Navigating for Change

Breakout Session 2: Navigating for Change

This session featured James Crowley (Strategic Business Advisor, The Crowley Institute), Professor John Gaventa (Director of Research, Institute of Development Studies), Laura Sullivan (Europe and Americas Director for ActionAid International) and was chaired by Catrina Sheridan (Sightsavers International Ireland).

It was a richly varied discussion that focused on the ways NGOs can change to adapt to the challenges we are facing, and the ways that NGOs should work to achieve change.

Here are some key highlights from the session:

  • Being a good development or humanitarian organisation is very tricky. ‘Development process’ is complex and hard if addressed seriously. Trying to achieve positive progress or predictable outcome in unstable, insecure, corrupt countries with poorly developed institutions, policies and regulation, with social norms that are difficult to address, is really challenging.

  • We can look at four different though connected areas of change facing international NGOs.  Some present challenges, others opportunities.

1.    We need to work harder to design and implement better quality programmes that are more consistent, lasting in impact and that are really value for money.  

2.    How do we deal with the changing external headwinds that are making our work harder; the rise of populism, nationalism and isolationist thinking; the loss of confidence and trust in the aid industry, and the questioning of the aid budget?

3.    We can take action to change this external context in a positive sense - to exploit the opportunities for the poor and the disadvantaged for positive impact and outcome.

4.    We need to build and strengthen the capacity of our international organisations to be more than the sum of its parts – increased efficiency, better decision making, about resources, better processes and systems, exploiting technology properly in front and back offices, stronger performance management and accountability.

  • Change is difficult but not rocket science. Be clear on the change you are seeking to make. If you are sensible and diligent on basic steps and bloody minded to follow through on barriers and blocks – anything is possible.

  • How do we address growth in an environment of extreme inequality? We must change our approach internationally, and work very differently to now, if we are to ‘find pathways’ to a just world.

  • New partners working with iNGOs to deliver positive change must be truly relevant to local life – not just ‘international NGOs’. INGOs must build alliances and connections to ensure development is owned and delivered locally.  Development must not be just an act of charity – it must be able to model itself and to truly assist domestic organisations and to deliver positive local change. 

  • Effective development and growth must address global equality by including new voices and engaged excellence of research. It is only when we engage with others and when we allow new voices to be part of leadership and decision making for development that we will deliver equal change.

  • We can say that change has been ineffectual when we see all the crises and political darkness around us.  There are so many challenges right now. However INGOS can lead and win on vital development issues and so we must continue to lead new and positive change.  We need to manage some difficult transitions in order to be effective. 

  • The international development community must hold itself to account and we must focus on beneficiaries in order to be effective.  We must change the model to a beneficiary-led model, devolve power and radically change from the top throughout the entire organisation.