Learning (faster) at the InsideNGO 2016 conference

Got a new idea?

You presented it to your colleagues or boss? How did it go? Not so good?

Well, you’re not alone. Last week at the Inside NGO annual conference in Washington, D.C., keynoter Adam Grant from the Wharton School told us that it takes 10-20 exposures to a new idea to develop familiarity with it.

Adam’s opening remarks set the perfect tone for the conference where finance, HR, compliance, IT and other professionals within the international development community gathered to discuss, share, and collaborate on new (and not so new) approaches to achieving operational excellence within their respective development and humanitarian organizations.

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Improving virtual collaboration with remote workshops


Originally published by Laïla von Alvensleben on The Logbook by Hanno:

Remote workshops: Collaboration done virtually

As you may have noticed, the times they are a-changin’. Our traditional ways of working are being disrupted and the latest trends show that the number of organizations embracing remote work is constantly rising, and they’re here to stay.

Let’s pause and reflect on what this means for companies in general. Should they all become entirely remote? No, for a number of reasons. First off, it really depends on what a company is focused on: some of their products and services are too difficult or impossible to create remotely (remote car manufacturing, anyone?). Yet their teams might still benefit from becoming familiar with remote collaboration because as enterprises grow and expand their networks, so do the opportunities for remote teamwork.

So let me reframe the question and ask, should companies learn how to work remotely? Ideally, yes. Not only is it going to help them attract new talent (already 68% of college graduates are more likely to seek flexible remote jobs), but it will also give them a head start to a new way of collaboration which is already defining the future of work.

Continue reading Improving virtual collaboration with remote workshops

Principled Technologies Develops New Course Templates for LINGOs Members

LINGOs, a learning consortium of 80+ international development, aid, and conservation organizations, and Principled Technologies, an award-winning provider of custom learning solutions and fact-based marketing, are excited to announce the release of several specialized elearning course templates for LINGOs members.

Principled Technologies (PT) designed and customized the templates as a pro bono solution for LINGOs member organizations. Based on PT’s success with HTML5 learning solutions and content design for reuse, the templates are compatible with Storyline, an elearning authoring tool that Articulate provides to LINGOs members.

Having worked with LINGOs members in the past on custom learning projects, the team at PT understood their need for branded, professional learning that they could develop affordably and deploy anywhere. “We’ve built relationships with LINGOs member organizations and recognize they have a real need for engaging learning they can create themselves,” says Tracy Bissette Huckabee, a leader in learning services at PT.

After a focus group with LINGOs members, the PT team settled on the specialized templates as a way to support the entire LINGOs community. “Many organizations use Storyline, so we came up with a few things they couldn’t do out of the box with the program,” says Michelle Thacher, an instructional designer at Principled Technologies.

Principled Technologies’ award-winning team of developers and instructional designers developed three sets of templates, each with custom color palettes, that allow users to create engaging, appealing elearning in just a few clicks. They designed the templates to load seamlessly, even in low-bandwidth areas, making them adaptable tools for development, aid, and conservation organizations working around the world.

Principled Technologies’ partnership with LINGOs is ideal for the NGO community, says Ross Coxon, Director of the Learning Collaborative at LINGOs.  “It’s an example of high-end private sector development being freely given to help those with more constrained resources make a difference in the world,” he says. “These templates allow LINGOs members to design elearning interactions that are not only quick to build but also top quality.”

For more information about Principled Technologies and the range of award-winning learning solutions that it offers, please visit www.principledtechnologies.com.



LINGOs is a consortium of 80+ international development, humanitarian aid, and conservation organizations, representing over 200,000 staff and local partners worldwide. Through collaboration and private-sector partnerships, LINGOs delivers appropriate, affordable, and accessible learning and capacity building solutions to any organization working to make a difference. Learn more about LINGOs, its membership network, and its training, capacity building and consulting services at http://www.lingos.org


About Principled Technologies

Principled Technologies (PT) provides industry-leading learning content design and development services as well as fact-based marketing and technology assessment services. PT has years of experience creating elearning courses in a variety of industries as well as testing, marketing, and creating training for the latest enterprise and consumer technologies. The unique PT approach answers a critical need in corporate training: a single partner with multiple teams of instructional designers, writers, designers, multi-media producers, and technical subject matter experts – all under one roof. PT is based in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park region. PrincipledTechnologies.com

Partner Spotlight: Bridging the Language Divide with Speexx

Like other multinational organizations, NGOs working in multiple countries face a major challenge to their productivity and success: the language divide between staff in various national offices. Take ChildFund for instance, which works to support vulnerable children worldwide: “English is the great unifying language of our business,” says Leslie Crudele, ChildFund’s International HR Business Partner. “We have staff around the world that are non-native English speakers, and they’re asked to use English in their business communications.”

To clear the language barriers between teams, NGOs like ChildFund face the challenge of finding cost-effective language resources for their learners. Since early 2015, Speexx, a business language-learning platform, has partnered with LINGOs to deliver just that. LINGOs is a learning consortium of 80+ international development, aid, and conservation organizations, and through the partnership with Speexx, LINGOs members have access to Speexx’s broad portfolio of online, 1:1, phone, and live language-learning courses at significantly reduced cost.

Since Speexx was introduced to LINGOs members last year, over 1300 NGO staff in 100+ countries have enrolled in French, Spanish, and English courses at all levels (A1 – C1.2). For Mehdi Tounsi, Vice President of Americas and Global Alliances at Speexx, the Speexx-LINGOs partnership represents an ideal melding of product and audience. “Speexx was developed to empower people to better communicate in the workplace, and to help them at their point of need,” Tounsi says. “As a result, Speexx makes perfect sense for nonprofits. It’s a practical, pragmatic solution that is tailored for the workplace, regardless of where that workplace might be.”

For CIMMYT, an organization dedicated to maize and wheat science for improved livelihoods, Speexx is doing just what Tounsi hopes it will – meeting learners where they are. Guillermo Flores, Manager of Organizational Development and Training at CIMMYT, says that “as an international organization with offices in remote locations, and multiple pressing tasks, it is often hard for staff to attend training.” As a result, Speexx’s online program has made language learning available to learners who would not otherwise have had access. That opportunity is key, Flores says, because “CIMMYT staff interact with a range of nationalities and cultures on a daily basis, and having a minimum of two languages certainly helps and encourages effective communication.”

At ChildFund, Leslie Crudele adds that Speexx’s self-paced, accessible format has made it particularly popular among learners. “We find that for our employees, whether they’re experiencing connectivity issues in one of our field offices, or traveling a lot and unable to commit to a weekly course, Speexx gives them the option to come and go as needed – to continue honing their skills,” Crudele says.

Considering the impact that Speexx’s courses have had on NGO learners in just one year of partnership, Ross Coxon, LINGOs’ Director of the Learning Collaborative, is looking forward to the future. “Language programs like Speexx not only provide great learning by themselves, but they are a pathway to deeper learning and understanding in so many other areas,” Coxon says. “They provide incredible professional development for staff, and give organizations a clear path to better communication, so that they can do their work more effectively.”

For more information on the wide array of language programs available to LINGOs members through Speexx, please contact support@lingos.org.

About Speexx

Speexx helps large organizations everywhere to drive productivity by empowering employee communication skills across borders. Speexx offers an award-winning range of cloud-based online language learning solutions for Business English, Spanish, German, Italian and French with ongoing support in 13 languages. Speexx is easy to use and scales to the needs of users and training managers in organizations of any size.

Speexx integrates online business communication skills training, mobile and social learning, 1,500 expert coaches located throughout the world and personalized live online activities into one fully standardized, globally consistent learning experience. More than 8 million users in 1,500 organizations – including UNHCR, Ericsson, Mazda and Credit Suisse – use Speexx to learn a language smarter and deliver results on time. Speexx was founded in 1994 and is headquartered in Munich, London, Madrid, Milan, Paris, Sao Paulo, New York and Shanghai. For more information, visit www.speexx.com.

Are we listening enough to local voices?

Guest author: Tim Boyes-Watson, Executive Director, Mango

I’ve taken a couple of days to reflect on what I heard at the WHS and what I didn’t hear.  My first reflection is that local voices were not prominent enough and that the WHS process did not listen to them enough.  My second reflection was that those with most power chose either not to come, or not to use their powerful voices to call for the kind of revolutionary change that is needed.  I hope, but am not yet sure, that the future echoes of the summit will create an opportunity for deeper and more equal partnerships between international and local organisations, as well as greater diversity of collaborations which will promote innovation.

Local Voices

The odds were stacked against being able to hear local voices.  Local actors were in a minority of participating organisations and were largely only able to attend the side-events.  Relatively few panels in the side events featured representatives of local organisations and it was hard for them to get opportunities to contribute from the floor too.

Funding for national and local organisations

Yet the most exciting outcome from the summit in my view was the commitment made in the Grand Bargain to: “Achieve by 2020 a global, aggregated target of at least 25 per cent of humanitarian funding to local and national responders as directly as possible to improve outcomes for affected people and reduce transactional costs.”  This was the big success of the consultative process leading up to the summit and campaigns led by Adeso and Charter4Change.

However, what I heard from local voices at the summit was that this needed to be about more than just getting a more proportionate share of money to local organisations.

  1. Degan Ali spoke powerfully about looking at what happens to power and risk, as well as money.  For too many local NGOs they get all the risk, not enough money and almost no power.  If the money provided is too inflexible and does not take into account the local NGO’s strategy and their analysis of local needs, then all the Grand Bargain will be is sub-contracting.
  2. I heard several Local NGOs speak about the inadequate cost recovery and lack of flexibility offered by donors and international NGOs, which means local organisations have insufficient funds to maintain their organisations, let alone develop their organisational capacity.  Fair overhead recovery and tracking this is included in the Charter4Change, but is not explicit in the Grand Bargain.  Mango’s cost benchmarking study has shown that smaller NGOs usually have higher % overhead rates.  We need to make sure the Grand Bargain does not provide more money but with inadequate or capped indirect cost rates, as otherwise local NGOs will actually be even more exposed to the “starvation cycle” rather than gaining what they need to develop their organisational capacity.
  3. Peter Ochieng from the Uganda National Association of Cerebral Palsy spoke passionately about how we shouldn’t think that getting more international money to local NGOs is always the best solution.  In his view the best projects he saw where when the local community raised modest amounts of funding for projects.  Then both the organisations and communities work together to get the best possible value for money, compared to what happens in externally funded projects.  This made me wonder if the revolution we need in cash-based programming should be extended, so that community members could actually fund the local NGO projects they need as well as using cash to meet their own individual needs?

Local Capacity Development

There was a great session where I heard about how Crescendo International worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to share a global survey of humanitarian response workers, whose key findings were as follows:

  1. Local and national organisations have a realistic understanding of their current capabilities and want to be able to do more.
  2. Anger is building among local and national organisations in the humanitarian sector over:
    a. The limited amount of money that actually goes to local organisations;
    b. A lack of transparency in financial arrangements of subcontracting;
    c. An absence of influence at the tables where decisions are made and a lack of support for building the skills to allow them to have more influence.
  3. Current support for capacity building is not responsive to actual needs.  Local NGOs are saying they would prioritise fundraising, governance, leadership and finance, rather than ‘programme-related’ skills.  The survey also suggested that local NGOs prefer peer to peer training and mentoring as more effective ways to develop their capacity.

This analysis agreed with something I heard in another session from Degan Ali, who said “We don’t need any more technical training in things like SPHERE standards, we need things like financial training and help putting in new systems.”  I hope work like this survey and the much needed new NEAR network will create a variety of ways that capacity development can be provided locally to meet the real needs of local organisations.  As Mango, we are committed to listening and building provision of what is most required, and that is at the core of the commitments we have made as part of the WHS process.

Voices of the powerful

As was feared, the most powerful voices did not even turn up to the summit, making it very unlikely that progress could be made on key aims around conflict prevention and upholding international law.

It will be important for NGOs to analyse what the powerful voices that did attend the summit actually committed to. NGOs will also need to mobilise and collaborate to hold the powerful to their commitments and monitor implementation.

Despite the many side-events promoting the greater use of cash programming, the Grand Bargain statement on cash was the sort of pathetic phrase that often emerges from a process where consensus was not achieved: “Aim to increase use of cash programming beyond current low levels, where appropriate. Some organisations and donors may wish to set targets.” The failure of the most powerful donors to make any measurable commitment to increasing cash programming shows how much they still cling to power and are afraid to trust local actors with the flexibility to respond to their own needs.

No monitoring process has been specified for the Grand Bargain and the 25% target for local funding described above. I attended the Grand Bargain launch event and was concerned that not one of the leaders who presented this had the courage to be the one to commit to the 25% target in front of the cameras. There have been too many previous occasions on which groups of donors commit to actions but do not create mechanisms to hold each individual donor accountable. We need to push for concrete and measurable targets for each individual donor as part of the Grand Bargain process as well as transparent tracking mechanisms.

What will the future echoes of the World Humanitarian Summit be like?

The leaders of many international NGOs did come to the summit and appear to be concluding that it was broadly positive. I am not sure we have the evidence to conclude that yet. The greatest legacy of the process and the event appears to be a growing consensus around the need for localisation. It is right that Local NGOs should seek to take much more power within the humanitarian system in a world where civil society space is under more and more threat.

However, to really hold the powerful to account for making the changes needed, the whole global civil society movement will need to work together: north, south, east and west. We also need to develop new collaborations with business and social enterprises so that diversity promotes greater innovation. Charter4Change, the NEAR network and Connecting Business Initiative are examples of new collaborative networks that have emerged from the summit process. As we seek to ensure more resources are available locally and can be used more flexibly, let us not get caught in a trap where we let those with most power use their control of resources to divide us. The increasing proportion of funding which will go to local organisations should not create a conflict over resources, but an opportunity for deeper and more equal partnership.

The Road Ahead from the World Humanitarian Summit

Last week, Ross and I traveled to Istanbul to take part in the World Humanitarian Summit. We set up our both in exhibition hall to showcase our work in Turkey and Syria to build the capacity of local NGOs in Syria and promote our new mobile-first product, PMD Pro Starter. Our friends and partners from Orange and Syan also joined us to discuss their local capabilities in the region—and Ross seemed to know everyone already!

IMG_6348 2

I had the chance to run upstairs to several of the side events and to network with other INGO and capacity building leaders. We also had many opportunities to deepen our conversations with others who share our passion for building capacity for humanitarians: CHS Alliance, Humanitarian Leadership Academy, PHAP, Mango, Institut Bioforce and Genome Consulting to name a few.


There was much discussion about whether the WHS was a watershed moment for the humanitarian sector or a failed attempt at much needed reform. I will largely leave that argument to others, except to make the following observations from someone new to this sector:


  1. Wow! 8000 people came to Istanbul for three days to, at least attempt, to create a new Agenda for Humanity. In our age of cynicism, political retreats to nationalism, and hyper-capitalism, this is, itself, remarkable–and we should celebrate it.
  2. Rome was not built in a day and we did not get to the (still imperfect) Paris climate accord in one try. For real reform, it will take more than one World Humanitarian Summit to get to the real change that so many at the Summit wanted to see. Maybe the bar was set too high. Let’s consolidate our small victories and look ahead with solidarity.
  3. We talk about “reforming the sector” or how, as a sector, “we can become more innovative.” These are perhaps the wrong questions. The “sector” can’t innovate—it is simply a compilation of our collective individual and organizational actions. It is up to each of us to drive our own innovation. Waiting for others (donors, governments, northern INGOs, southern INGOs, local NGOs—it’s all based on your perspective) to create the right environment, is a recipe for the same-as-usual results. Innovation does not happen by committee and certainly not by a UN forum; it happens because brave leaders drive it and nurture it—and then—others in the sector will follow, imitate, adapt, etc. (Stay tuned! We are working on curating some learning in the innovation space to help your organizations take the lead.)


From a learning and capacity building perspective, this biggest news from the Summit, was the Grand Bargain which included a (non-binding) commitment to have local and national NGOs receive 25% of humanitarian funding by 2020. That’s an ambitious goal which represents an 800% increase over the current ratios in four years. Nonetheless, it means we need to get “real” about why our current capacity building efforts by and with local NGOs may not yet be as effective as they could be. For our part, we’ve drafted our own commitments as part of the WHS agenda and have focused them on local capacity building while supporting northern INGOs as they adapt as well. I’d love to get your feedback, critiques, and hopefully ideas and commitments of support!


So, maybe I left Istanbul more optimistic than other Summit participants. And my optimism was bolstered by my five days in Delhi that followed. The national and local NGOs that I met are doing really innovative work, embracing digital technologies, strengthening their networks and peer-to-peer approaches, and raising most of their money locally in India. To be fair, these were development, not humanitarian, organizations—yet, maybe we just need to look with our eyes wide open to see the change we want to see.

Learning and the Art of Transformation

Guest post by Chris Proulx, CEO, LINGOs

Earlier this week, the LINGOs European team and I attended the BOND conference in London where over 900 members of the UK international NGO community gathered and networked. In the spirit of BOND’s new Futures and Innovation agenda, the conference focused heavily on the external and internal forces that are shaping the future of the international NGO. Many of the panels and speakers focused on a wide range of topics from agile humanitarian response to changing donor strategies to the impacts of climate change to role of youth-led social movements. The overarching question was what should be the future role of the international NGO. A few insights jumped out to me.

Where were the learning professionals? We had lots of rich conversations with heads of programs and fundraising, CEOs and COOs, and many technical leads. We enjoyed networking with our colleagues from partners such as the Humanitarian Leadership Academy, Inside NGO, Mango, the CHS Alliance, and the Cornerstone On Demand Foundation. However, there was a distinct absence of HR and Learning professionals from the NGOs at the conference. If any of the NGOs in the room are going to transform as they many hope they will, it will only happen because people are able to change what they do or how they do it.

Capabilities, culture, staffing and partnering models are all likely to change and they all will require innovative approaches from HR and Learning. In our busy, hectic, and cost-constrained worlds, we often retreat to networking within our professional circles. That’s great for sharing best practice but it is a huge missed opportunity for cross-fertilization of ideas—which is exactly what is needed in high doses during dynamic or even turbulent times.  I am motivated to make sure we have speakers from diverse roles and perspectives at our Global Learning Forum, so here’s an early hint—invite a colleague from your programs team to join you in Seattle.

Partnership and collaboration, but how? Many speakers advocated for more collaboration: North-South, Public-Private, Local-International, Small-Big, Cross-Sector, and more. What was less clear is exactly how to do it. I was chatting with the CEO of a large corporate foundation later in the week who expressed her concern that INGOs are not particularly good at partnering. She went out to give examples of innovative ideas emerging at smaller NGOs that could benefit from the scale of a large INGO, but there are no proven models for how to identify, adapt, and scale those ideas.

One of the panel chairs at BOND, Gillian Caldwell of Global Witness outlined 10 principles of a good partnership, which included typical things such as shared vision, communication, trust, clear expectations—all things that are ample supply in many of our learning programs. But some less so—awareness of differentiated power dynamics, willing to subordinate your identity, and love! Here in our LINGOs community, we know how to partner—you have often come together to work on shared deliverables, and we know have access to resources that enable internal partnering. So, we have something to offer here. We could work together across organizational boundaries in real partnership to take many of the key competencies we embed in our learning programs to foster internal cohesion and team effectiveness and re-orient them outwardly as the competency model and training for effective organizational partnering. Are you up to the challenge?

The Art of Transformation. The opening speakers on Monday were Danny Sriskandarajah, CEO of Civicus, and Aya Chebbi, a blogger and social activist who was part of the Tunisian revolution is now leads the African Youth Movement. Together, they made a strong case for radical change within the international development community. Danny highlighted concerns about the big NGOs getting bigger, an eroding of trust in NGOs by the public as many have prioritized branding over advocacy, and he worried that donors now only see INGOs as implementers. Aya talked about the speed of new social movements, the urgency of youth and their need to be drivers of development not the objects of it, and need to create transnational solidarity across borders for civil society. At the end of his remarks, Danny lamented the conflict between the “science of delivery” and the “art of transformation.” This comment has stuck with me because so much organizational learning focuses on the “science of delivery” as we strive for competency maps, performance management, learning metrics all layered on top of courses designed to improve technical, managerial, or professional skills. All are important!

And yet, have we also lost sight of the fact that the most effective learning has an immense power to transform hearts, minds, careers, and lives? Where can we find opportunities to use our learning expertise to create experiences that re-inspire staff around mission, or connect donors and the public the “why” behind the organization’s work, or extends the reach of the organization’s core know-how to new partners and communities? By putting the science of learning to work on the art of transformation, you will be expanding the traditional scope of L&D—which will require more strategic partnering—and maybe, as Gillian Caldwell suggests—a little Love.