So you want to build a learning organization…

Easier said than done.

What does it actually mean? Are you learning from experience and always putting in place new practices based on newfound knowledge? If so, how do you manage the constant change this flexibility generates? What processes do you have in place to capture the learning and put it into action the next go-around?

Are you sharing knowledge between individuals, such as a more experienced staff person sharing with a less experienced? Or a person with the latest skills training the old dogs new tricks? Either way, how is this done?

Are you hoping to transfer knowledge based on relationships that have been built over the years? How do you download the inner social network of a senior team member when they don’t even know what might be useful until something triggers a memory that they conveniently dredge up when the need arises.

What are the best ways to share knowledge not just within an organization but also between organizations – such as nonprofits that are working towards a similar or common cause but approaching it in different ways or in different geographical locations? How do we create a natural flow of information from those with knowledge to those that are seeking it? How do we prevent duplication, overlap, and reinventing the wheel? Are the old methods of convening people in a space and guiding the conversation the best, or are the new whizz-bang virtual meeting tools really as useful as they claim to be?

My goal: sharing knowledge creatively (photo: Carla Funk, 2009)

I’ll be exploring these kinds of questions for a while. So many questions on knowledge transfer and mobilization, and when you look, so many answers. None of them seem quite right or complete though. More to come so watch this space …

The “Sticky” Business of Philanthropy

I conducted research on the value proposition of philanthropy to professional advisors. The bottom line is that if wealth planners, lawyers, and tax accountants want to develop deeper relationship with their clients, having meaningful conversations is an excellent way to do that. One advisor said that it helped her to create a “sticky business”. Clients were attracted to her because of her social values, they referred to her service to others for the same reason, and clients tended to stick with her from one generation to the next. Discussing philanthropy with clients, particularly at times when wealth is about to be transferred from one generation to another, is very good for the advisor’s business. Read the full report:

Doing Good for Business pdf

On Humility

I just ran across the expression “paradoxical curiosity”. Its a part of John Paul Lederach’s concept of the moral imagination. In simple terms,  moral imagination is the ability to be grounded in the real world but to be able to imagine a better world. In some ways, having a finely tuned capacity for paradoxical curiosity strikes me as being the perfect framework for what organizations need to strive to become “learning organizations”. These are some of the qualities:

  • Rise above dualistic polarities
  • Go deeper and get excited by things that are not immediately understood
  • Hold together seemingly seemingly contradictory truths in order to locate a greater truth
  • Respect complexity as a friend
  • Be inquisitive about contradictory social energies
  • Seek something beyond what is visible
  • Mobilize the imagination
  • Lift relationships and understanding relationships to a new level
  • Suspend judgement but do not relinquish opinion or the capacity to assess

My deeper question is this: how can we best instill this kind of thinking into the culture of our organizations so that paradoxical curiosity and learning is not only tolerated, but is respected and expected by all?

Jed Emerson, speaking about his new book “Purpose of Capital” (in the video linked below), describes paradoxical curiosity as on the one hand having answers, and on the other hand having the humility to realize you don’t know anything. So in one word? Humility.

We need humility to listen. To hear multiple perspectives and understand that they all carry truth. To know that the world is complex, that there really are no easy answers. And to know that the process of answering tricky questions together, by engaging as many stakeholders as possible, to find solutions is the key to lifting relationships to a new level.


(Photo credit C.Funk; 99% rally at Victoria BC legislative buildings)


Building Trust

How do you build trust between two parties when you don’t actually meet, or have the chance to get to know each other?  Anonymous social impact investors are exploring the concept of investing in Transform International but we haven’t met them.

(For background read Diary of a Social Venture investment, and Power Imbalance)

How do they know we’re not snake oil salesmen? How do we know they aren’t going to push their financial weight around and mess up our tiny (but mighty) nonprofit?

In addition to not meeting, we have a few other strikes against us on the ‘trust’ thing.

First, research indicates that both trust and trustworthiness rises when people are close socially (Glaeser, Laibson, Scheinkman, & Soutter, 2000, p. 811). In our case the social venture investors are not part of our, the nonprofit managers, social network, nor are they socially close to the individuals leading the 9 local centres around the world. – Strike one.

The same research says that “trustworthiness declines when partners are of different race or nationalities”. Considering we at Transform International represent 3 nations at the core administrating level, and 9 country centres – 6 African, and one each in the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and Bolivia – and scores of other nationalities representing the volunteer experts contributing to the Transform International network of shareable knowledge? This complexity of nationalities could scare off even the heartiest of investors. – Strike two.

It would seem we are facing a serious uphill battle on building trust.

On the plus side though, we have an incredibly intelligent and personable intermediary to help us with the trust-building process. She not only understands business, but also has a solid and experienced grasp of the key issues and complexities of development and poverty reduction.

The critical role of this person cannot be overstated.

In lieu of getting to know the investor, she is helping Transform International navigate unfamiliar terrain. Having emailed, spoken over video Skype, and met in person, we trust her as a person; and we trust her to represent our interests fairly and with great competence. Every snippet of information that she shares about the investors helps to illuminate our path. Every detail we share helps her to shape the collaborative process together with the investors.

In terms of trust building, it was so important to meet with this intermediary in person. Four Transform International people spent the afternoon with her discussing the various possibilities for collaboration and investment. We shared a dinner together with her and her husband; also at dinner was the person that brought our organization to her attention in the first place.

Breaking bread together, laughing over wild tales of travel adventures, and getting to know each other as people is an under-rated business activity. Through this visit I learned that I could trust this woman, and that I would trust her to take us to the next level of conversation with the investors. Without trust we would not move forward.

And we are moving forward.


Reference:  Glaeser, Edward L., David I. Laibson, Jose A. Scheinkman, and Christine L. Soutter. “Measuring Trust.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 115, no. 3 (August 1, 2000): 811–46.

Power Imbalance

Referring to my last post on social impact investment funding to a nonprofit: Why is this match complicated?

To start, there is an obvious and classic power imbalance here:

Them: In general, social impact investors reason that since they became wealthy through business, then business must be a logical way for the world’s poor to elevate their own lot. Not illogical thinking given what a poor job governments and nonprofits have been doing in solving this seemingly intractable problem. As the global rich add daily to their already impossibly massive wealth, millions of people – no, literally billions of people – wallow in the depths of poverty with little opportunity to change the unstable and precarious nature of their lives. These investors want to change that, and they have approached us to become a part of the solution. Holy moly – that is just so great!

But we really don’t know who they are. They are two anonymous people, from two different countries, one male and one female.

That’s it. That’s all we know. And they’re holding some pretty significant cards.

Us: We are an American nonprofit with core people in Canada, the UK and the USA. Our work is fueled by experienced, humanitarian professionals – almost all volunteers – with deep networks to sector NGOs, funders and technical experts. We work in 9 countries. Check out our website for more details HERE.

See what I mean about an imbalance?

The power imbalance lies not just in the fact that the investors hold some serious purse-strings. It also lies in knowledge about each other.

We lay our cards on the table for the world to see. Anyone with access to wifi can see who we are, our photo and a short bio. With that information, and using the web, due diligence is possible – investors can find much more about each and every one of us. They can use this information to decide whether we are worthy of their trust, whether we have a past that is squeaky clean (or checkered), and perhaps whether our values match.

We can’t do any of that. Beyond knowing that they want to support business initiatives to alleviate global poverty we know nothing about them.

Some of my initial questions run like this:

How much do they know about development work? Do they have global experience? Do they feel as strongly as we do about leveraging learning and sharing knowledge? Are they as committed to strengthening community; and does strengthening community come above strengthening any one business proposition?

What about their business reputation? Although we haven’t had to have a conversation with the Board about “funding acceptance policies”, we have agreed in principle that we need to do due diligence should a major funder step forward. Just as an investor wants to know that they can trust us, we need to be assured that we can trust them, and trust their motives for their social investment”

More on “trust” next posting.

Diary of a Social Venture investment (1)

After almost 2 years working pro bono with a non-profit, I am more than ready to be paid for my effort. But not at any cost.

Two weeks ago we were approached by social venture capital investors through recommendations by a sister non-profit (please note the collegiality of this action – that’s called working together).

Well okay, we weren’t actually approached by the investors themselves – but an intermediary who has been sent forth to seek suitable candidates for wealthy investors to sink deep dollars into their own personal method to change the world – through business ventures.

Wait a minute … so, who are these people? Social impact investors?

Market-based models to generate social development and poverty reduction have become somewhat of a rage in the development world, particularly by those individuals who you might call the “uber wealthy”. These are people that have so much wealth that there probably aren’t many worldly possessions left of interest to purchase. These are the wealthy that turn to doing something meaningful with their wealth. I applaud these people, and admire this thinking. Lets face it. They could simply continue to enjoy a life of polish, pleasure, and sophistication with nary a thought to the world’s poor. These people want more than that, and the world needs more people like them.

So how is this going to work? We’re a non-profit that supports small-scale business ventures as only a part of what we do on a global basis. We work with local community centres that have identified their needs in their own community, and need a leg-up in order to make that happen. These are people passionate about their solutions, whether that is better water, sanitation, health, agriculture or cleaner and more available energy sources.

Seems like a match made in heaven: people with deep pockets that want to help, people with fire in the belly for change. We can make this work right?

Well, it’s actually a lot more complicated than it seems …

Read on, next posting.

“Me too” and Obscene Altruism

A steady stream of two words, “me too”, clog my Facebook account. These two words represent awareness-raising and passive protest by women in the face of sexual aggression since the media mogul and philanthropist Harvey Weinstein was accused as a sexual predator last week (Oct 5, 2017).

This is not an unfamiliar tale. Accounts of male domination and the abuse of power bring back memories of Canada’s own scandal within the hallowed halls of the CBC, when popular radio show host Jion Ghomeshi was accused of sexual assault by multiple women Using the platform of his radio show Q Ghomeshi crafted an on-air persona as a sensitive, progressive feminist, which helped draw women to him. It seems that his CBC star status helped him to create his own personal honey pot.

How could both of these public, male, powerhouses avoid scrutiny for so long in their aggression against women? Ultimately, these acts happen behind closed doors, rendering them to the realms of gossip. As the whispers grew louder these creative stars were circled round by those closest to them, all making excuses for these abominations. These two men were making people a lot of money, and in my view, causing a certain type of blindness induced by the shine of money.

The power of money was taken to an obscene extreme by Weinstein with his acts of “compromised altruism”. The New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb describes Weinstein as acting under the “cloak of charity”

The creatively-talented Weinstein used highly public and visible philanthropy to develop his persona as a progressive male. In the name of altruism he championed women in both politics and scholarship. He “empowered women” publicly, while at the same time and behind closed doors, allegedly used power for sexual domination.

The Weinstein scandal is a graphic illustration of the obscene avenues “giving” can take; the dim, dark and secretive alleyways of altruism that defy the much-heralded shining story of philanthropy. We need to shine the light on philanthropy’s dark alleyways as much as the light. We need to understand the dark side of philanthropy, and to understand the twisted, obscene forms of altruism.

Me too.

Soft ‘n fuzzies rule in analytical query to building a great team

Haven’t many of us worked in situations where the team interactions felt stilted, cold, or even toxic? And other teams that are warm, fluid, and fun?  Turns out the fun teams are the most effective, out-performing their stiff counterparts. I’ve often wondered what the secret sauce is – why do some teams gel and others grind?

Google turned an analytical team onto the question of what makes for an effective team  – after years of surveys and crunching numbers it turns out the difference between the teams is less about “who” is at the table and more about “how” the team treats each other. You don’t need to have super stars on your team;  what you need is to make sure that team members feel safe with each other. This is called “psychological safety”.

A group culture with a high degree of psychological safety is  “characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect, in which people are comfortable being themselves.’’ After all the years and data-crunching that the Google’s People Analytics division spent trying to figure out why some teams stumbled while others soared: after checking IQ, motivation, how well managers communicated and didn’t micromanage, and even how often people ate together … after all that? Seems it boils down to finding ways to let everyone speak, and to feel safe speaking.

Your Grandma probably already told you that, but now that Google tells us this is so, maybe more of us will listen.

Read the full article here:



Recipient perspectives of privately funded aid

Official development aid has been studied to death. Despite best efforts, global poverty is a tough nut to crack and remains a sad reality for far too many people on this planet. With the growing addition of private funded aid onto the scene, I wondered whether these new players on the scene would do anything differently, or whether they fell into the same pitfalls that ensnared the efforts of official aid.

I thought the best people to ask about privately funded aid are recipients. Recipients might be the people that receive the grants to make changes, and also the people whose lives are altered as a result of the changes.

I outline my doctoral research on this topic in a 3 minute cartoon here:

My doctoral dissertation can be downloaded here: C.Funk.DocSocSciDissertation2016_PUBLISHED