Most of us who have worked in the international NGO sector over the last few decades agree that, despite the incredible effort and dedication of many in the sector to creating a more equal and sustainable world, there are underlying structural and cultural issues which limit the NGO sector’s sustainability and effectiveness, whilst others have deep negative impacts on the wellbeing of those working in the sector as well as the beneficiaries the sector is aiming to help.

Some examples of the issues we see as needing to be addressed in the NGO sector include:

  • The relationship of dependency between NGOs and Donors which is often unsustainable, can lead to accountability to donors over beneficiaries, and leads to strategic focus being on ensuring financial stability rather than having impact
  • The rarity of trained and competent management in the non-profit sector (within NGOs and donors alike), too often leading to cultures of unaccountability, pressure, instability and too-often over-work or burnout
  • The lack of effective means for many organizations to guide their work on the results and impact they have towards their goals, mission and vision – with “monitoring and evaluation” usually being far too simplified, linear and unable to truly encompass the complexity and systemic nature of the issues NGOs are addressing

The “Reinventing the INGO system” process has been running since February 2020 and brings together a diverse group with different experiences in and with the sector – from organizational leaders and staff members of NGOs, to donors, academics and consultants. We gathered our diverse perspectives about the current state of the sector and are imagining together how a future, sustainable and healthy sector could look. Far from staying in the theoretical realm, concrete prototypes for systemic change will be developed which can be tested and further developed by the participants. Our focus is on the “international NGO sector”, i.e. NGOs and donors that operate internationally.

The process was developed as an initiative by Mike Romig and Pablo Escorcia (from Purpose+Motion) and David Winter (of Reos Partners, based on the belief that, with the right mix of people in the room committed to achieving systemic change, and with methodologies which enable a deep process and transformative experiences for the whole group, we could kick-start small scale changes as well as create within the group a new culture which can be the basis of much greater things.

The participants were invited by the co-facilitators (P+M and Reos) and many of those invited who could not make it, they passed on the invitation to others. A group of 30 individuals has come together, including members of INGOs, donor organisations, consultants, academics and platforms. The initiative got the support of the Oak Foundation, aiming to encourage systemic thinking and action in the INGO system.

Objectives:

– Participants create and gain new insights & understanding on the structural, systemic challenges of the INGO sector and possible leverage points for transformation
– Participants co-create and implement testable prototypes for systemic change in the INGO sector
– Participants gain experience of innovative systems thinking and embodied learning methodologies and tools
– Participants create thought pieces to share learnings in the wider sector

What process are we following?

The process uses a mix of approaches for systems thinking, sense-making and creative, experimental development of solutions. MIT’s Ulab 2x is the basic framework of the process, while facilitators are integrating other methodologies such as transformative scenario planning, learning journeys, integral theory and embodied learning approaches.

Who is participating?

30 participants working in INGOs, donor organizations, network platforms or as consultants and from different organizational backgrounds and experiences

Hosts

Mike Romig and Pablo Escorcia Purpose+Motion (Berlin)
David Winter Reos Partners (Frankfurt/Main)