Last month provided a rare and invaluable opportunity for the largely virtual ICAI Board to meet face-to-face, in conjunction with the East & Southern Africa ICA regional gathering held near Arusha in Tanzania – see below for my review of the Board meeting, and please SAVE THE DATE for the 21 July ICAI General Assembly (10am & 2pm London time). Four Board members stayed on for the regional gathering, which will be reported separately. A WhatsApp group has since been established for the region, to enable participants and others to share reflections and photos and to stay in touch and to facilitate peer-to-peer support and collaboration.
The following week I travelled to Moscow to deliver Group Facilitation Methods training with Victoria & Segey Bekhtereva of Rules Play, who are working to promote ToP and ICA in Russia. I was pleased to be able to meet also one evening with them and another 8 or so Russian ToP facilitators, to hear more of their interests and aspirations for ToP and ICA in Russia, including making ToP training and CTF certification available in Russia. We also spoke of how they might make best advantage of Bill Staples’ planned trip to Moscow in October.
While in Moscow I spoke with Sabah Khalifa of ICA MENA in Egypt, and confirmed plans to visit them from June 13-17. I learned that ICA MENA is now delivering a programme of community and youth development in four governorates of Upper Egypt, in partnership with the Ministry of Social Affairs, and currently has around a dozen staff plus volunteers in offices in Bayad El Arab, Fayoum and Cairo – many of whom were already on the staff when I myself worked with ICA MENA from 1989-95. So I am looking forward to revisiting Bayad and Beni Suef and meeting old friends and colleagues, as well as catching up with developments since I last visited over 10 years ago. I am also looking forward to supporting ICA MENA however I can in its current 5-year strategic planning, and in taking advantage of possibilities for peer-to-peer collaboration and support with other ICAs.
Raising our ambition – a face-to-face meeting of the virtual ICAI Board
We travelled for up to 39 hours to be hosted in Tanzania, from Tokyo, Guatemala, Toronto, Chicago, London, Kiev and Lome. I am grateful to Charles Luoga of ICA Tanzania for hosting us and to Seva Gandhi of ICA USA for her logistical support, and to all involved for giving so generously of their time and energy, in spite of the long journeys.
We had last met face-to-face as a Board when three of us were about to begin our terms, in conjunction with the 8th ICAI Global Conference on Human Development in Kathmandu in late 2012. With the other five having just joined the Board from this year, and with some of us having never yet met each other in person, we felt it essential to make the effort to meet – notwithstanding the significant cost of time and money that would be required for what is a largely volunteer-driven network. I think that that investment will prove to be richly rewarded, and I hope our members will agree – I trust that they will be delighted that the meeting kept well within our tight budget as well!
We met for four days, at a safari lodge near the Manyara National Park. On the fifth day we visited the park, and on the sixth we joined the first day of the regional gathering. That gathering continues to the end of this week, with four of us still present there. We also were able to see something of the town of Mto Wa Mbu, and the nearby children’s home initiated and supported by ICA Tanzania.
Our aims for the meeting were to get to know each other, and to build team spirit and commitment; to broaden and deepen our shared understanding of ICA and ICAI; to agree strategy and plans for how we will work together as the ICAI Board for 2015-16; and to meet and learn about ICA Tanzania and the ICAs of the region. We also aimed to engage with the global ICA network remotely as we worked during the week, including by meeting virtually with our global communications teams and volunteer web developer to plan for implementation of the new ICAI website that we are developing.
We applied ICA’s ToP Participatory Strategic Planning process and the four levels of ORID to structure the week, and we shared the facilitation of the sessions. Day 1 was all about sharing Objective level data. We used the Historical Scan method to plot a shared history of ICA and ICAI, and then we reviewed the ‘State of the World’ of our membership by continent, our global governance and finances, and then the global ICA mission & values and the ICAI vision and ‘peer-to-peer’ approach articulated by the ICAI General Assembly in 2010.
The following three days were focused on articulating the Contradictions to that Vision (Reflective level) and developing Strategic Directions (Interpretive level) and Implementation plans (Decisional level) by which to address them. We confirmed our Board roles and reviewed our Board role descriptions as a prelude to implementation planning.
A highlight for me was the storytelling icebreaker that we invented at the start of the meeting, and returned to again and again – one of us would pose any question about ourselves or our involvement with ICA, and we would each answer it in turn. That turned out to be a simple but rich and insightful way to get to know each other.
It helped our process enormously that we used our own ICA methods, with which we were all quite familiar. Notwithstanding all that we found that we have in common, I was struck again and again by how differently we all think – that ‘human factor’ of culture at play! That brought home to me just how valuable is face-to-face time together, especially for a largely virtual team. I find it hard to imagine that we might otherwise ever have understood each other sufficiently to become effective as a Board or as a team in our 2 years together, let alone to raise our ambition for our service to the membership as we did.
As a largely virtual Board, and the leadership of a largely virtual global community, it was instructive also for us to experience the frustrations of slow internet access with which our African colleagues have to contend so often when they join us in an online meeting. We did eventually manage to connect virtually with our web developer and global communications team, and were very excited to see our draft new website taking form. We also managed to share some social media updates with the wider network during the week – but we quickly learned that if we all went online at once, when we returned to within WiFi range at mealtimes, then we would all end up frustrated.
We were grateful for the virtual support and encouragement that we received from remote friends and colleagues, and appreciated every ‘like’ and comment. I also enjoyed connecting on twitter with colleagues meeting at the same time at the IAF North America 2015 conference in Canada, sponsored by ICA USA, the ToP Network and ICA Associates. (I like to think that our photos of elephants and giraffes trumped theirs of elk and grizzly bears)
The subsequent regional gathering was attended by 17 Directors and staff of ICAs and partner organisations from across the region. It began with a World Cafe conversation to get to know each other and our interests and aspirations for the gathering, and then brief presentations from each of the organisations represented. The rest of the week was to be largely Open Space, ‘Sharing Approaches that Work’, followed by one day of strategic planning for the region. I very much appreciated the opportunity to get to know some that I did not and to renew my acquaintance with others. It seemed to me that the interchange within the region, and between it and the other regions represented by ICAI Board members, was very valuable.
I was also delighted that IAF Africa Director John Cornwell (also an ICA:UK Associate and for many years an ICA colleague in Africa) was there to lead a conversation on the potential for greater collaboration between IAF and ICA, at the local and the global levels, and to learn that the IAF Board is very supportive of that as I am myself.
I returned home energised and enthused myself, and excited by the prospects of a newly energised and enthused ICAI Board. Since January the Board is also enlarged from 7 to 8 members, with the very large Europe & Africa region now reallocated among three Vice Presidents (Europe MENA, East & Southern Africa and West & Central Africa respectively), and I think that too will be enormously helpful. I am encouraged by the increasing numbers of ICA partners and related organisations expressing an interest in joining ICAI as Associate members. I am looking forward to a growing and strengthening global network, sharing ICA’s values, and supporting each other through peer-to-peer collaboration in our shared mission of ‘advancing human development worldwide’.
Full documentation of the meeting will be included in a new business plan to be finalised at our online Board meeting in June, for approval at our online General Assembly on July 21. In the meantime, join me in celebrating our new Strategic Directions! In 2015-16 we will be…..
See also the story of our meeting on Storify, featuring the real-time updates, photos and tweets that we shared during the week.
This post was first published in the Global Buzz, June 2015.