On November 21st, the CEI East Africa Hub hosted a capacity building workshop focused on organizational development in Nairobi. It was attended by representatives from 16 organizations working within Kenya to strengthen the education sector by offering access to quality education and materials to the underprivileged and vulnerable. Those in attendance were a diverse group of education innovators ranging from literacy advocates such as Start a Library, to publishers in education materials like Young African Express and Tushinde who provide food, daycare and education to Mathare slum residents. Despite their different backgrounds, these organizations are alike in their pursuit of improving the education sector and in doing so must ensure that their own structures, policies and procedures reflect their vision, mission and objectives to achieve their strategic goals.
The objective for this workshop was to give participants the opportunity to reflect on their internal strengths and weaknesses and determine where there are opportunities and threats towards their development. Many of the organizations began as small projects and, as they grow to become successful and sustainable operations, require guidance on how to develop their organization effectively. Those invited were also able to build connections and share best practices. The workshop also gave participants an insight into CEI as all were to be profiled and eventually published.
Key Challenges and Lessons Learnt
Some of the areas covered in the workshop included a defining organizational development itself, as well as the many phases of an organization: governance & leadership, organizational management, financial management and external relations & sustainability. All areas covered were related to the non-state education sector. Participants had the opportunity to reflect on their own organizational practice, share and learn from others. Challenges raised through discussion included the relevance of boards and their conflicts with management, resource mobilization and human resources.
Many organizations have appointed boards’ of directors to aide in overall strategy, oversee management performance and to ensure effective governance strategies. As beneficial as they may be, organizations that begin small and informally can find it challenging to switch their mindset to a more formal governance structure. As it is illegal to provide incentives to board members, challenges also include ensuring that board meetings take place at the appointed times.
Another challenge highlighted at the workshop and one that recurs in the NGO community is resource mobilization which traditionally is in the form of aid and grants from donors. This prompted a spirited conversation on the benefits of turning to business ventures and social enterprise to generate income to support the charitable arm of the organization.
HR was also a topic that garnered interest as most organizations in the first phase of development do not have the capacity to have a technical workforce. They may share jobs amongst themselves (e.g. the founder is the CEO and HR manager) making it difficult for staff to feel comfortable to discuss personal or work issues. HR also covered the use of volunteers to work on projects and the legal requirements for their contracts which was a useful topic, relevant to the group in attendance.
By the end of the workshop it was clear that the topic of organizational development was a crucial one: all organizations present had shared experiences striving to improve their structures and efficiency in order to meet their strategic goals and ensure sustainability of their projects. The opportunity to learn and discuss issues amongst fellow education implementers strengthened collaboration in the field as linkages were formed which would have impact beyond the workshop.