Change or Die, Why Many Jordanian Organizations Need a Paradigm Shift

So, until I did yesterday’s post about values, it never actually occurred to me that future focus and seeing change as a good thing is very American.  I mean, everyone thinks change is good, right?  Well, apparently no.  The things you learn in life ;).  However, it is interesting that while many societies may be built on status quo and focus on tradition, nature is in a constant state of change, improvement, and evolution.  Even those societies that value tradition often find that times change, society changes, and they need to change.

I was put in mind of this last night when talking to someone about an organization that’s been in Jordan for 50 years or more.  The organization has had 3 different strategic plans put into place in the last 2 years.  Each time, leadership changes and they think a new strategy is the answer to their current challenges.  The organization suffers from a crisis of leadership.  Their leadership is aging and few young leaders are in the wings.  They suffer from declining desire for the services that their projects offer which also leads to a weakening financial position.  And, in each of these strategy sessions, the existing (fairly aged) stakeholders approach the strategy from the perspective of what has always been.

The foundation problem for this organization (and many, many others like it) is that the society during which it was formed no longer exists.  The social dynamic and family dynamic of Jordan have changed a great deal in the last 50 years.  There are very few ladies sitting around at home waiting on the opportunity to volunteer their services.  And, while they might feel for the plight of the poor, they are looking for organizations that meet their family needs (together time not separate time).  So as long as the ladies who have always been involved continue to make decisions, the organization is likely to continue to falter.

Unfortunately, in all of the strategic planning sessions with all of the local experts, no one has helped them focus on this underlying issue.  They’ve created plans and closed down projects that are no longer generating income, but have no actual concept of how to actually revitalize the organization.  They bring in fresh blood that looks like their original leadership, apparently not understanding that the longer they perpetuate the cycle, the more unlikely the organization will survive.

In serving a population, if you find that your leadership grows out of touch, soon you will find your organization is obsolete.  This is particularly true in the ever-changing, constantly moving NGO world.  New NGOs sprout up in a heartbeat.  Purpose built NGOs with foreign funding are coming up every day.  And they rarely rely on volunteer power.  So, how then, do you compete?  Well, you change.  You change that antiquated model.  You respond to the needs of the market.  Because while NGOs may not be in business to make a profit, they are in business.  They are competing for scarce volunteer resources and membership and leadership.  They are in a market that is deluged with new, bright, shiny things.  And in Jordan, new, bright, and shiny usually wins out… at least until the next new, bright shiny thing comes along.

Maybe they need to take a page from one of the long-running seemingly successful businesses in town.  On the 3rd circle, there’s a bar/restaurant that changes its image and name every couple of years.  Before we moved it was Fairouz, then Kanabaye, now its Circle 3.  Instead of going out of business, they reinvent themselves.  And in this market, I see the logic and wisdom of the approach.  So, change or die… in the end it’s your choice.

Happy Changes!


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