Toolbox or Transformation: Is Organizational Development the Key to Unlocking the Potential of Civil Society Organizations in East Africa?

Article excerpt


Civil Society Organizations are a unique form of organization that is the conduit of much development aid. They consider themselves distinct from non-profit organizations, in that they are accountable to the 'cause' of social justice. Organizational Development (OD) has a role in assisting CSO's to model in their own organizational practices the transformed society that they envisage.

Key concepts: Civil Society, Effectiveness, Development, Not-for-Profit Organization, Learning

The way you see the world is what creates the world you see." (Kaplan, 2006, personal communication)

Civil Sodety Organizations (CSOs) in East Africa influence the region's development agenda and are the conduit of much development aid. These organizations consider themselves to be distinct from the non-profit organizations typical of the West in that they are accountable to an idea and to the people that they claim to serve (A. Kaplan, personal communication, May 11, 2006). According to Kaplan, CSOs accountability stems from the fact that they are working to transform sodai reality - their core purpose is to challenge a status quo that perpetuates injustice and inequality. A measurement of dvil sodety effectiveness thus becomes the extent to which ifcontinually expands (its) capadty to create (its) future" (Senge, 1994, p. 14); that is, its ability to become a"leaming organization".

The present paper purports that CSOs are a unique form of organization, distinct from non-profits, and the implications for organizational development (OD) as a practice in East Africa are discussed. Using a case study of the East African Support Unit for Non-Governmental Organizations (EASUN), it is argued that CSOs must "consdously learn" and that the OD practice can assist CSOs to model in their own organizational practices the transformed sodety that they envisage. Spedfically, by upholding partidpatory and collaborative practices that are rooted in a profound respect for the value of every individual within their organizations, CSOs are able to engage in"communities of practice". This paper also reveals the tensions and paradoxes faced by CSOs in East Africa when managing the dual pressures of attracting and maintaining a donor base while remaining true to their OD practice. Overall, the present paper contributes to the limited literature on the use of OD by CSOs, and in doing so, proposes that further evaluation research be conducted to evidence the impact of the OD practice on dvil sodety in Africa. Additional research is imperative to better understand the role of OD practice in empowering developing countries towards greater self-determination and self-reliance.

"Civil Society" as Opposed to "Not-for-Profits" - Is There a Distinction?

In East Africa, the development sector largely focuses on the'Outer", the visible results of activities such as local community services and small-scale economic initiatives. Success in these initiatives is contingent upon strengthening organizations and institutions that mediate such development work. Much effort has gone into planning and measurement frameworks to improve the management of resources, activities and people. Importantly, this paradigm of development is one of'inputs and outputs" and it does not consider the fundamental premise that development stems from the relationships that people have with their"inner" selves and with others (M. Kisare, personal communication, November 16, 2006).

Within East Africa's development sector, CSOs and nonprofit organizations are not one and the same. Typically, a non-profit is an incorporated organization that exists for educational or charitable reasons and from which its trustees do not benefit financially. In contrast, CSOs work for a"cause". As a result, benefits, returns, and satisfaction derive from that cause being addressed with demonstrable results in society. Notably however, there is a significant cross-over in that all CSOs are non-profits, but not all non-profits are CSOs. …