This summer, I traveled to Bosnia and Herzegovina to forge a new partnership with the Center for the Promotion of Civil Society (CPCD), an organization working to strengthen civil society in the country. Along with the prime partner, Centers for Civil Initiatives (CCI), CPCD is implementing the USAID-funded Civil Society Sustainability Project (CSSP), which aims to strengthen Bosnian civil society organizations and develop a network of civil society actors in order to eventually increase government accountability.
CPCD invited JSI to implement a weeklong sustainability training curriculum for the project’s participating civil society organizations. These organizations support a diverse array of important causes in Bosnia, ranging from health to the environment and improving the rule of law. Besides a steadfast commitment to their work, these organizations share several common challenges—one of which is ensuring that they continue their important work amidst an ever-changing operating environment.
Sustainability Means Asking the Right Questions
Sustainability is a process of staying alert, aware, nimble, and relevant. As part of this process, all organizations must continually ask four strategic questions: Who are we? What do we need? Where do we get what we need? How do we get what we need?
These questions may seem simple enough, but reality is always more complicated than the frameworks we lay out. JSI approached this training through an organizational development lens. We developed the training curriculum based on our work with emerging NGO and CSO partners under the New Partners Initiative (NPI) and subsequent work in capacity development. JSI’s capacity development approach uses an organizational capacity assessment process, where partners self-identify areas of growth. This process is highly adaptive and tailored to each organization, and we applied this same ethos to the sustainability training.
Our training recognized that the process of identifying who an organization is, its mission, what it is trying to achieve, and what it needs in order to survive and thrive, is a very individualistic process. Experience has taught us the importance of providing a framework for discussion and decision-making on the where and the how through addressing both resource mobilization planning and communications strategy development.
Communications Strategy: A Critical Part of the Sustainability Process
After an organization has defined who it is and what it needs to fulfil its mission, it can begin strategizing on how to mobilize the required resources. Resource mobilization strategy helps organizations identify where it will get what it needs to survive and thrive. Communications helps organizations answer the how.
The strategic process required to create a communications product is just as important as the end result. The process defining objectives, identifying, prioritizing, and analyzing target audiences, getting the message right, developing the best mix of tools, and of course, continuous monitoring and adapting. When done right, communications thinking is a management tool which can be used by organizations to define and distinguish themselves, both internally and externally.
As a Communications Advisor at JSI and a member of the Capacity Development Center at JSI and World Education, I love to see organizations expand their thinking about communications from the products to the strategic process, which is so important for long term sustainability. This experience was a professional highlight of my year with JSI: our colleagues at CPCD warmly welcomed us to a country we had not personally worked in and provided us with valuable context. The organizations with whom we partnered are ready to innovate, to drive positive social change, and are committed to defining their sector’s role in the socio-political landscape. We look forward to future partnerships with them, as we are now ourselves invested in their work and their future sustainability.