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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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!

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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.)

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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.

Partner Spotlight: Building Global Classrooms with eCornell

A cross between the founding principles of eCornell, Cornell University’s online-learning arm, and LINGOs, a global development capacity-building consortium, might sound something like “All the world is a classroom.” For NGO staff working around the world, however, learning can be impacted by issues of internet accessibility and dangerous working environments, not to mention distance between offices. As LINGOs’ longtime partner, eCornell is changing the stakes by affordably delivering eCornell courses to NGO learners wherever they work. In the last five years, over 2,200 NGO staff in 120 countries have furthered their professional educations through eCornell, and their numbers are only growing.

eCornell’s generous partnership gives LINGOs’ 80+ Members – all development, humanitarian, or conservation organizations – access to eCornell courses at highly discounted rates. With courses in topics ranging from management to accounting, human resources to plant-based nutrition, eCornell has spurred an enthusiastic response from LINGOs Members, whose staff have taken over 10,800 courses since 2010, at a combined retail savings to their non-profits of over $6,000,000. For Paul Krause, eCornell’s CEO, the partnership “has been a great way for us to provide premium Cornell courses and professional certificate programs to those engaged in the important work of NGOs.”

Learning for a Stronger Sector

TechnoServe, a new member of the LINGOs community, began offering eCornell courses to its staff in May 2015. Since then, enrollment has accelerated. “It’s a combination of a huge demand for learning and just the right type of courses,” says Agnieszka Zieminska Yank, Vice President of Human Resources at TechnoServe. By the end of 2015, more than one hundred TechnoServe staffers had already enrolled in over 460 courses, in topics like “Project Teams: Mining Collective Intelligence” and “Dealing with Difference.” In all, over 90% of TechnoServe staffers surveyed reported that the courses met their expectations “very” or “extremely” well.

“It’s the design of the courses that sells them,” says Libba Ingram, Senior Learning Specialist at Management Sciences for Health. eCornell courses are rigorous and short (most take just two weeks to complete), with no fixed class times, so learners can easily jump into discussions and submit project work from any time zone. Katie Taylor, a Talent Development Specialist at MSH, adds that eCornell is covered as a benefit in employee onboarding, but says word-of-mouth has been a major driver of its success at the organization. Case in point? “Nigeria,” she says. As it turns out, although MSH works in over 65 countries, approximately half of its eCornell enrollments in 2015 came from staff in Nigeria – the result, Ingram and Taylor surmise, of a communication line between colleagues.

For staff looking to deepen their perspective or shift to new roles, eCornell’s certificate programs have proven to be a popular – and global – credential. Certificate programs, usually comprised of five or six courses in a given subject (although master certificates can require twice as many courses, or more) culminate in most disciplines in a certificate from Cornell University. In the past five years, the University has awarded over 700 certificates to the staff of LINGOs Member organizations.

For Francis Rogers, a capacity building coordinator at ACDI/VOCA who recently earned a certificate in HR, eCornell bridged the distance between Ithaca and Liberia, where he’s based. “I do not know whether I would have had the opportunity to attend an Ivy League university had ACDI/VOCA not provided that means,” he writes. To Ross Coxon, Director of LINGOs’ Learning Collaborative, eCornell’s generosity gives LINGOs Member NGOs another way to invest in their own top talent, and more: “The effects of high-quality learning reach not only the staff of LINGOs Members, but also the communities they serve,” he says.

Sergey Hayrapetyan, Senior Advisor (Operational Excellence) at Catholic Relief Services, has completed ten certificates and master certificates through eCornell. In many cases, he says, his coursework has been a lens for approaching his concurrent work with CRS. In a course on scenario planning, for example, he used the homework exercise to develop and apply real strategic objectives for his country program at CRS. “So I was not making anything up,” he says.  “I was doing the real thing.” Not only that, but his class discussions and projects incorporated the new perspectives of classmates who came mainly, he says, from the for-profit world.

The Global Classroom

In addition to developing individuals, eCornell is also impacting NGO learning at an organizational level. While the skills training offered by eCornell might not be specific to the non-profit sector, “we’re still an organization. We still have to have people well-versed in skills like HR, management, and accounting, whether they’re HR professionals, or senior leaders, or project staff,” says Bridgett Horn, Learning Manager at The Nature Conservancy.

For NGOs operating between far-flung offices, eCornell can provide a creative means of fusing teambuilding with learning. Catholic Relief Services offers its staff some dedicated eCornell sessions – courses just for CRS learners. Jean Marie Adrian, Senior Advisor (Leadership and Career Development) at CRS, notes that for LINGOs Members facing the cost of gathering staff for trainings in Nairobi or Dubai, eCornell is a clear alternative: “For the price of one airfare, you can train everyone in-depth [through a dedicated session] for two weeks.” Adrian also notes that the cross-section of CRS learners is larger and richer in the eCornell sessions than is often feasible in an onsite: “You have mid-level managers taking a course with country representatives, or higher-level managers,” he says. “The mix is very, very interesting.”

Chris Proulx, LINGOs’ CEO (and formerly of eCornell), is not surprised by the positives that CRS and other LINGOs Members are seeing. He says that “eCornell has had a model for now 15 years that has always been social in its construction, yet it’s not what people normally think about when they think about social learning.”

And although the type of social learning happening with eCornell “isn’t taking place in 140 characters,” Proulx continues, “it’s helping people to exchange knowledge with peers and colleagues who they may not otherwise have had an opportunity to connect with.”