Leadership and strategy in the changing development landscape

August 23, 2013

birds eye view

We have all heard it lately. The development landscape is changing. The non-profit sector is facing challenges. International non-governmental organizations (iNGOs) are re-focusing. The Canadian Government has merged CIDA into the newly created Department of Foreign Affairs Trade and Development (DFATD). And more.

It is no longer about international NGOs taking care of local problems from A to Z in developing countries through expatriates. The changing paradigm is about local development. It is time to create partnerships with local community organizations and businesses to ensure problematic areas are handled with appropriate leadership.

Devex published this interesting article. It speaks to the practical challenges with local partnerships, leadership, the new role of iNGOs and the need discuss them.

As I read this article, I couldn’t help wondering why we are not having this discussion in Canada and how this would impact community organizations here?

It is challenging for established organizations to make the change even when they have sector and institutional knowledge; in themselves both pros and cons. Small and rural organizations must change swiftly and smoothly to access resources and ensure they are not forgotten. Organizations just starting out will need to weave their solution into this paradigm shift into their strategic vision. In short, organizations need a plan.

Let’s get back to the Devex article. It discusses five practical ways for local NGOs to deal with the changing paradigm. These are intended to support local leadership for Canada’s community and non-profit sector.

1. Localization and glocalization.

Local entities have to perform at the global standards developed over time by government agencies and large, established iNGOs. Adaptation is key for survival.

The situation for local community organizations in Canada is no different. As government involvement (including funding) decreases, local businesses and organizations must have the freedom and responsibility to become creative in supporting local best practices.

What comes to mind is the development of strategic partnerships in which each partner offers a unique value. For example, a local accounting practice may give the community organization accounting training; while the community organization shares their valuable and affordable services to the local population being served.

2. Speak the language.

Crosscutting and donor-specific international development acronyms are dissimilar with the local etymology of ministries, businesses and local NGOs.

Is it any different between Canadian government agencies and local community councils? No. So let’s talk about a shared language. This is not about inventing a new alphabet, pronunciations or grammar. It is about uncovering a vocabulary that holds the same meaning for all parties.

For example, the sector name creates confusion. The category “non-profit” itself only describes the legal status, not the nature, of the work. My favourite is “community sector” that says something about the ideals of the sector: specifically to create and maintain a vibrant and connected community. On the other hand, the popular “development sector” refers to the nature of the work.

3. Get to know your capacity-building partners.

Building and sustaining local capacity through training and resources addresses structural challenges and barriers. The role thus of iNGOs is to provide the training and resources.

Established Canadian community organizations receive funding for training and resources. Meanwhile, small, young and rural organizations tend not to because they are perceived as possessing barriers to their effectiveness. These barriers include lesser access to (human) resources, less organizational knowledge and only modest finances.

This is a catch-22. The very thing they need the most therefore stifles organizations with barriers: support., This prevents them from making sustainable and larger-scale change.

Perhaps the real reason funders deny support to organizations with barriers is because they feel that they might prove too successful. These NGOs might provide solutions so smart, efficient and effective that the status quo of the established development world could be upset.

4. With opportunity comes (compliance) responsibility.

Some donors and funders are creating simplified procedures for local groups to secure funds.

People start community organizations and businesses because they are passionate about an issue and because they know how to (partially) solve it. They generally are not organizational gurus or fundraising professionals. Because of this, it is imperative to create compliance expectations that are realistic. Give them time to learn, grow, act and lead.

Imagine Canada has a Standards Initiative program that sets standards for community organizations and distinguishes organizations by age, size, and revenue. Funders and donors need to accept these standards.

5. Get better at business development.

As projects go local, it is important to remain competitive with business strategies, tactics and tools in order to build successful partnerships.

Yep, this one will never change – strategies, tactics and tools (organizational systems) are always needed to keep abreast with other organizations within and across sectors. Partnerships must be strategic to become successful. In this framework, in order for the organization to be seen as a valuable partner, it is required to position itself uniquely.

It is then indispensable to provide organizations with targeted support in business development and nurture local leadership.

This is a quick review of how the changing landscape in international development applies to the Canadian community non-profit sector. A few of the implications are discussed by Devex. I believe it is time to recognize that the paradigm will also change in the Canadian non-profit sector.

The emphasis in the future will lie on local development with valuable and strategic partnerships, lead by visionary leaders. To deal with this, it is time for funders, donors and (local) businesses to take the plunge and support new and rural organizations. Key to this development is actionable and creative strategic plans.

My next blog article will cover five practical ways to design and get local strategic partnerships.


Lisette Andreyko

Lisette is the founder of Kaleidoscope and is passionate about start-up leadership, personal growth and women in business (and psst.. about tea!). She enjoys connecting with small businesses through her network. You can find her on LinkedIn.