@icscentre.org

*Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Nepal and Vietnam

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Report: The Fight Back Against Rising Repression in On

1. Mai 2018 - 6:39

In the face of rising restrictions and brazen attacks on fundamental freedoms, citizens across the globe are responding with resolute resistance, in creative, and powerful ways.

This is the main takeaway of CIVICUS’ 2018 State of Civil Society Report.  Findings from the report identified 10 key trends. Notable among these is a spurring of peaceful resistance by active citizens and civil society against unjust actions. The report points out that almost everywhere we look, we see signs of citizens organising and mobilising in new and creative ways to defend civic freedoms, fight for social justice and equality, and push back on populism. This trend is most exemplified in the spotlight that has been shone on patriarchy, sexual harassment, gender and power imbalances, thanks to the #MeToo and Times Up movements.

The report references several positive examples to illustrate fight back against restrictions and regressive policies. These include citizen action to persuade the government in El Salvador to pass a law banning gold mining practices that harm the land, water and communities. In Romania, hundreds of thousands took to the streets to resist government plans to soft-pedal on corruption, and in South Korea, mass protest action led to the impeachment and jailing of a corrupt president.

This review of civil society highlights how when the worst of humanity came to the fore in places like Myanmar, Syria and Yemen, civil society showed its best by voluntarily placing themselves in the firing line to expose human rights abuses.

The other trends explored in the report relate to the different ways in which civil society and democratic space is being squeezed.

There have been increasing instances of personal rule and the politics of patronage eclipsing the rule of law and undermining democratic institutions in many countries. Among these are examples of Bolivia and Uganda, where leaders sought to illegitimately amend national constitutions to stay in power to extend their tenures. China’s president Xi Jinping followed suit by potentially making himself president for life. The report also points to instances where hard-line presidents have engineered courts in their favour, such as in Venezuela where judges were jailed for opposing the president and proxies were appointed to skew court decisions.

Another noted trend is the rise of polarising politics and unjust economic systems dividing societies and reducing the international community’s ability to address key global challenges such as violent conflict, inequality and climate change. The report finds that identity-based politics are trumping issue-based politics through neo-fascist ideologies that encourage xenophobia and narrow notions of nationalism in several countries including Hungary, India, Israel, the Philippines, Turkey, Uganda and the US.

Attacks on the independent media and online freedom are other key highlights. Several high-profile journalists reporting on corrupt activities of political and economic leaders or covering public protests are being attacked in brazen ways.  Examples include the car bomb killing of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana, who exposed high-level corruption in Malta.

The promise of the internet and social is being compromised with illicit surveillance becoming more commonplace. Many in civil society are being targeted by false propaganda is spread by rogue states and extreme right-wing elements. At times of contestation, such as elections or national protests, governments, such as those in Cameroon, Iran and Togo during 2017 shut down the internet or access to social media tools to restrict communication. The report finds that online platforms have become battlegrounds in which regressive voices are seeking to shape opinion with misinformation and myths, including through trolls imploding progressive conversations.

Another worrying phenomenon is the rise of ‘uncivil’ society – socially conservative forces claiming civil society space, increasingly emboldened by populist and repressive politics. These groups – which include think tanks that advance nationalist and xenophobic ideas and protest movements against LGBTI, refugee, migrant and women’s rights – are seeking to weaken the impact of civil society that advances progressive positions. An example, the report notes, is Poland, where state funding schemes have been reworked to enable greater support for uncivil society.

The report makes a number of key recommendations for active citizens, democratic governments, multilateral institutions, the private sector, media and academia. Democratic governments are encouraged to model the deepening of democratic practice by enabling spaces for discussion, dissent and dialogue at all levels and to resist moves to weaken human rights standards at the multilateral level. Active citizens are urged to connect locally, nationally and internationally on social justice causes and mobilise in different ways, including through volunteering.

Another key recommendation is that multilateral institutions should reinforce the primacy of civil society participation in decision-making and find new ways to open up spaces for public participation in their activities, while the private sector, media and academia are encouraged to make common cause with civil society in the defence of human rights by forming new alliances, sharing platforms and partnering in joint campaigns.

 

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Digital leadership in the international civil society sector

24. April 2018 - 7:30

Would you rather lead us into famine response in South Sudan, or into the jungle of digitalisation? This hypothetical question to international civil society leaders (CEOs and Chairs) was looming over last week’s annual retreat organised by the Centre, and the active attendance confirmed their courage and curiosity to engage in uncovering what this megatrend means, not just for civil society organisations, but also to their top brass.

Getting an understanding of what digitalisation means for our sector is always a good starting point. In most recent surveys, the high level of importance of digitalisation for our work is coupled with an extremely low readiness to understand and embrace this development.

You get, however, very quickly that this is not something that one can ‘compartmentalise’, or delegate down to the Chief Information Officer or the Head of IT. Every aspect of our work, from fundraising and communications to better participation in program decisions, and finding new solutions to problems of poverty, marginalisation and environmental issues, can ideally benefit from digital tools, and requires a basic understanding at the level of decision makers.

At the same time, the threats and challenges are growing exponentially. Data privacy and protection are particularly important, as we are experiencing restrictions on civic space, and the instrumentalisation of big and small data for commercial and political purposes. The dangers of a new ‘digital divide’ are real: Economic and social inequalities can be exacerbated if access to the internet, to digital tools and knowledge, are not provided to the bottom billion. In fact, big digital companies are looking for the ‘next billion’ clients in a mostly unregulated environment, and the civil society sector should be frontline in making sure this ambition helps to connect the most marginalised (and protect them from becoming mere customers or data providers). And all of our intervention programs should include systematic use and build digital capacities and knowledge with the people we serve.

Putting people at the centre of digital strategies became the overriding theme in our discussions. Rather than chasing new technologies as part of the latest hype cycle, we need to put our mission first, discover what people need and can use, and determine our engagement in digital technology accordingly. The excitement about new solutions (on participation, communication, technology) vs. the fear of data misuse, inequality of access, and things getting out of hand are the extreme sides of our spectrum of engagement. Connecting opportunities and challenges of digitalisation back to our mission will have to be the overriding ambition of any strategic involvement.

In particular, the digital cultures of ICSOs need to be strengthened – including deeper understanding, analysis, and comfort on usage. This will then help us engage more systematically in the main areas of action – strategy, organisational processes, communication and fundraising, and technology and data. Above all, the ambition of ‘digital for good’ and ‘do no harm’ should guide us, as we strive to make a difference to the most marginalised and oppressed, and maintain legitimacy, effectiveness and impact in the future.

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“Practice what you preach” – Dr. Burkhard Gnärig

17. April 2018 - 6:30

This Q&A blog first appeared on Dóchas – The Irish Association of Non-Governmental Development Organisations’ website. It appeared as part of a series of blogs published in the lead up to their conference, Changing the Narrative: Building Support for Global Development – which will take place on Thursday 3 May in the Croke Park Conference Centre.

Some public opinion polls suggest that there is a significant lack of public trust in NGOs. What is the number one thing NGOs should be doing to regain public trust?

Trust is the bridge that links what we preach with what we practice. The larger the distance between our words and deeds, the more fragile the bridge of trust that connects both is. The recent scandals about sexual misconduct in some of the largest and most trusted organisations in our sector is a telling example of how the discrepancy between our statements and actions dramatically erodes trust. “The number one thing” civil society organisations (CSOs) should do to regain and preserve trust is to narrow the gap between what we preach and what we practice to an absolute minimum. In cleaning up the mess of the recent scandal, it is not sufficient to create some new structures, policies and working groups. We need a fundamental transformation of our sector’s male dominated culture, career paths and leadership.

One example of the gap between what we say and what we do on “gender justice” is the discrepancy between the number of women in our workforce compared to our leadership. In many organisations, two thirds of the staff are women while two thirds of the leaders are men. Practically all CSOs produce impressive statements on gender justice and women’s rights but very few have a share of female leaders that reflects the share of women in their staff. Such obvious gaps erode the public trust in our sector – and rightly so. We need to stop making grand pronouncements while lagging behind in implementing them, especially in our own organisations first.

Is the populist narrative of “charity begins at home” gaining ground in Europe? What should we be doing to counter it?

Populism very much thrives on citizens’ loss of trust in elected governments and their institutions, the media and – as discussed above – the civil society sector. The more the democratic and pluralistic parts of society can rebuild trust among the public at large, the less populists will succeed. For all too long, many CSOs have ignored challenges at home focusing exclusively on the ones abroad. As so many developing countries are prospering, the focus rightly turns back to unresolved issues in Europe.

However, while populists understandably demand “charity”, our sector should focus on empowerment of poor and marginalised people and offer rights based programmes rather than alms. In a world, in which our most challenging problems are global, everybody needs to contribute to resolving them. Only those who undertake the painful and costly transformation at home have the right to demand fundamental change from others.

Should we be trying to build a global social movement around the Sustainable Development Goals? If so, what needs to happen to mobilise the public?

Yes we should, both as a means to re-gain lost trust and to fight intolerance, populism and authoritarian government. Many citizens around the world are deeply worried about climate change, environmental destruction, persistent poverty and growing inequality. They dream of a peaceful, just and sustainable future for themselves, their children and grandchildren. If our sector can reconnect to these dreams and offer a platform for all to pursue their dreams together, we will no longer have to worry about lack of trust or populist stupidity – and we would take a major step closer to resolving the global challenges humanity faces.

The Dóchas Conference 2018 – Changing the Narrative: Building Support for Global Development – will take place on 3 May, from 10.30am – 5.30pm, in the Croke Park Conference Centre. Speakers include Ruairí De Búrca, Director General, Irish Aid; Heba Aly, Director, IRIN; Dr Danny Sriskandarajah, Secretary General and CEO, CIVICUS; Judith Greenwood, Executive Director of CHS Alliance; and Rafeef Ziadah, Lecturer, Comparative Politics of the Middle East, SOAS University of London, spoken word artist and human rights activist. Our MC for the day will be journalist and broadcaster Dil Wickremasinghe.

 

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Top 5 blogs of the year so far….

10. April 2018 - 6:30

This week we want to share with you the content that you have found most compelling this year. We’ve compiled a list of the most read blogs on Disrupt&Innovate in 2018, so you can see what others in the civil society sector are interested in. Additionally, it’s a great opportunity to remind ourselves of the strength of this platform, it’s diversity of topics and range of contributors. Take a look at the blogs below, we hope you enjoy.

MOST CIVIL SOCIETY STAFF ARE WOMEN – MOST OF THEIR LEADERS ARE MEN

A few weeks ago I recruited a new colleague to our small Centre secretariat team. The pattern of many previous rounds was repeated: We reviewed a number of very qualified and competent young female candidates, struggled to invite equally impressive male applicants for an interview and in the end offered the position to a very dedicated, ambitious and talented woman who wants to develop a long-term career in the civil society sector. I have met and worked with many women like her over the years at the Centre and in the civil society organisations (CSOs) we work with. Read more

DATA COLLABORATIVES CAN TRANSFORM THE WAY CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS FIND SOLUTIONS – PART I

The need for innovation is clear: The twenty-first century is shaping up to be one of the most challenging in recent history. From climate change to income inequality to geopolitical upheaval and terrorism: the difficulties confronting international civil society organisations (ICSOs) are unprecedented not only in their variety but also in their complexity. At the same time, today’s practices and tools used by ICSOs seem stale and outdated. Increasingly, it is clear, we need not only new solutions but new methods for arriving at solutions. Read more

HOW ARE BLOCKCHAIN AND BIG DATA CURRENTLY BEING USED IN THE CIVIL SOCIETY SECTOR?

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. Read more

WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH…

One year ago I reviewed the political environment in which civil society had to act and drew some conclusions for the year 2017. I expressed my expectation that “we will not succumb to Brexit and Trump” and demanded: “We urgently need to come together in a powerful global movement to defend tolerance against the intolerant, pluralism and the rule of law against authoritarianism, and our future as a global community against chauvinism and xenophobia.” What has happened in this respect over the past twelve months? Read more

2018 – FOR A YEAR OF MORE RESILIENT AND ACCOUNTABLE CIVIL SOCIETY

In recent years, governments around the world have responded to increased activism, protests and political engagement of citizens and various civil society actors with cracking down on civic space. Unfortunately, these trends have not passed the Western Balkans and Turkey by either.

As restrictions on foreign funding (in Kosovo, Turkey), barriers to registration (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey), intervention in CSOs’ internal affairs (Macedonia and Turkey), negative narratives (Serbia and Macedonia), and declining public trust in civil society in almost all of the countries become the new normal in this region, civil society and donors are going to have to adapt to this context. Read more

 

 

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International NGOs should ensure women are at the centre of daily operations

3. April 2018 - 6:30

Growing up in the 1980s in Tunisia, hailed as a modern society, International Women’s Day was a long day of celebrations staged by President Ben Ali’s regime while his police tortured and harassed women in prisons.

Many states are known for their strategy to exploit women’s rights for political purposes. But, the international community practices are not that different either–not to the same end for sure. If international NGOs (INGOs) keep using the strategies and approaches they are using now to fight against gender inequality, progress on gender parity will surely grind to a halt and we will need another 200 years to close the gap.

At the centre of the problem is the fact that INGOs still consider women’s rights a secondary issue, a ‘soft’ battle, rather than a core one. We see evidence of this on two levels: that way that sexual harassment and abuse within the development sector is addressed (or not addressed) and states’ responses to gender inequality abuses. The recent scandals involving sexual exploitation by aid workers, which are engulfing the civil society sector, expose the internal, loose practices that fail to address gender and power imbalances. The State of Civil Society 2018, an annual report by global civil society alliance CIVICUS that assesses conditions impacting civic space globally, outlines 10 trends affecting civil society. One of those trends is growing efforts to put patriarchy under the spotlight, as embodied in the #MeToo and Times Up actions, and to challenge and address behaviours and attitudes that enable sexism and gender discrimination. INGOs should be taking the lead against sexual harassment and wider gender inequalities through practising what they preach.

It is also important to celebrate achievements and progress made but turning a blind eye to women in more disadvantaged positions shows the selectivity of women’s struggles. When Saudi Arabia finally gave women the right to drive in September 2017, many celebrated a decision that overturns a cornerstone of Saudi conservatism. However, women’s struggles in the kingdom go beyond driving, to include sexual abuses of domestic workers and the lack of opportunities for working-class women. States such as Saudi Arabia keep intentionally failing to meet gender parity commitments but INGOs and the international community do little to respond to this beyond statements, media releases and side events at UN conferences. States are not being held to account.

Furthermore, the struggle to effectively mainstream gender equality is the result of a conventional understanding of the role of women and their contexts. In fact, decades of a “one size fits all” approach has hindered the achievement of women’s rights in local communities. Local women do not lack capacity and their nuanced understanding of local issues goes beyond how they articulate their struggle without jargon.

For instance, before the rising of Muslim feminism, the Muslim world resisted and rejected the western interpretations of gender inequality. Women’s movements in the Middle East/North Africa region were the only, effective actors pushing the women’s agenda. In 2017, Tunisia passed its first national law to combat violence against women, an effort led by local women human rights defenders.

This means that the push for progress in gender parity should not be only around motivation and action, but also around reflecting, healing and change from within. It is time to support local women’s unique leadership by giving them the space to act and by fighting alongside them and not through them. Equip them to be more efficient, give them access to the international community and resources, push for more inclusion, not only by ensuring a quota of representation but through striving for a more gender- and socially-inclusive strategies and operations. But most importantly, INGOs have to adhere to the values that they espouse and walk the walk.

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Transform or Leave?

27. März 2018 - 6:30

I just spent two fascinating weeks with in Sri Lanka, advising an ICSO on possible new operational/business models.

The World Bank has declared Sri Lanka a “lower-middle income country”, which means that foreign governments and, subsequently, many individual donors are shifting their attention away from Sri Lanka and towards poorer countries. However, while the average per capita incomes are rising, pockets of persistent poverty remain, especially in the regions that were most strongly affected by the country’s civil war.

In this situation many of the international civil society organisations (ICSOs) working in the country are facing two critical questions:

  1. How can we support poor and marginalised people with entering the main stream of economic and income growth?
  2. How can we resource our work sustainably in the future?

Finding and implementing positive answers to both questions will force ICSOs to transform themselves. If they are unable to transform themselves, ICSOs will find it hard to secure their own sustainability and may have to leave the country.

What are the transformations ICSOs need to undergo over the next few years in countries like Sri Lanka?

From charities to rights based organisations

Practically all major ICSOs talk about themselves as “rights based organisations”. However, if we look at their approaches, behaviours or governance we find that much of their charitable past still prevails: Programmes often still are “assistencialistic” providing people with aid rather than contributing to their empowerment. “Beneficiaries” often need to content themselves with the benefits on offer rather than being able to determine themselves what they need: And ICSOs’ governance is usually dominated by representatives from fundraising countries in the global North and with little influence for those who are supposed to benefit from ICSOs’ work. As poverty declines and more and more people are able to think and act beyond the needs of their immediate survival they will no longer tolerate assistencialistic and paternalistic behaviour. For ICSOs, this means: they have to practice the rights based approaches they preach.

From organisations that spend money to organisations that can only spend the money they raise

In countries like Sri Lanka, most ICSOs have been focused exclusively on spending money that had been raised abroad. No fundraising activities took place in the country. This means, ICSOs in Sri Lanka and similar countries have a strong knowledge and culture of programme excellence but very little experience and culture in funding their own operations. In a situation where funding flows from abroad decrease and will eventually dry up, ICSOs’ exclusive focus on implementing programmes is unsustainable. In order to prevail, organisations need to adopt a much more entrepreneurial approach aiming for a sustainable balance between fundraising and programming activities.

From foreign donors to national affiliates of global organisations

In countries that can perfectly well take care of themselves having “country offices” maintained by foreign donors no longer make sense – however, having a national affiliate of a global organisation does. For instance, even in the richest countries there are some poor and marginalised people, some children who are abused, and some women who are oppressed. Having national organisations that effectively address these challenges is essential, and for those being part of a global family of like-minded national organisations is of a major strategic advantage. A farsighted policy of building civil society capacity and effectiveness around the world will create strong global networks whose local, national and regional members will systematically learn from each other and cooperate where beneficial. Transforming ICSO country offices into national affiliates can be a useful first step in this direction.

In short: In emerging economies such as Sri Lanka ICSOs only have the choice between fundamentally transforming themselves and leaving. If they want to stay, they will have to transform their worldviews, cultures and power relationships.

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A Place of Excellence and Innovation – The Next Decade at the International Civil Society Centre

20. März 2018 - 15:43

Today, huge inequalities are contributing to divided and segregated societies and have created antagonising governments riding the waves of populism. Space for civic action, freedom of speech and assembly, and human and civil rights are drastically limited, through both open and opaque government measures. Millions of refugees and war victims need solidarity and services at highest levels of excellence. And the planet’s environmental boundaries are fragile and almost exhausted.

External and internal challenges to the work of Civil Society Organisations are greater than ever. The current climate in which ICSOs operate is difficult and precarious. Plotting the right course will be essential for civil society to survive and thrive. Current internal challenges to our sector, sometimes threaten to override the purpose of work. For example, the moral basis and public trust for ICSOs work are challenged and sometimes eroded through ethical wrongdoings (as exposed by the cases of sexual misconduct). Likewise, through the questioning of the current aid system, and by the legitimate claims for power shifts to the global South.

As I have been entrusted to move the International Civil Society Centre (ICSC) into its second decade, there is a great need for the sector of organised civil society institutions to be modernised, just as more established institutions like UN Security Council or international treaties.

The ICSC is here to support organised civil society in that transformation. Using new technology and talent, it will initiate collective action and ambition to influence critical developments for the achievement of a more just and equitable world, in which no one is left behind.

The task at hand is big, but the Centre has already come a long way in a short space of time. 10 years ago, two visionaries founded the Berlin Civil Society Centre, to provide a space for collaboration and forward thinking on civic space. The founders Burkhard Gnärig and Peter Eigen managed over those years, to create a broad base of International Civil Society Organisations (ICSOs) who carry the Centre today – our shareholders. They provide incredibly valuable services, support and aid to marginalised and underprivileged people. They defend human rights, and improve the world we all live in. Through their diversity, intellectual and financial capital, the leading ICSOs and their partners are helping to achieve the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals. They serve as watchdogs (challenging corrupt and irresponsible governments), provide a moral compass, create perspectives for children and youth, support women in their fight for equality, drive policymakers towards the protection of our environment, and provide dignity to the poorest of the poor.

This collective of (soft) power is the underlying basis for the Centre’s objectives. To help ICSOs be at the top of their game, we aim to serve them (and the sector) as a think tank, space for collaboration, trend spotter, challenger and supporter of continuous transformation of operating models, structures, processes and organisational culture.

There are great pressures exerted through the Fourth Industrial Revolution, digitalisation, new forms of communication and demands for more transparency and demonstrable impact. Challenges come also through new generations of supporters (and opponents), influencers, value brokers and thought leaders – our friends and allies for the future years to come, who expect different ways of engagement, and many want to see strong moral grounds coupled with more agile and contemporary ways of working.
In tackling these challenges and taking our sector forward, I look forward to hearing your thoughts about how we can do that together. In addition, I relish the chance to get going on exciting projects.

If you are interested in our work or want to learn then please get in touch with our team, mail@icscentre.org or me wjamann@icscentre.org

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Civil society innovators agree, blockchain and big data collaborations

13. März 2018 - 6:30

Blockchain and Big Data can transform how international civil society organisations (ICSOs) work and what they achieve. To benefit from them, collaboration between ICSOs is essential. At our 2018 Innovators Forum on 27-28 February 2018, experts gathered to work on new projects using Blockchain and Big Data to solve problems.

If the civil society sector does not organise now, then the potential of Big Data and Blockchain may be lost altogether. That was the feeling among 30 innovators and digital experts gathered at our 2nd Innovators Forum.

The motivation to act now is to avoid making the same mistake our sector made with the internet. In the early days of the internet, no one knew its true potential. However, big corporations were quick to react, capitalising on this digital innovation. They took the lead and made decisions that affected our lives and way of working. The likes of Google and Facebook capitalised, while civil society voices were not heard on important issues, such as data privacy and security. Ever since, we have been playing catch-up, rather than leading digital innovation.

Collaborating on Big Data and Blockchain

Our Innovators Forum participants agreed, this time civil society should grasp the opportunities presented by Big Data and Blockchain. They decided that to deliver benefits to all, civil society needs to act now and together.

Participants agreed to develop four projects on how to use Big Data or Blockchain technology in the work of CSOs:

  • Data-driven advocacy partnerships for SDGs: Develop a data collaboration method focussed on evidence-driven advocacy for the leave no one behind agenda. Using the Centre’s current Leave No One Behind project as a case study on how to use big data effectively at different project stages.
  • Big Data for Impact measurement: Use various Big Data sets to discover new insights. Create an impact measurement tool to improve decision making in in the area of advocacy.
  • Plan Omega: Explore how establishing a “CSO Blockchain” could enhance efforts to protect and expand civic space. Map relevant CSO actors and technological experts to gauge the viability of building the CSO blockchain.
  • Cryptocurrency and CSO transaction costs: Explore the possibilities of using an existing or establishing a new cryptocurrency for the CSO sector exclusively, this group will seek to answer the question: “Could the use of a cryptocurrency help reduce transaction costs for CSOs?”

Forum participants will take forward the four working areas. We are looking forward to seeing how these proposals progress. The Centre will provide support as needed and report on their progress on this blog.

Interested in the Innovators Forum or the work areas? You can contact Mathias Henriksen at mhenriksen@icscentre.org.

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Most civil society staff are women – most of their leaders are men

6. März 2018 - 6:30

A few weeks ago I recruited a new colleague to our small team in the Centre secretariat. The pattern of many previous rounds was repeated: We reviewed a number of very qualified and competent young female candidates, struggled to invite equally impressive male applicants for an interview and in the end offered the position to a very dedicated, ambitious and talented woman who wants to develop a long-term career in the civil society sector. I have met and worked with many women like her over the years at the Centre and in the civil society organisations (CSOs) we work with.

But very few of them advance to the senior management positions they aspired to take on when they start their career in the CSO sector. Looking at the leadership of the majority of large CSOs, these women never make it there. According to data from 2012, the Women Count report, women make up 68% of the workforce of the 100 CSOs with the highest income in the UK but only 25% of the most senior positions. In Germany, about 75% of the workforce are female; in CSOs providing social and care services the number even goes up to 83%. However, only about 42% of CEOs are women, sometimes only in co-leadership with a man. Of the roughly 30 leading international CSOs we work with at the Centre, only one third have a female global CEO. The representation in boards is by no means more gender balanced.

So what happens on the way to formal leadership positions? The very few studies that focus on the CSO sector suggest the “typical” explanations: Women can’t or don’t want to work full-time because of family responsibilities and therefore remain in the operational low to mid-level positions; male Board and CEOs recruit and promote “look-a-likes” to work with them or succeed them and women themselves hesitate to take on formal leadership roles because of their own prejudices and doubts whether they are ready or well-equipped enough.

Our sector is leading the way on gender balance and gender justice in programming, advocacy and research. Most large CSOs have mainstreamed gender issues across all their work with very impressive results for women’s empowerment worldwide. But when it comes to our own organisations we lag behind many other sectors who have systematically started to increase female leadership, sometimes only under pressure from governments who introduce quota, but also because they understand that gender balanced management achieves better results (and profit) and that it simply does not make sense to leave a large part of their talent pool untapped.

The gender imbalance in our own organisations’ leadership should no longer be acceptable for us. How do we systematically support women in their career development so that they acquire the skills and qualifications but also the confidence to apply for and accept formal leadership roles? What can our organisations do to provide the work conditions and culture in which women thrive just as much as men? How can we change our recruitment, retention and promotion processes in a way to increase gender balance within our top leadership and governance?

These and many more questions have to become a much stronger part of the current discussions in our sector around governance, power shift and legitimacy. I will start by talking to the women I know, some of them who are in leadership roles in the sector (or elsewhere) and the many who aren’t (yet) – so that together we can develop ideas how to achieve gender balance at the top. To the many women I don’t know: Please let me know what you think at hwolf@icscentre.org

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