This was the third in a series of formal discussions that the UK Department for International Development (DFID) had instigated, to support the scale up of new initiatives for responsible business practice.
Every day, we each make decisions about money. Weighing up hundreds of transaction options in a single week, our choices are based on quality, value, needs and desires. To do this, we require information and knowledge, and ultimately we crave the security of knowing that we can afford to buy things.
Cryptic introductions aside, this post is inspired by an illuminating week overseas with new people, and offers up some jet-lagged musings about money and about equity.
Last week I was in Nairobi, with colleagues from Save the Children who’d gathered to share their experiences on the topic of “Economic Resilience”.
In a game of ‘Non-Governmental Organisation [NGO]’ Bingo, now would be the time to mark a cross in your first box: Economic Resilience, what a buzz-word (or “fuzz-word” as someone in Nairobi suggested) indeed.
It was during a Business in the Community event in the summer of 2006 that I first met Carol Monoyios, CARE UK’s Marketing Director, and responsible (in part, at least) for the fact that I spent the next 13 years working for CARE International.
Carol and the organization’s then Programme Director, Raja Jarrah, had hatched a plan and it was to be my fate, attending that July event, to end up playing the role of their main protagonist.
Their plan was, and remains, a simple one: create a multi-functional team inside of CARE to work with businesses and markets in a new and more impactful way.
What various colleagues across CARE’s system had determined, the year before at a conference in Nairobi, was that there were many ways to work with business and markets, with the purpose of supporting CARE’s mission of empowering women and girls, but these were not being centrally coordinated very well.
At 8am the CARE Burundi team meet on the lawn outside their office and stand in a circle for Monday’s daily briefing. Updates are shared, stories told, priorities for the day ahead clarified.
The team’s Country Director, Juvenal Afurika, closes out the meeting and comes over to my colleague, Dane, and me, “welcome to Bujumbara,” he smiles, “how are things going so far?”
‘Things’ were going well.
We’d landed into the country’s capital early Sunday, Dane from San Francisco via Europe, and me from Saigon, via the Middle East. Several months of preparatory team calls and re-worked excel sheets, carving out the various components to this assignment, were now gratifyingly behind us, and we were finally on African soil.
A few months prior to this visit we’d had to postpone coming over at the end of 2018, as CARE and the International Non Governmental Organisation (INGO) community went through a re-registration exercise with the Burundi Government.
This time, all was going smoothly as Dane and I sought out an inaugural meal by a lake, which we took cautiously, dining just a few metres away from a sunbathing hippopotamus.
We had flown all these miles for the opportunity to engage face-to-face with our colleagues in Bujumbara. The aim was to share our ideas about programme design, and learn valuable insights from their team about the challenges they faced designing social programmes.
Inevitably, as I’ve seen in other contexts, teams who deliver social programmes in local communities are juggling a number of priorities. In addition to which they are tasked with creating an appropriate set of activities and engagements that will actually be of use to local beneficiaries in the long run.
As I am sure happens at other INGOs, once a funding contract has been won, the clock instantly starts its countdown to that work being completed and reported back on. Increasingly, and perfectly justifiably, donors and the wider world of thoughtful commentators, want to see tangible evidence of change being made on the ground.
So, with the days and weeks ticking by, local partners initially get signed up to deliver different pieces of the work, whilst community meetings are staged with beneficiary groups.
However, even in these early phases, there are many things that can get delayed and compromise an initiative. Obtaining local government licenses to operate, for example, upskilling partner NGOs, or facilitating successful dialogue with those communities who will ultimately stand to benefit from the programme – these are just some of the things that pose risks to the success of the intervention if they are not carried out in a timely way.
Midway through a programme all too often local CARE teams, like our colleagues in Bujumbara, find their diaries crammed full: donor meetings; project visits; liaising with the different internal CARE stakeholders; compiling progress reports; ensuring compliance and accounting for funds spent; and then the inevitable requirement of drafting up new proposals for the next round of funding.
During this conveyor-belt of tasks there is seldom time for project teams to conduct detailed research, nor to properly test out new ideas for future programmes, let alone then validate the different assumptions linked to these new ideas having an impact.
And so, it was in this realm of testing and validation that Dane and I were focused for the five days we spent with our colleagues.
Ostensibly, whilst seeking a world in which poverty and social injustice are overcome, CARE is also striving to render its services, at some point in the future, obsolete. Working itself out of being required by others, as opposed to the mandate of, say, a company which would be more akin to the opposite future state.
However, as a company would place emphasis and resources on conducting market research and product testing, so too must the likes of CARE follow suit, if we are to fulfil our ultimate mission anytime soon.
This was the message we were in town to share and to embed.
Afurika himself was sold on this approach. He and his leadership team had taken stock of CARE Burundi’s future portfolio and programme credentials, and decided on a “full makeover”. Their goal being to set the stage in Bujumbara for a new way of operating – one where design principles were going to sit higher up the list of priorities.
To help catalyse this shift, the team rented a building next to their office, and established it as an Innovation Hub – Hub Nawe Nuze. This was to be a new space to bring people together, to engage external stakeholders in, and to broadcast clearly the intentions of this team – Hub Nawe Nuze was to provide the impetus as well as the visual, practical structure in which CARE Burundi could begin its change process.
Yet, even with the excitement of launching the Hub, to actually evolve and to change a team’s approach is another matter. For CARE Burundi to discover, ideate, validate and then operationalise and scale new programme ideas in a way they’d not tried before was going to require new systems and processes, new roles and responsibilities for team members, and a new culture and mindset to absorb and adapt to all of this.
What transpired in our sessions during that week was one step in a longer exercise of accompaniment and learning to which both our teams had made commitments. Without these commitments, championed at the highest levels of the organisations, we’d simply not get off the starting blocks.
Design thinking comes in many descriptions and several INGOs are experimenting with it. At the core of a lot of what I have been exposed to, that has struck a chord for programme teams, is a commitment to organization and to rigour. Some of our colleagues in Bujumbara seemed to agree with this, too (click below to watch some sound-bites from our discussions with them…)
In practicing with our colleagues the craft of “validating a new idea” (which includes largely spending time consulting others and “sense checking” assumptions behind that idea, prior to spending decent money on rolling that idea out) we were merely facilitating the team’s own perspectives and sense of what may or may not work in their context.
In then following up our time in-country with regular team-to-team calls, and subsequently conducting a second in-person session at Hub Nawe Nuze in April, we were able to take our engagement on further.
Throughout these subsequent phases, the CARE Burundi team focused more on securing time and resources for their team to go on to share their new approach and processes with others (CARE and beyond) working in the Great Lakes region.
Not by a long shot does this ripple effect, in sharing out learning and experiences with others, stand out as new and innovative on its own. Nor should it represent the end of a blog post.
The implications of what CARE Burundi have begun to change in their organization will only take hold in the years to come, not the months and weeks between the next Hub event, or the next internal design team meeting.
What has been validated up until this point, however, are a number of previously rhetorical assumptions about organizational change. That change can be good, and that, indeed, you cannot address old problems without bringing in new solutions.
Still, how often do these beliefs and assumptions lie dormant and untested? How often, when it comes to working practices, can we truly say we’ve tried, tested, failed, iterated and tried again?
“Rendering CARE obsolete” will only be realized once we embrace, as CARE Burundi have begun to do, the inter-connected aspects of what that really looks like (new systems, processes, roles, responsibilities, culture, mindset, leadership and so on).
In this way, design thinking must remain a critical catalyst for CARE as we, along with our peers, accelerate towards making good on our ultimate goal.
I have been in Colombo this week, my last visit here in February coinciding with Sri Lanka’s Independence Day celebrations.
As I gear up for returning back to Saigon tonight, I’ve been combing through this morning’s report out from Donald Trump’s July 4th speech about America’s independence, alongside a rash of social media streaming Anne Widdecombe’s inauguration (which, let’s just say “touches” on the topic of independence) as a Member of the European Parliament.
Widdecombe, in case you didn’t seen her performance, compares those duty bearers inside the European Parliament to “feudal barons”, and the United Kingdom to the “peasantry” – a “colony” seeking to escape from the oppressive regime of an “empire”.
Trump, to paraphrase his day in the office, made a speech with lots of “uncharacteristic” words in it (such as “we are one people chasing one dream”) and then stood back as his country’s military arsenal flew overhead. Continue reading “Friday missive from Colombo”→
There’s nothing like the arrival of January to spark action. Resolutions, I’ve had a few. The most plausible so far being a commitment to eat and drink more slowly, rather than inhaling meals and bottles of wine as if food rationing and prohibition laws were about to be imposed.
Less plausible resolutions include: writing more; drinking less; reading more; and looking at my phone less.
I say ‘less plausible’ in that I’m fairly confident of being able to strike a balance with objectives like these – it’s just a fear of setting myself up to fail by insisting on rigid, self-imposed restrictions. Moderation, it’s often touted, is key, but then so, too, is our ability to feel in control of what we are doing.
More’s the pity that, in many ways, I simply enjoy so many of these pursuits (including my job, and the ebb and flow of travel and time it requires) that I feel more practice is still required to find a useful daily cadence to accommodate all the ‘things’. Continue reading “Just Keep Going”→
Over the last 24 hours Saigon has been submerged by Typhoon Usagi – officially the “longest and heaviest rainfall ever recorded in Saigon history”. Earlier last night, me and the girls schlepped home from a friend’s house, up to our knees in water and, overnight, our downstairs bathroom and kitchen were mildly flooded.
Thousands of other city residents here were less fortunate – one man was killed by a falling tree not far from where we live, and stories were shared overnight of people abandoning their homes and finding refuge elsewhere.
I’ve written before about storms in Saigon, and the natural occurring disasters in South East Asia more generally, but this current season has been busier than normal.
Vietnam often escapes heavy storms, thanks to the Philippines, a country well versed in combating typhoons, hurricanes and tropical storms. I’ve visited the country twice this year, working with CARE team in Manila who manage the TUKLAS Innovation Labs – a initiative supported by UK Aid and The Start Network that seeks out new ideas and solutions from local communities, to help them better prepare for the typhoons and storms which routinely batter the country’s shores. Continue reading “Innovations in Resilience”→