The assumption that countries have the capacity to take on recommendations from the best available knowledge, achieve understanding, and turn them into effective policy and action, leaves unanswered the mechanisms through which a publication, a series of meetings, or a policy comparison may lead to change.
Technology has already transformed the ability of international organizations to move from knowledge production and diplomacy to new forms of scalable, networked action needed to tackle complex global challenges. This has created a significant opportunity for leaders to deliver on their mission.
Some organizations are already offering high-quality, multi-lingual learning. Many are using digital technologies to scale, often at the cost of quality, helping large numbers of learners develop competencies. On their own, these are no longer innovative – much less transformative – goals. Several international organizations have built corporate universities and other types of learning functions that remain confined to the margins of the business and under threat from the next restructuring. None of these initiatives have moved the needle of impact.
At the Geneva Learning Foundation, we have developed a low-cost, scalable package of interventions for international organizations to leverage digital transformation to: (1) bridge the gap between thinking and doing at country level; and (2) foster the emergence of country leadership for positive change.
In our first three years, we have worked with partners across several thematic areas, developing this package to translate global guidelines into effective local action, to support capability development from competency to implementation, and to perform multi-country peer review at scale.
This package can complement or replace existing low-volume, high-cost face-to-face workshops and conferences that are difficult to scale and measure.
It is entirely digital (motivating participants without offering travel, hotel, or per diem) and embedded into work (participants do not need to stop work), significantly reducing both expenditure and opportunity cost, while improving efficacy.
It has fostered the emergence of informal, self-led and motivated groupings of professionals operating across agencies that may provide a different kind of lever for systemic change than traditional top-down approaches to addressing challenges and can replaced failed, conventional training-of-trainer and “cascade” models.
Recognizing the value of such emergent dynamics creates authentic opportunities to accelerate the transformation for impact.
Fostering such emergence is the hard part.
Last but not least, our business modelling demonstrates that, if the organization has healthy relationships with its stakeholders, financial sustainability (cost recovery) can be achieved within three years, so this is not one more mechanism dependent on donor good will.
As we have seen existing partnerships leads to promising results – above and beyond our own expectations – we are slowly growing in confidence about the strengths and sustainability of what began as a series of small-scale pilot projects and experiments.
Along the way, we have also learned how difficult it is to find the right mix of ingredients to move from ideas to successful execution to develop such a programme if it is to contribute to systemic change.
Image: Labyrinth in Trigonos, by Reda Sadki.