Upholding civil society values through identity management

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Twenty-two (22) civil society leaders from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania participated in a 4-day workshop organized by EASUN in Moshi, Tanzania, from 9th to 13th November 2014. The theme of the workshop was civil society identity construction.

The workshop was planned by EASUN as a response to some inconsistencies that CSOs are currently experiencing in relation to their ethical claim and aspirations toward creating a civil society. Many such contradictions are embedded in organizational cultures and structures that are shaping the management and leadership practices of CSOs.

Many CSOs, for instance, have embraced deeply hierarchical structures, governance cultures and practices from government and business sectors that do not reflect the values and advocacy agendas expressed in their programme documents. Such lack of commitment to a clear identity has also allowed self-defeating competitiveness to thrive which threatens the needed collaboration to bring about change through advocacy work. Essential values of the sector, such as transparency and accountability seem to have become mainly compliance rhetoric for the survival of individual civil society organizations. This, consequently, is undermining the potential impact that CSOs can realize in transforming governance practices toward economic and social justice.

Identity construction

Among the immediate benefits gained by CSO leaders in the three 3-day training workshop were:

  • Connections made between conscious management of organizational identity and sustainable institutional development of the sector;
  • Increase awareness of how conscious identity management strengthens the social accountability of CSOs;
  • Enhanced consciousness about CSO initiatives as platforms for building civil society values and ethical leadership;
  • Specific skills developed for managing sustainable collaboration as an ethical imperative in CSO networks and individual organizations.

Methodology and content of identity management

The workshop engaged participants in learning processes aimed at clarifying civil society practices that characterize good governance and drive civil society advocacy as a value driven sector. More specifically, the learning activities 1) surfaced important questions regarding the management of CSO institutional identity; 2) created new knowledge and skills in facilitating identity construction; 3) generated insights and commitment to strengthening identity construction in individual CSOs and networks.

Special content matters such as change management and collaboration generated awareness and expressions of commitment to future sustained conscious identity management by participating CSO leaders.

Key results of identity construction workshop

The CSO identity construction workshop launched a platform for knowledge creation and skills development around identity management. As a result of the rich content highlighted above, the following were experienced, expressed and documented by participants:

  • New knowledge created about leadership and managerial practices that facilitate identity management.
  • New awareness about networks as platforms for shared learning and building CSO values and accountability.
  • Links established between clarity of CSO identities and sustainable advocacy work.
  • Skills, practices, values and systems related to organizational learning and CSO identity management identified;
  • Plans and action steps for improving identity construction and management developed by each participant.

The workshop initiative on identity construction is to be taken forward by EASUN through training workshops for CSO networks, FOLD training, and other capacity building work on leadership and governance that will be implemented between 2015 and 2017.