A Community Being Bold


A Community Being Bold

By Tom Dente

President and CEO Humentum

In looking back to where we were last year at this time, 2017 is ending on a brighter note than we might have expected. In my blog last December, I wrote: After a year of significant and unexpected changes in the overall landscape for international NGOs and their partners, 2016 ends on a note of uncertainty. While humanitarian, political, and funding challenges rightly garner attention, for the Humentum community, these challenges also bring into focus the key questions on our shared agenda: How do we maximize the value of essential operational capabilities to support and sustain our programs? How can we do this with perhaps fewer, or different, resources? How do we maintain hard-won gains in operational excellence?

A year ago, we may have been surprised to be ending 2017 with new leadership at USAID in Mark Green and at DFID in Penny Mordaunt both affirming the important role that international aid and relief—and our organizations—play in making a difference in the world. We may also have been surprised at the continuing strong public support for international assistance. For example, the Brookings Institution published a report titled American Public Support for Foreign Aid in the Age of Trump this past summer. In it, the author, Steven Kull, confirmed that “Americans overwhelmingly reject the idea that U.S. aid policy should be governed by self-interest rather than altruism. Asked, ‘If you had to choose which countries should get U.S. aid, which of these would you select as the most important?’ just 9 percent chose ‘countries needed as trade partners,’ 29 percent chose ‘countries important to U.S. security,’ while 61 percent chose ‘countries with the poorest economies.’” According to the Brookings survey, support for humanitarian assistance is even higher, with “an overwhelming 81 percent say they favor ‘food and medical assistance to people in needy countries.’” 

Perhaps what would not surprise us is the response of this community to a year of uncertainty and accelerating change. At a reception for our members last week in New York City, we heard from many of you about how over the last year this community has come together, strongly recommitted to its sense of purpose, and demonstrated the resilience and creativity that is its hallmark. In our work with you over the last year, we have seen these strengths repeatedly.

We have seen it in organizations responding to the changing environment with new structures, affiliations and forms of collaboration. Next week, we will co-host an event with our industry partner, Venable LLP, titled Trends in International Development Sector: Alliances, Affiliations and Mergers that will explore the different forms of strategic affiliation and mergers we have been seeing over the past year. We expect that the evolution of business and operating models in our community will only continue in order to bring more resources, expertise, collaboration, and accountability to the challenging and complex issues this sector addresses.

We have also seen this creativity across our sector in the area of new funding. In the INGO Impact Investing Network that Humentum convenes with ANDE and other partners, we have explored how international NGOs are developing, investing, and supporting new social enterprises to sustain social benefits and create opportunities for new funding to flow to those in need. Examples of INGOs integrating impact investing into program design and different forms of social innovation by INGOs in impact investing were among several topics discussed over this year.

Finally, we have seen our community’s resilience and creativity in the ongoing evolution of our operational capabilities, notwithstanding growing pressures to do more with less. Over this last year, in our online communities, expert roundtables, and senior leader forums for HR executives, COOs, and CFOs, members are sharing solutions, applying new technologies and approaches, and creating the operations functions needed for the future. One recent discussion at last month’s CFO Forum highlighted how trends in digital process automation, payments, and artificial intelligence will transform the NGO finance function. Our annual conference in July offered several other examples across each of our functional areas. In many ways, the opportunities for operations to add value and sustain mission results are just beginning.

Is any of this easy to do? No. It has taken leaders, experts, and teams in our Humentum community with vision and perseverance to make this happen. I believe this is the essential spirit of the global development community which dared to develop first the MDGs and then the SDGs. It is that spirit of urgency and embracing difficulty that US President John F. Kennedy spoke of long ago in marshalling support for an unfathomable moonshot goal: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone. . .” With increasing global challenges and accelerating changes, our shared sense of determined urgency only grows.

As Humentum, LINGOs, and Mango were merging this year to create Humentum, we asked our new board members for advice as we looked ahead to fulfil our promise. As you may imagine, there were many thoughtful ideas. One response among all the good advice has stuck with me: “Be bold.” For me, these two words capture the spirit of our community: bold in our aspirations; bold in our resilience under changing pressures; bold in embrace of innovation; and bold in a shared generosity to do more together.

As we look ahead to 2018, may we be even bolder together.


Have ideas about how we can be bolder? I invite you to submit them here to help us shape our strategic planning for 2018 and beyond.

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