Wednesday, March 31, 2010
There is an organizational truism that has been quoted frequently over the years - `when culture and strategy collides, culture wins every time’. The best designed and well intentioned strategy can fail or fall short of expectations – including an organization's CSR strategy – if culture is not attended to. Edgar Schein, a renowned organizational theorist states that `the bottom line for leaders is that if they do not become conscious of the cultures in which they are embedded, those cultures will manage them’.
When we are placed in situations or experiences that are significantly different from our normal operating environment – for example in a cross cultural community - the culture becomes more visible to us. When we are in this completely unfamiliar setting, we become more objective about what we see that contributes to the culture– for example the patterns of interactions, stated and unstated values, customs and rituals, language, and metaphors and symbols. When we are guided in the process of examining what we are seeing, illuminated by the light of our own assumptions and values, we gain a greater understanding of our biases. The process of examining our biases leads us back to an exploration of our values and assumptions and how they influence our decisions, choices and understandings.
The Acacia Group’s socially responsible leadership experiences are premised on taking advantage of the bright light that shines on our values and assumptions when we enter a community that is culturally different than our own. One of our host communities is Nebaj Guatemala. Nebaj is located in the north central region of Guatemala and is home to a significant Maya population. The people of Nebaj speak little Spanish (the main language of Guatemala), but rather speak the native Ixil dialect. Life in Nebaj still reflects a culture that predates the Spanish influence and domination of Central America. The agricultural based lifestyle continues today along with the traditional activity of weaving. The history of the Ixil has been further impacted more recently by the 1980’s Guatemalan civil war when the surrounding hills were invaded by the Guatemalan army. The practice of genocide and other atrocities committed against the indigenous people caused thousands of the Ixil to flee the highlands while others were kidnapped and disappeared. Both history and geography has shaped the community that we see today.
Entering into the town of Nebaj the learner is prompted to hold open their assumptions and to carry questions of inquiry: How has this culture survived? How would the observer describe the interaction, values and beliefs that guide relationships within the community, who helps whom and why, how is product distributed? How does the community hang together? Do we observe cooperation and conflict, the impact of internal and external changes, consensus and coercion? What assumptions am I making about the culture? How do I enter into this community or any other community? How do I obtain acceptance, credibility, or the right to participate?
In exploring these questions, the learner/leaders participating in the socially responsible leadership experience builds the capacity to see the cultures that exist around them in their day to day life. The leader gains new insights and skills to help them observe and interact with the cultures in their own organizations. If it is true that when culture and strategy collides, culture wins every time – then developing cultural competencies is an important part of an effective leader’s development.
Monday, March 29, 2010
This week we will feature three blogs all with a focus on community development, corporate social responsibility or leadership development – with a particular emphasis on work being done in Guatemala.
While corporate social responsibility initiatives continue to be explored – there is continued emphasis on the finished output, e.g. the marketing campaign, measurement and compliance. What is not evident is the development of internal processes that, at the risk of using a new cliché, embed CSR into the DNA of the organization.
Bill Gates talks of “creative capitalism” – whereby “more people can make a profit, or gain recognition, doing work that eases the world’s inequities” and companies that embrace this will experience more success than those who seek profit at any “cost”. This former classification of companies focus on social entrepreneurship, or, as James Austin points out, they have working within their ranks , intrapreneurs. These are individuals who are focused on an internal organizational transformation that brings the company to a more aligned and advanced state of CSR and can address the personal instincts of –empathy and generosity, passion and ambition.
The Acacia Group’s focus in the highlands of Guatemala has led us to partner with the fantastic work of Ashoka fellow, Greg van Kirk. Greg operates a series of companies that focus on developing economic capacity within the region by working with locals in developing products for market, or creating an educational network to support the literacy needs of indigenous people. As described on their site, Social Entrepreneur Corps is a social enterprise that leads innovative and dynamic international internship, volunteering, consulting and insight travel programs. While primarily focused on student interns, the partnership with Acacia allows for more mature learners to participate and to have a hands-on learning experience with social entrepreneurship and ongoing leadership development. Another example of his entrepreneurial approach is his work with the Scojo foundation (renamed Vision Spring), where his assistance with the development of eye glass sales in Guatemala was highlighted in the NBC Nightly News (Click here for video). Here, instead of just handing out donated glasses, the Vision Spring works with local budding entrepreneurs who wish to move to independence by establishing business and management skills – and do so by selling the glasses for a low cost to those who need them.
So, what can budding leaders who are interested in CSR learn from Greg, and his social entrepreneurs in Guatemala? They can learn how to be emerging intrapreneurs – they can, in the words of Austin learn to show the following traits.
“CS Intrapreneurs have the following characteristics – they are internal champions, continuously advocating for the integration of social and business value as a central tenet for the company. They are good communicators, particularly articulate about the rationale and importance of the transformation….They are creators of innovative solutions: new resource configurations, actions and relationships…They are catalysts for change, who inspire and create synergies in the work of others. They are coordinators, able to effectively reach across internal and external boundaries, mobilizing and aligning interests. They are contributors – team players who enable other groups. Finally, they are shrewd calculators; cognizant of the realities of the corporate environment, they are cost-conscious and mindful of the bottom line.”
Greg van Kirk is all of these things and provides those who wish to learn the opportunity to develop their own intrapreneurial skill set leading to robust and internalized CSR strategies.
Have you seen or experienced the embedding of a social entrepreneurship mindset into an organization’s CSR strategy? Or, within an individual? - Who are your examples of leaders who understand that people and planet come first – and profits can follow?
Friday, March 26, 2010
Over the past 5 decades, developed countries have poured over a trillion dollars (US) into developing countries. Yet for many observers there is little evidence of the sustainable improvements in the lives of the world’s poor that would be expected from this level of investment. Something does not seem to be working. Books are written, suggestions made, studies conducted, debates held, and international commitments made. So why is there this ongoing deep disconnect between the desire of people and countries to help others from making a sustainable and positive difference?
Stories and myths abound of well intentioned individuals and organizations that follow the well trod path to developing communities and countries wanting to make a difference and only making problems. And yet there are successes. From my own experiences and readings on the topic I am increasingly curious about the emergence of what appear to be approaches that seem to break from our cultural beliefs regarding development and aid. I am curious about a need for a shift in our thinking:
From "We are experts" To "I have something to learn from you" - North American culture values experts and specialists. We are well educated and we believe that our knowledge is true – therefore if we bring our knowledge to a developing community or country their circumstances will improve. This is a belief that leaves little room in our thinking to hear and perceive the knowledge of the people we are coming to help.
From "We can bring in a solution from elsewhere and it will work here" To "Your circumstances are unique and need to be understood before a solution can be created" – Modernism has led us to believe that processes and structures can be transferred from one context to another and that they will `fit’. Years of organizational experience should be telling us that this is rarely the experience.
From "We can talk about your needs without you in the conversation" To 'You are the most important participants in the conversation" - In the Foreword to the book Dead Aid, the contributor Niall Ferguson makes an important observation – “…it has long seemed to me problematic, and even a little embarrassing, that so much of the public debate about Africa’s economic problems should be conducted by non-African white men.” Effective conversations happen when all the people involved come into the conversation and are prepared to listen and be changed by the conversation. It is in conversation where we chose to be open to new possibilities, especially when all perspectives are present
From "There is one right way" To 'There are multiple and contradictory ways to the outcomes desired" – It is uncomfortable for us to live with the ambiguity of multiple and contradictory solutions and we have a socialized preference to reject ambiguity and to move to quickly to action. We want people and governments to move quickly and to make decisions correctly, and we have low tolerance for error.
Fortunately there are personal mastery competencies that we can foster that will help us shift our thinking:
Humility – a belief that there are things that I don’t know and I want to learn from you.
Curiosity – a willingness to be open to other perspectives and to examining my own deeply held beliefs.
Unhelpfulness – as Peter Block identifies in Community : The structure of belonging, - don’t be helpful. Being helpful and giving advice are really ways to control others. In community we want to substitute curiosity for advice.
Embrace Ambiguity – Acknowledgment of the liberating concept of "I don’t know what I don’t know and things will emerge as we learn together".
Looking for some ideas on how to shift your thinking on international aid? Check out Community Enterprise Solutions and Changemakers. Or, share some of your own thoughts as to how we can move beyond our bias’ and neo-colonial attitudes and behaviors.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
This is the second in a series of blogs identifying how personal or corporate bias plays out in the world of CSR, Community Development and Leadership Development – the three core areas of The Acacia Group – Socially Responsible Leadership Experiences
I wonder how many of us cut our leadership teeth on expressions like, “Don’t bring me your problems, bring me your solutions” and “it’s all about execution”. The days of riding in on your white horse with the one right answer are really over. Not only are horses in short supply but so is the one right answer... A friend of mine suggests that we are not so much living in an age of change but rather a change of ages. We are moving culturally from the modern era which was characterized by the machine metaphor...think industrialization, rationality, and science, to the post modern era, think imagination, intuition, and systems thinking.
This tectonic shift has a huge impact on leadership and learning and it is little wonder that people often feel isolated, alone, and confused. If your thinking leads you to believe that the wisdom of the group is greater than the wisdom of the one, if you believe that leadership styles may need to shift with shifting contexts, and if you imagine that there are multiple right answers (less either/or and more both/and) than you are more likely a post modern leader. The good news is that this is the way of the future...yes you’re getting it, less like the Wizard of Oz and more like Dorothy. The future belongs to the wayfarer, the pilgrim, the journeyman. The one willing to begin the voyage without all the right answers.
While many of us have started down the path to becoming a post modern leader few of us would actually say that we practice as post modern leaders. This makes sense as much of our experience and many of our role models have been firmly rooted in the modern tradition. Michael Fullan, a renowned Canadian leadership scholar, suggests that “the two greatest failures of leaders are indecisiveness in times of urgent need for action and dead certainty that they are right in times of complexity.”
So how do we get better at challenging our own thinking while simultaneously taking action? I believe it is through the discipline of reflective practice. Reflective practice is a term first used by Donald Schon in his book, “The Reflective Practitioner”. To be reflective means to be aware of our own filters for seeing the world, to be aware of our assumptions, to take an inquiring stance toward our own effectiveness and to view all of life as an opportunity to learn. The reflective leader is learning to see in the moment everything they would see if they were able to step out of that moment and reflect.
Complex times call for complexity of mind. The post modern era requires leaders who can manage an increase in the occurrence and speed of change, who can handle greater levels of ambiguity and uncertainty and who can see the strength of diverse perspectives. It calls for reflection AND action. William Bergquist, an internationally-known coach, consultant, trainer and educator defines post modern leadership as leadership that is”...effectively exerted and influential if applied at the right time, in the right place, in the right manner, and with regard to the right problem or goal.” It does not require a white horse.
This Blog is written by Christine Bonney, a Managing Partner at the Acacia Group, responsible for leadership development and coaching
Sunday, March 21, 2010
It is inevitable that we are biased by our experiences, passions and interests. This week we will write a series of Blogs identifying how that plays out in the world of CSR, Community Development and Leadership Development – the three core areas of The Acacia Group.
Let’s start with this little exercise…go on, humor me. Look at the ceiling, now with your right arm – draw a circle in the air – your arm must move in a clockwise direction. Now….while your arm is moving, slowly lower it and keep making circles until your hand is below your knees. Your arm is now moving in a counter clockwise direction. You would have bet a lot of money that your arm was moving clockwise…this was your truth. I think it was an article in Fast Company years ago that stated…”We all fall in love with the things we think are true”. This simple act illustrates the value of perspective – your hand does not change direction of course...your view does. First you look at it from below and then from above. Same movement – different view.
How Bias Plays Out with CSR
First of all, let’s be clear the bias from a company exists…it is bound to. Fritz Redl a prominent psycho-educator commented on the “value system that oozes from our pores”. Our speech, our manner of dress, our offices, are all manifestations of our respective value systems, and by default you will judge those who are different from you in some way and vice versa. So, understanding this when speaking to an NGO that you wish to do business with is a key factor for success. Let’s list some fundamental, but sometimes overlooked, aspects of establishing the connection between
1. Understand that your need is not their need
Just because you have the desire and the resources to contribute does not mean that you understand how to create the biggest impact. Showing up to a program with a pre-conceived solution to an ill informed notion of a problem is a sure way to create a gap between the NGO, the end beneficiaries and your own organization. Such an approach can breed hostility and resentment and can sabotage a potentially positive relationship. So…..
2. Understand that the time lines are different
Business thinking has to be adjustable, responsive and at times quick to respond to environmental events. Programs that focus on the environment and social change require a great deal of time and commitment to create the change. – Be aware of your time horizon and how that meshes with the needs of the organization you are wishing to work with. If you are looking for a quick win, declare that, but also understand that effective CSR is about strategic alignment of all programs and is not just about a dose of reputation management or good PR. NGO’s are more likely to engage with you and take you seriously if you can illustrate a longer term commitment of ideas and resources. So….
3. Be Prepared to Invest in Relationships
Increasingly post-modern organizations are wising up to the idea that business is better through the development of relationships. The time commitment allows you to actually create chemistry with your prospective NGO or community partner and allows them to get to know you too. (It also allows them to rid themselves of their biases of you). So…
4. Be Clear
CSR is still a business proposition, (yes, it may make you feel good) but the need for clarity of roles and outcomes is fundamentally important. The NGO or community probably does not want to be part of an unhealthy dependency on the work that is being discussed, and you should not end up being responsible for the success or failure of that particular NGO. In sum, make the implicit-explicit.
Perhaps the biggest bias of all is that organizations wishing to grow their CSR presence may perceive that they are the driver in the relationship. New CSR is shifting this however, and in reality the for-profit corporation may need alignment with anl NGO more than the NGO does. The power imbalance is disappearing and organizations seeking to jump on the CSR bandwagon would do well to check their ego and biases at the door.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
On Saturday morning I went off to attend a movie at a local film festival. I knew the movie I was choosing to see would be disturbing as the subject was the sexual exploitation of children. Despite knowing that, I was unprepared for the visceral response I would have. Playground literally knocked the wind out of me. Director, Libby Spears has created a subtly nuanced film that balances unpalatable truths with the voices of children. My expectation was that I would see disturbing images of children in Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, so I was surprised when Spears’ journey with the film led her back to North America. It is impossible to watch this film and to continue to believe that this problem is in the brothels of the developing world. Playground is the story of the North American underbelly.
But for me, as a parent, the most chilling statement was, “If you think this isn’t happening in your neighbourhood, you are simply choosing not to see it.” Even a little research into human trafficking in Canada reveals that the R.C.M.P. estimates that 800 foreign women are bought into the Canadian sex trade each year by human traffickers. Another 2,200 newcomers to Canada are smuggled into the United States from Canada for work in brothels, sweatshops, domestic jobs and construction work. It is widely believed that only 1 in 10 victims in trafficking report to the police, so the numbers are likely much larger
According to the US State Dept. “Canada is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour. Canadian women and girls, many of whom are aboriginal, are trafficked internally for commercial sexual exploitation...Canada has no national strategy for finding traffickers, no national plan for identifying and helping victims and little understanding of who the victims are.”
Both Playground and my cursory look at Canada`s involvement in sex trafficking have made me aware that the problem is monumental. The US Justice department claims that the world`s commercial sexual exploitation of children is the fastest growing form of organized crime. In the second decade of the 21st century the prostitution of children worldwide will net more than the sale of illegal drugs.
Playground raises questions that are extremely difficult to answer:
• How do we educate the public on crimes that can’t be shown?
• How do we change our systems so that the young and vulnerable are protected and not criminalized?
• How do we come to terms culturally with the ways in which we sexualize children?
The data that shows that Canadians are complicit in some of this activity reminds me of the diffusion of responsibility and the Kitty Genovese incident in New York – everybody thought someone else would do something. Is that the case here? I am left wondering how does one person make a difference...?
Written by Christine Bonney - Christine is a Managing Partner at The Acacia Group - Socially Responsible Leadership Experiences
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
The buzz of the Olympics is still being discussed as Canadians relish in the all important hockey gold, and play armchair detective wondering what has happened to Sidney Crosby’s missing stick. The world has noted that Canada has embraced a new pride in nationalism, and the London Olympic organizing committee is apparently trying to figure out how to mimic the tremendous tightness of community celebrations that occurred in downtown Vancouver. On the heels of such success, the federal government has agreed to continue funding for the controversial (for some) Own the Podium program and an article in the Globe and Mail indicates that a business consortium named B2Ten has agreed to raise an “audacious amount of money” to ensure that more Canadian athletes taste success on the world stage.
Does corporate contribution to athletes training amount to CSR? And, if it does, is this as valuable as other endeavors of CSR that may focus on housing, education and health care?
B2Ten is a consortium of corporations that according to J.D. Miller the Montreal businessman who helped found the program, wants to do “something really meaningful”. More meaningful one supposes, than the $3 million allocated to 25 athletes. Those athletes who comprised just 9% of Team Canada, had at the time of print of the Globe article earned 40% of the national medal total.
To be clear, Own the Podium is a shared venture between the federal and provincial governments and nine corporate sponsors and allocated $110 million to 100 athletes. With this kind of complexity and bulk comes bureaucracy. With B2Ten however– they can select athletes based on applications and apply just the right amount of support in the right place at the right time. With these picks the return on investment is more calculated and the chance of success if a bit higher – leading to good brand recognition and cache for the sponsoring organization.
The payoff from a community perspective is that young people are inspired to achieve, to believe that they too may be destined for greatness and on a behavioral basis this can translate into more active teens with the commensurate decrease in health problems related to inactivity. Additionally, a sense of connection to the community can theoretically decrease incidences of property crime – all good stuff as any sense of community pride has offshoots to a more civil society.
So, here’s the question. Is there something inherently less valuable in making money off of temporary Olympic glory with all the sexy PR and national fervor associated with it, versus investing in the longer term commitments of health and social programs? Or, should we embrace all socially responsible activities as valid and good?
I think the answer lies in the fact that organizations can and should use CSR as a competitive advantage and differentiator. There is ample “good work” to be done, the method of drawing in customers, increasing market share and the like is equally varied. We can argue that $3m can be spent in a more effective way, but ultimately it is up to the company to determine what is of value to them. CSR activities should not be homogenous but should reflect the values and biases (and market segment) of the organizations that bring resources to the table. The value is in the eyes of the beholder.