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The Effectiveness-Lab

Development and its strategy-myopia monologues – Series 3 of 4

Series 2 of the Strategy-Myopia monologues explored the International Civil Society Organisation (ICSO) identity and showed how identify-compliance can enhance viability at the ICSO.

We are the ICSO - why re-configure?
We are the ICSO – why re-configure?

Stopping strategy-myopia monologues at the ICSO starts with defining and complying to identity – hard I know, but ICSO’s do not have any choice, but comply. There are rewards that await ICSO’s that ensure identity-compliance: according to Built to Change, when the ICSO identity is strong and protected, employees shall innovate and push boundaries. It will take new and bold leadership at the ICSO, for identity-compliance to happen

What should ICSO’s do to tap the full potential of identity-compliance?

Identity-compliance alone cannot deliver ICSO viability. To realise the full potential of identity-compliance, ICSO’s need to seamlessly define and integrate three aspects of organisational development (OD). Identity as already discussed in series 2; the strategy of the ICSO; and the architecture to deliver the identity and accompanying strategy. Blog series 3 addresses itself to the strategy dynamic at the ICSO.

Effective strategy at the ICSO is about matching the ICSO service offer to its’ identity and the environment. When strategic intent at the ICSO aligns with both the ICSO operating environment and its identity, the ICSO attains a state of critical-configuration.

We continue to see example after example of critical-configuration eluding ICSO’s. There are many factors why ICSO’s do not easily attain that state of critical-configuration, some under the ICSO control whereas others are not. Whatever prevents ICSO’s from attaining such a state, it is becoming clearer that ICSO’s that will survive in the emerging ‘business-like’ era, will go the extra mile in changing the manner in which they run their businesses. The OD dynamic is turning against the inward looking, complacent, ‘business as usual’ ICSO.  At the Effectiveness Lab, we are worried that with anew Z generation  soon entering the global labour market, the Orthodox ICSO may find itself struggling to attract the human resources to work for it.

The most poignant example of critical-configuration failure and its adverse impact on the ICSO comes from the aid industry in the Netherlands:

Development NGOs in the Netherlands are diversifying income streams and emphasising strong programme development. They’re exploring new markets, closing offices and hiring new talent with different skill sets — all to adapt to a vastly different aid environment in the country.

Cordaid, Hivos and Oxfam Novib saw the cuts coming and have been busy trying to make changes that would mitigate the impact on their organisations once the Dutch government decided to move. While the foresight and action of the three ICSO’s have to be applauded, the fact that they still have been hit hard by the Dutch government decision to refocus its’ aid budget, brings to the fore some issues:

  • Many ICSO’s have until now opted to do everything there is to do in development, as long as it bolsters their bottom line. The identity of the ICSO can be described as ‘jack of all trades’; its strategic intent is to ensure organisational viability and survival by casting the operating net (both geography & sectoral) as wide as possible; and this identity and strategy positioning is augmented by a ‘development operating-environment’ that is multi-faceted, unpredictable, complex, mostly unregulated, and with visible and enduring desperation of the poor people development intends to support

The above generic scenario shows a total lack of critical-configuration at the ICSO. This may be due to a number of factors: given the urgency and complexity in the development operating environment, ICSO’s do not have the time to invest in the elaborate processes to attain critical-configuration; ICSO’s have all along been interested in only surviving another day; the muddled development operating environment and the extremely desperate ICSO clientele, assured the ICSO of a constant flow of money from donors, that for many years felt it was their ‘obligation’ to help the ICSO clientele. All the ICSO needed to tap into donor coffers was to show to the donor, clientele in desperation; and finally, the lack of a market in development i.e. what is the development market and who are its clients? With hybrid market principles, demand and supply determination in development are left to individual donor wishes; networking and influence peddling, those that claim to talk for the poor, as well as those that mean well but do not know how to attain critical-configuration and sadly, many ICSO’s fall in this category etc

  • The fact that all three Dutch ICSO’s are ’struggling’ to survive in the new Dutch aid environment confirms the lack of critical-configuration. Critical-configuration does not only lack at the three Dutch ICSO’s but thousands of others across the globe. In instances where critical-configuration is not embedded in the OD dynamic at the ICSO, re-alignment is always going to take longer. The lesson for you all reading this blog is that strategic re-alignment is never an easy fix, especially if you are starting from a point of weakness. It calls for unique leadership skills at the ICSO and the tenacity to push towards new ground at any cost.
  • For as long as I can remember, policy and advocacy have been on the ICSO agenda – and I am personally talking many years of senior management level work with ICSO’S. However, the fact that policy and advocacy have suffered lip-service by many ICSO’s confirms identity, strategic intent, and environment dysfunction at the ICSO. ICSO’s in the Netherlands have known for years that governments prefer to fund policy and advocacy related work; why did alignment not happen, even if that meant running much smaller but more effective entities?

Can you Imagine what Hivos, Cordaid, and Oxfam Novib would look like today if they had done ten years ago, what they are doing today? They would not only be more impactful entities but would have helped shape the much-needed re-configuration of the aid industry.

At the Effectiveness Lab, we believe that we need a critical mass that can push the creation of a new 4th Sector in the development industry. The 4th sector shall be a critical enabler of the new development paradigm. With risk OD junkies extremely rare in development, we hope to see more ‘forced’ change like we are witnessing in the Netherlands, as that is what shall push development on to new ground. The development industry may have sat on its laurels for too long and lacks the inner-drive to change its long-held habits

My takeaway: ICSO survival hinges on investment in a robust identity and strategy definition process, authentically aligned to its operating environment. It is the job of the ICSO leadership, especially its board and CEO, to ensure critical-configuration at the ICSO

Does your ICSO have the leadership and architecture to host and effectively operate a critical-configured organisation? Look out for series 4 of this blog next week


3 responses to “Development and its strategy-myopia monologues – Series 3 of 4”

  1. […] Series 3 of Development and its strategy-myopia blog concluded with the question: […]


  2. Mwl. Wenceslaus John Komba Avatar
    Mwl. Wenceslaus John Komba

    ABG, First thanks for the link on Gen Z. it was a nice read I guess it is the right way to looking at the telescope.

    Can we reuse the cliche of the ‘tail wagging the body’ with this approach that you are propounding where human resources is concerned?

    Many leaders are a cohort of tight traditionalist and conservatives when it comes to identify the job fits. I am afraid, many are afraid of the open minded and liberal artisans with solutions at their fingertips.

    Now Ssebo how can you fight this myopic disorder to our generation W -the Myopics? Or are we looking to a modern ‘Industrial Revolution’ if Gen Z is going to take helms and lead ICSO? Are the Gen Z ‘Hyopic’? Do they see a solution even before a problem itself is created?

    And when you talk about critical configurations, are you thinking of what I think – ‘officeless’ NGO’s where everyone is working at home virtually? Working by subject matter as posted on line? Whoever coming up with solution is credited?

    keep us thinking Ssebo.


    1. Mwalimu Komba – I think that we need a mix of skills to sort out the myopia at ICSO: the veteran still has a place to ensure continuity- but we need a critical mass of Z gen. like skills

      On a bigger note, at the Effectiveness Lab we believe that the modern ICSO will need to operate in a new and boundary bursting 4th sector – read this blog from some months ago: The INGO crisis of identity | Gabazira’s blog


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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