Sustainability is probably the biggest threat facing civil society organisations (CSOs) today. In a recent report on CSO Sustainability Index for Sub-Saharan Africa, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) argues that addressing CSO sustainability will require fundamental changes to the way CSOs identify and manage their staff and organisations.
The data is recent, but the underlying conclusion has been echoed for over a decade. According to the International NGO Training and Research Centre (INTRAC), the new power dynamic that CSOs have to engage with, interaction with multiple stakeholders. INTRAC also states that the need to balance sustainability with the expectation of results affect the central role that civil society – in formal and informal forms – is expected to play effectively and independently in the achievement of development, stability and peace.
CSO’s survival and the survival of their beneficiaries depends on a significant systemic change. “Sustainability is a relatively new organisational principle in global policy. It is new partly because CSOs have long been largely hostile to the very idea. Postwar neoclassical growth theories for example on human capital and economic growth especially in Sub-Saharan Africa including in Sierra Leone deliberately ignored the relationship between sustainability and economic growth of institutions.
A timely training
Recently, from 14 to 18 November 2019, the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI), a leading capacity building organisation in West Africa, with financial support from the Fund for Global Human Rights (FGHR) completed a 5 days capacity building training for four CSOs in Sierra Leone. The organisations that participated in the training include Defence for Children International Sierra Leone (DCI-SL), Action for Community Task (ACT), Women Against Violence and Exploitation in Society (WAVES) and Women’s Action for Human Dignity (WAHD).
The training responded to the capacity gaps identified during a capacity assessment conducted for selected organisations in Sierra Leone. At the end of the training, the four organisation were enlightened on organisational governance, leadership, talent management, resource mobilisation, and communicating impacts.
This year, Defence for Children International Sierra Leone (DCI-SL) – a leading advocacy organisation in the country that works to strengthen the national child protection and welfare system, celebrates 20 years of existence in Sierra Leone. The needs assessment and this training were significant milestones for the organisation in the year.
The training re-energised DCI-SL to continue working towards achieving its main thrust to respond to the specific needs of children, particularly those in vulnerable situations. It reinforced DCI’s capacity to excel in its efforts to strengthen the national child protection and welfare system in Sierra Leone.
Enhancing leadership skills: the gateway to DCI’s sustainability
Without effective leadership, a field officer, project officer or project manager simply cannot be effective or efficient. It will also be difficult to transform potential into reality inspired by shared vision and aspirations by both the leader and the followers.
The session on leadership and talent management unpacked basic principles of leadership along with other styles of leadership. These are relevant to the continued sustainability of DCI – Sierra Leone for at least three reasons;
First, leadership training has increased the capacity of DCI – SL to be more successful with its interventions in communities in Sierra Leone. Four DCI staff acquired skills to positively influence team members to perform assigned tasks willingly, efficiently and competently.
Second, leadership training has helped representatives from DCI-SL to identify and be able to address three practical challenges. The first challenge is to provide a shared vision of where the organisation is heading to and what its purpose is (the mission). The second challenge is to convert the strategic vision and directional course into specific performance outcomes for each key area which the team deems important for success. The third challenge is to generate and develop a strategy that will determine how the organisation will achieve its objectives. Strategic direction is imperative in identifying a systematic intervention that will provide the most leverage to the organisation, because, an organisation cannot focus on everything all of the time.
Finally, DCI-SL staff are the most vital resource of the organisation. The training has equipped the team with robust leadership skills to serve the organisation as better leaders. This is crucial in ensuring the continuity and sustainability of DCI – SL. It will also enable the organisation to offer top-notch products and services to its constituents.
Poised to excel
For Issa Bangura, a participant, from DCI – Sierra Leone, “The greatest contribution that I can make to my organisation is to use my knowledge and skills that I have developed in the leadership training, to help DCI – Sierra Leone to move towards prosperity. I will do this by contributing towards rethinking the sustainability of DCI – Sierra Leone through the creation of organisational leadership culture, identifying young leaders and support the development of a sustainable and inclusive organisational succession plan for DCI Sierra Leone.