This is the third in a series of posts on how new approaches to networking are affecting the ways in which organizations grow their global footprint and impact. This post focuses on how one organization, by staying flexible and using its networks, has found a new orientation to its overall strategies.
Restless Development was started in 1985. It was known for most of its existence by the name of Student Partnerships Worldwide, with a focus on young people from British schools volunteering to work full time in underserved schools, initially in Zimbabwe and India. Programs were subsequently started in Uganda (1997), South Africa (1998), Australia and the USA (2002), Zambia (2003) and Sierra Leone (2004).
In 2010 Restless Development went through a major strategic re-orientation, changing its name and focusing more on an activist role it might be able to play to help bring young voices into the international development arena. It became part of a funding consortium with Youth Business International and War Child (a Program Partnership Arrangement with the UK Department of International Development). Restless Development’s leadership took this consortium participation as an opportunity to focus on what roles it could play to help build a stronger youth sector worldwide, and as its global strategy puts it “carry the banner for youth-led development.” It is also recently re-oriented and expanded its approach to collaborative networking, leading the youth component in global campaigns such as Action 2015 and working with and supporting other organizations with similar goals. Its raised global profile and involvement in these campaigns have led to others approaching the organization through the campaign platforms or social media.
Through its experience with global campaigns such as Action 2015, Restless Development is testing out new ways to have impact such as its “Big Idea” (a new program on youth-led accountability for the Post-2015 Framework). It is also looking at how it can build on its presence in countries where it has historically worked, as a platform for a new global strategy.
This is an interesting model for looking at the impacts of both networking and engaging young people on the directions NGOs might take going forward. Some questions raised for Restless Development (and other organizations) include: (1) What’s unique about the way that young people are organizing? (2) How do (or should) our organizations and networks interact differently to increase their effectiveness? Mark Nowottny, Director Influence and Strategy believes that there is a growing disconnect between many NGOs and the people they work for, with and through, and suggested that in the future “Our organizations are ultimately going to have to become the people they serve,” a concept espoused by Restless Development’s CEO.
I started this series focusing on changes we are seeing in how organizations are changing their international presence based on new approaches to networking. As we saw with Ushahidi and Dance for PD in previous posts, the evolution of Restless Development also demonstrates the strength of staying flexible and using one’s expanded networks to navigate a rapidly changing environment.