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I have been volun-told and volun-steered in many ways in the communities that I navigate. At first, I am very open to the idea provided it suits my interest, talent, time, and engagement methods. Other than that, aside from what I do on a main basis, I just want to enjoy my time leisurely.
Recently, being asked to do this and that is something that I have to look closer and with more awareness that I can't possibly commit to many things and then drop them one by one.
My experience in my last volunteer advisory role was like punching your way through too many intelligent people in the room all the time. These are great people with great ideas but execution and really being common sensical is a mile a way. My contrarian position irked a lot of people (I wasn't a favorite!) and this is the risk we all take when were not sycophants. Sharing a different and vital perspective should be welcomed but people can be overly sensitive and enamored by their own views too much. If this is the environment, I might as well read a good book or play with my daughter in the playground or watch My Little Pony with her. Stumping mushrooms on the ground is fun too.
I don't want to be volun-shoved and volun-steered in the wrong direction. They might as well be barking on the wrong tree.
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Like the Black See Grain initiative powered by the UN between Ukraine, Russia and Turkey to free up the grains to address the growing food insecurity in many parts of the world, this deal is highly contentious.
While currently warring, the two factions managed to put aside their strife to think about how the grains from Ukraine could solve another world problem. Albeit, for very selfish reasons, they came together, debated endlessly, sought side deals and concessions, and almost broke down the negotiations. So much for what UN calls 'restricted diplomacy.'
While highly volatile and unpredictable, when pulled together, enemies can be brought to the table with very clear political or economic objective, facilitated by multilateral actors who are perceived as neutral or non-partial to the central conflict. It seemed that limited trust can be fostered on a very narrow set of targets with disincentive for non-cooperation and rewards for its maintenance.
The world is fraught with conflicts and war-mongering. The stances of governments and politicians are more towards creating division and polarization rather than creating a pathway towards reconciliation and unity within a diverse framework. Negotiations seldom accomplish their purpose because of the insistence that all wrongs and disagreements on all fronts had to be taken down first which is not the way to go.
This initiative proves that with a strong political will, enemies can sign the same accord separately without the face-to-face interaction but still agree on the document. Even though the terms are fairly slim, that could be start of more talks and less fighting on the ground. This is possible but very hard to put together and maintain, but do we have a choice?
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You can't fake this.
I have been in an non-profit Board where the Executive Director meets us every month with some flavor-of-the-month issue that we should be very excited about and yet failed to give us some progress on the most important thing.
For example, the bus that the donor is giving for free, the new technology software for payroll and client management, a new sexual harassment policy, the new grant we should be applying, an enrollment to a certification program and a membership to a municipal social planning committee. Well, these are all great additions but what's happening to the first 5 priority areas where she needed to focus on and deliver.
Diversions could be used to cover some underlying business problems that are not being addressed for many reasons. One of them is that because some people are part of the problem. First, the timing is suspect. The fact that the Board had clearly outlined some pressing issues that needed to be resolved and completely addressed is the order of the day. Adding new but non-pressing agenda does not create that level of trust. Second, the new additions will completely use up all the time, resources, and energy for which that could have been taken in at a later time. Third, the staff seemed to be deliberately treating these diversions as substitutes or proxies for priorities, for whatever reason.
Which led me to the point, the best result- the Board terminated the Executive Director in a matter of few months on a very different reason. But the writing was on the wall with this behavior. You can't dance around important issues and pretend that non-performance and lack of due diligence is perfectly alright. The Board loses its grip when the Executive Director controls them rather that they control the conditions for which the Director should be accountable with.
The part of the problem is that this could be a seemingly innocent mistake until it becomes a behavioral pattern. You have to see it for what it is, diversionary tactics are meant to erode the focus and commitment of leadership.
Be ruthless with your meeting agenda and keep an eagle eye on your musts. Overachieving is not a problem in the purpose sector, it's the underachieving that seems to be tricky.
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A few years ago, when I was jumpstarting my practice again, I attended a local community organization's meeting made up of different providers for networking and to get to know the burning issues of the day. One lady questioned my presence and intimated that I might be in a 'wrong meeting' because am in the consulting business. Presumably, she thought that their group should not be a 'target' of my marketing.
Like in many of professions, as a professional and a person, we come with many hats. Because I was seen as the 'consultant' ready to take their monies and hard-earned budget, I got an inquisition. But if you come with an open mind, a consultant can be a guide, an expert, another connector, and could be an ardent supporter just like any other individual. I can also write a cheque if I want to!
How come organizations suffer from myopic perspectives and ill-thought actions? Because they insulate themselves from outside voices and perspectives that can actually enrich their work and challenge their assumptions. Within the confines of the comfortable existence, a few of them dare to venture to reach out or be accessed by people marginal to their operational logics. Innovation is relaxing controls and embracing the creative diversities from resources and talent around you.
Don't be too quick to say no to people from unlikely origins, with backgrounds different from yours just because of the prejudices and biases against/for these people. There is always a treasure hidden behind a job title or a strange name or a weird hairdo. If you dismiss these people arbitrarily, you're literally leaving money on the table. For a non-profit, this attitude is suicidal.
Be open to possibilities and be surprised with your findings.
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I have been receiving requests for partnership and as always, I ask: "Where's the beef?"
Collaboration for on-purpose organizations takes more than you and the other party. Because you're in the business of purpose, your metrics are totally different. You can enlarge the pie for the sector if it becomes a system-generating activity than just for mere propagation of your programs, projects, or products. In a systems- approach to collaboration, 1+5 is not 6 but 60. To leverage the vast benefits of collaboration with the eye to a larger social good is really about:
1) Showing others (your peers, your stakeholders, your audience/customers, and policy-makers) the way towards better practices, mindsets, and tools for success;
2) Benefiting the ecosystem where you operate, the collaboration has public value and could be supported at scale;
3) Creating innovation at a smaller scale than can be replicated with enough infrastructure and technology and leveraged outcomes;
4) Doing the 'impossible' in the sector by having the 'no-regrets policy.'
Do you see collaboration as a means to pursue your strategic ends as an organization? Or there is more to it than what gets approved in the annual cycle of budgets and operational plans? If yes, to collaboration, when the benefits outweigh the risks and challenges, why not get the biggest sectoral obstacle and induce solutions through a collaborative arrangement where all the actors can be involved.
The question then on 'where's the beef?' becomes moot and academic.
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Lately in a coaching conversation, I learned that applying a COVID19 lens as an intentional approach to planning, decision-making, and resources allocation is not only safe but strategic.
Given that majority of the world is still battling the third wave, dangerous variants have weakened and collapsed many health care systems in the developing countries, and developed countries have yet to pick up the pieces of their lives and economies- COVID19 will not go away just as it came.
The COVID19 lens should be used beyond the pandemic and the virus transmission. It's about reconstruction, restoration, and healing of societies and economies. It's also about getting back to the root causes that alienate us from our environment, community, and self-sustainability. I heard that those people who recover from COVID19 had after-effects felt for months and years.
These are facts we are grappling today:
How can the whole society recover from mental health issues, depression, and isolation? How can we recover from deaths of family, friends, neighbors, officemates due to COVID19?
How can we recover from suicides of people close to us who died because of COVID19 isolation?
How can we recover our businesses from taking a nose dive due to lockdowns and travel/mobility restrictions?
How can we recover from deaths that are not COVID19 because the health care systems refuse to treat emergency surgeries?
These are not irrecoverable or irreparable but they do leave lasting impacts that will take years to completely undo.
On a positive note, this virus will never be back again. On a more realistic note, we will have to face more diseases, deadlier than this one unless we get better at monitoring, testing, rules and policy enforcements, and cooperation.
How are you operating your organization through the COVID19 lens and beyond? Are you ready for the slow but sure emergence in the horizon?
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The politics on vaccines is another issue that can potentially escalate into another time-bomb.
We have several vaccines that have promising results for the prevention of the COVID-19 virus. We know that these can take a few months before initial groups of people are monitored and the side effects of the drug are taken into consideration.
We'll have the vaccines as our (Canadian) government committed to this a long time ago. Other countries have to wait until it becomes affordable and that preliminary results come out. No one wants to be the guinea pig, I suppose.
Vaccines are one thing but the equitable distribution, affordability, accessibility and appropriateness of these vaccines to differentiated needs of different populations come into question. Another issue is about protecting consumers who have elected to use these vaccines under development, which calls for regulation and complete transparency for public welfare.
We live in ambiguous times. We cannot trust our health systems and authorities that are overwhelmed and overworked to decide for our health, well-being, and safety. Like all systems, when it's saturated, it either collapses on the sheer weight of its load or dissipates into mediocrity or irrelevance.
We also cannot turn a blind eye on the suffering and hardships that are experienced by our neighbors in the developing South. That's why we call on health equity across the board. Those that have multiple vulnerabilities and needs must be given equitable priority and attention and consulted adequately.
Be your own health advocate and become a health advocate for others around you. The world is hyperconnected to risk being the weakest link.
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Half of the battle is won by just showing up.
Showing up for your employees and staff when they need an ally and a champion for workplace effectiveness.
Showing up for community causes that are no longer optional or good-to-have but are essential for collective rejuvenation.
Showing up for suppliers who are hurting in this pandemic and needed measures to ease their financial and logistical difficulties.
Showing up for your customers to say that you care and offer help when it's not being expected.
Showing up for your stakeholders and generate collective voices so that those that are not on the table can be represented.
Showing up despite the fear and uncertainty of the new environment where we live in.
Showing up and owning the co-responsibility of charting the new future in your sector.
When you show up, the world opens up for you.
Own the space and hold the space for others too!
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Remember this famous line from the movie "Jerry Maguire" where the character of Cuba Gooding said, "show me the money!"
In collaboration and partnership, the true test where there is partnership and collaboration is the mandate/project.
Collaboration for collaboration's sake is nonsense.
There is no collaboration or promise of collaboration where there is no single uniting focus of where the collaboration will be.
Promises are never guaranteed, unless we are talking of real, tangible benefits and rewards and the "work" that needed to get done by all the collaborators.
It is not just 'tit for tat'- it is more than that. It is about collaborating on a specific mandate that is too good to leave on the table and yet to powerful to be done by one organization or entity alone.
Show me the money (or in some instances -the mandate) and I will show you how we can partner together.