The Power of Transparency
Colleen Burns 120000C4RP firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  transparency social_business redbooks ibm_redbooks
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The power of transparency: Social business practices in the development sector
Social business practices lead to improved outcomes, whether that is in the business world or the non-profit sector. I've recently caught on to the TED talks and was struck by one about Engineers Without Borders, an NGO (non-governmental organization). David Damberger told of repeated failures by non-profit organizations, making the same mistake over and over again.
In the case of the engineers, they were great at seeing a problem and devising a way to solve it. The problem was that there was no plan to maintain the solutions put in place. Within a year or two, a solution (for example, a way to bring water to an area) would break down and the problem would reassert itself. Then, another organization might come along and solve exactly the same problem, probably with a similar solution. For example, in Malawi, an American engineering group created a gravity-fed water distribution system and 10 years later a Canadian engineering group created almost an exact duplicate of the American system. Like the American system, the Canadian system broke down about 1-½ years after it was built.
Lack of collaboration among NGOs led to this duplication of effort, however, it does not explain the extent of the problem entirely. What was needed was a system to train the local inhabitants to maintain the system and provide access to a parts supply system for the water systems, but that is difficult to get funded.
According to Mr. Damberger, the NGOs rely on donors for funding, and therefore choose projects that are tangible and easily identifiable for donors. Donors have the power in the system and beneficiaries have no way to hold the NGOs accountable. This is a systemic issue, which is typically overwhelming. Recognizing that they could not change the system, the engineers have chosen to work within it, but in a new way.
Interestingly, the solution that they have come up with is to create a website for organizations to have a conversation about what has failed. By highlighting their failures and encouraging a culture of open conversation, the Engineers Without Borders are overcoming a systemic problem. They are learning from their mistakes, rather than burying them. This has led them to focus more on the “software” side of projects (maintenance and training), rather than on the infrastructure side of things, because that is what addresses the needs of their constituents.
This kind of transparency and collaboration leads to improved outcomes. By becoming a more social organization, the Engineers Without Borders are fundamentally changing the way that they work. More importantly, they are changing the long-term outcomes of projects that they are involved in.
You can listen to the talk for more details: http://bit.ly/vGVdeV
Carol Sumner is an Accelerated Value Leader with IBM Collaboration Solutions who specializes in collaboration systems implementation and administration. Carol has recently added the role of social business champion within IBM, helping teams make the most of social media. What she enjoys most about her days is helping people solve problems (and playing golf). You can contact Carol at email@example.com or through Twitter (#sumnercl1).
Carol is an IBM Redbooks Thought Leader