Ethical leadership rising

Ethical leadership of NGO Board uplifted

DENIVA is a national level network of indigenous voluntary Associations in Uganda. Its executive director, Justus Rugambwa, attended ’s FOLD training in 2013/2014.

Working with new learning from FOLD

DENIVA is one of the oldest and best known NGO networks in Uganda and East Africa as a whole. In an extended discussion on 16th April 2016, in Kampala, Justus highlighted a list of innovative systems and processes that he introduced after FOLD training, which transformed governance in DENIVA. A particular aspect that stands out are new systems that focus on uplifting ethical leadersip of the board. He mentioned the following three innovations that specifically made a difference in the board’s performance of its roles and leadership responsibilities:

Established regular review meetings between ED and board chairperson;
Developed board governance and membership vetting manual that sought to ensure that DENIVA board members are providing leadership based on clear ethical standards for leading a civil society organization;
Established systems for assessing staff performance, focusing not only on skills and delivery, but also on specific benchmarks for ethical behaviours that would facilitate the success of the whole team.

Making change happen for “self” and others

A number of things made it possible for such deep changes to happen at a collective level of leadership in DENIVA. From his own perspective, Justus noted specific things that particularly supported effective change management in DENIVA:

• Both Board chairperson and ED are graduates of ’s FOLD course, which rooted them in basic organization development (OD) theory and tools;
• Mutual acknowledgement and mutual respect between ED and Board chairperson, i.e., ability developed by both of them to discuss various organizational development questions with openness;
• Three (3) DENIVA board members attended ’s Board Training Sensitization Workshop in 2013, held in Moshi, Tanzania. Others attended a similar sensitization workshop organized by in Uganda in May 2014.

Justus observed that he had become aware of three major shifts in how he is currently working with his self-awareness to facilitate change at different levels in DENIVA. He says: “Applying listening skills has increased my openness and ability to dialogue. I am more able now to move into different situations and conversations without having drawn conclusions in advance.” He also referred to increased comfort with his own vulnerability, which he perceives to have reduced stress for him. In addition, Justus has become aware of his increased ability to “let go”, which has allowed him to invite others to “be the best they can be” without feeling judged by him. He further noted that such growth at the level of working with the self has strengthened his ability to mentor others and improve collective learning processes, as well as participation and team work in the workplace.

New questions identified

Justus referred to incursions into civic space that still hinder the development of organized civil society in Uganda and Africa as a whole. He highlighted his own encounters with external challenges that have often caused efforts by civil society leaders, to get stuck. For instance:
• Donors increasingly influencing Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to become environments for competition between project systems and institutional identity management. The whole organizational system within a local CSO becomes consumed by project compliance demands. This creates tension when some staff push exclusively for compliance with project requirements, above priorities for identity construction and sustainability;
• Unpredictability of donor funding is creating uncertainty, instability and anxiety;
• Some Donors are emphasizing the marketing of their own brands through activities carried out by local organizations while refusing to fund identity management activities of the local organizations themselves.

He went on to assess the reality in the current environment in relation to what he had learnt in FOLD. He made the following observation: “In FOLD, I learnt about the power of organizational culture in promoting or hindering change”. He continues:

The power of culture and the critical role of leadership in consciously managing culture change processes has been confirmed for me; especially each time I see a conflict between enforced project systems and the spirit of a civil society organization. Many systems established in CSOs are normally imposed by donors for compliance in the context of project activities. They are often not about supporting the indepedent growth of civil society identity and sustainability in Africa.

It is unfortunate, according to Justus, that project focused systems are presumed to be the basis for defining organizational capacity building for CSOs: “FOLD training gave me a new perspective on capacity development in complex organizational situations. From this new lens I can see that the exclusively project focused approach to systems development sets up CSOs for failure.” He continues to observe that rules and reporting procedures by donors require a lot of time to manage: “In situations where CSOs are increasingly living in anxiety and fear of losing donor funding, it would seem pointless to invest a lot of effort to shift out of current ways of doing things in order to adapt systems that may not be relevant in a year’s time.”