- As they grow, many global organizations face the challenge of how to balance the interests of various entities so that decisions made across the movement are made in the interests of the movements instead of specific players
- When addressing this challenge, the goal is to optimize the added value of the affiliates while reducing duplication
- Successful global orgs have set up a central authority to help manage this tension – the question is how much authority that central body has and what roles it plays. The more the movement is important, the more important centralization and coherence become
- Organizations that have developed organically have “fewer tools in the bag” when it comes to successfully centralizing some decision-making and setting up relevant accountability systems. A cooperative approach is necessary, and it is necessary to determine how the central authority is going to add value to the affiliates. What resources can it offer that they don’t have?
- Organizations do often seed local entities in high priority places, usually to get stronger global representation or to build the foundation for fundraising in emerging markets. Lessons learned here include keeping more control during the start-up phase and then giving autonomy over time, as well as putting at least 2-3 staff members on the ground to support the process (Boards are still usually made up of volunteers)
Interview in full
What is your background?
I am currently an independent consultant for Non Profit Mgt & Strategy. In this role I have been involved with the set up and strategic positioning of offices in Latin America, South Africa and China. In my work history I have hands on experience of working in Australia, South East & Central Asia, Central/Southern Africa and Latin America
What are some organizational and governance challenges you typically see?
For many global organizations, the challenge is how to balance the interests of the various entities such that decisions that are made across the movement are made in the interests of the global movement and its social mission rather than the institutional interests of specific entities.
In my experience, affiliate bodies of global organizations all want to maximize their involvement in operational support and management. This is often linked to a natural enthusiasm, or a sense of accountability for the resources they provide, but it can lead to inefficiency. The goal is to optimize the added value of affiliate bodies and minimize duplication.
How much should the international body have in driving decisions like that?
Organizations like Oxfam, Save the Children, and Greenpeace - they have made different decisions about the role of the international body. There are two main ways to think about this – either you have decentralized affiliates that centralize a limited amount of power and decision-making in a central authority, or you have a strong central authority that decentralizes certain responsibilities and decisions to local entities. Both systems are ‘decentralised’ and both can employ participatory, competence based decision-making mechanisms, but the mindset of each model is very different. One emphasizes the affiliate as the primary body and the other, the movement.
Oxfam is a confederation and chooses to have a weaker central authority, but Save the Children (2009 reform) and Greenpeace have evolved to have a stronger center – more authority is centralized, but there is still a high level of decentralization in day-to-day operations.
Are there any themes or factors that drive which way organizations choose to go?
One observation is that campaigning organizations like Greenpeace or Amnesty tend to be more centralized because it is imperative to have a single and consistent message globally. Consistency is the root of their credibility. Organizations with field operations tend to be more decentralized because the terms of engagement can be quite different and there is more need and room for flexibility. There is less need for a one-size-fits-all approach.
Another example of where coherence is important – there are 27 Save the Childrens, and they used to have multiple organizations working in the same country with different policies related to child welfare. That ended up not being tolerable for them. CARE is also working towards only have one affiliate on the ground in any country, and Oxfam does something similar with having a lead agency. Still, these organizations that have a unified representation on the ground, whilst they subscribe to the value of coordination, do not always see the need for a strong central body at the top.
How does accountability work under the two different models?
Firstly you have to be clear on what you mean by accountability. My definition goes like this: If responsibility is defined as the obligation to act, accountability can be defined as the obligation to explain ones actions in light of agreed expectations, with due consequences when expectations are not reasonably met. Accountability should not be confused with transparency in this regard. There is a transaction with the former that is absent from the latter.
So, taking the above point as read, there tends to be weak global accountability systems where there is a lack of central authority. In such systems accountability is most effective at the affiliate level.
The point is that for accountability to work well, you need binding mechanisms – having the central control of trademark is useful, but what you find is that depending on the flexibility of the mission, there will be few cases where you use the sanction. Agreements are one thing, but resources are another key element. If you are funding an entity, they are reliant on you to implement their ambitions, and that brings with it a certain degree of accountability and control. With organizations like Greenpeace, Amnesty, or Oxfam - where the center is a often a resource provider to smaller affiliates as opposed to just a consultative partner –the relationship is stronger between the center and the local entities.
And it doesn’t just have to be money – it can be anything one party has that another doesn’t. Some organizations invest in centers of expertise around the world. So the different local entities purposefully invest in some areas and disinvest in others. This builds on each organization’s strengths, and makes the different pieces more interdependent and reliant on each other. This mechanism can be used regardless of the strength of the core, as long as it is clear how initiatives will be opened, evaluated and, if necessary, closed.
Some organizations develop in structured franchise-based way that is very centrally controlled. Then the bodies they control get frustrated and they need to share power. Other organizations have local entities that pop up left right and center and then folks need to find a better way to work together. When it comes to accountability, you have fewer tools in the bag then and need to take a more cooperative approach. Still, the message is that neither a central dictatorship nor a ‘free for all’ work in absolute terms
Do the organizations you have worked with ever seed local organizations in targeted places?
Yes, and there are different ways to think about the strategy behind that. One way is to get stronger representation around the world. As the world changes, the governments in India, China, Brazil, South Africa become more consequential. For example, to make political progress in Sudan or Zimbabwe, you are better off talking to the Chinese than Americans.
Another way is to support fundraising in emerging markets like India, Mexico, Brazil – these are going to be key places of social mobilization and, consequently, for raising money in the future.
What does it take to get a local organization up and running?
It depends on what you want that local organization to do, and what relationships and partnerships it needs to have. You need to be credible to the partners and volunteers that you want to attract, and they need to understand what you are doing. So awareness of brand and communication become the cornerstone of initial actions. In addition, strong administration is essential so that the organization is set up correctly to receive funds.
Another lesson that stands out for me - you have to keep some control during set up phase, and then give autonomy over time. For many organizations, starting new local organizations in the past was very driven by volunteers. Today, many start off with paid staff at the executive level. Boards are still usually comprised of volunteers, but in order to get things going and make it happen you need 2-3 professional staff at least. One thing that staff does is to control identity and image, so they need to have knowledge and experience with the movement and be able to communicate on mission and values.
Any final thoughts about where Wikimedia should be focusing now?
The most important question is “What is the strategy?” – without that nothing works.
Also – what leadership is necessary and who is going to be taking that leadership? Leadership doesn’t need to mean hierarchy, but you need someone or a body to drive things forward.
What core values does the organization want to defend? That will define and guide how it communicates to local entities and ensures that the organization’s image stays consistent.