Mental wellbeing

Strategies for creating happier, healthier, more impactful INGOs

The INGO sector is driven by compassion, dedication, and a relentless pursuit of positive change in the wider world.

Closer to home however, the sector faces unique challenges in creating a working environment in which everyone can thrive.

In this article we’ll identify some of the key challenges INGOs are facing, the impact these are having on culture, and share the key to successful cultural transformation.

Key challenges

Our work in the sector has revealed five common challenges many INGOs are facing, and the impact this is having on culture:

  1. Resource constraints: Tougher fundraising conditions are driving the need for cuts to headcount and the scaling back of projects. This not only affects morale but also increases pressure on those who remain to do more with less.
  2. Existential crisis: Many INGOs are questioning whether they are doing enough to put power and resources into the hands of those they serve – and whether their approach is simply another form of postcolonialism. These existential questions mean that teams can start to lose their clarity of purpose, which will have a direct impact on motivation and engagement.
  3. Skills gaps: To respond effectively to an evolving workforce with new and complex needs, leaders and managers need to upgrade their people management skills. However, the challenges in attracting core funding means leadership development is often deprioritised, making it harder to attract and retain the best people.
  4. Diversity and inclusion: INGOs are often made up of individuals from many different backgrounds, cultures, and languages, but this diversity is not always reflected in the leadership team. Furthermore, fostering an inclusive environment where everyone feels valued and respected is crucial but not always easy.
  5. High employee turnover: All of these factors, and more, mean that working in an INGO can be uniquely demanding, contributing to burnout, high levels of absenteeism and employee turnover. This brain-drain is time-consuming and costly, impacting both the culture and the continuity and effectiveness of projects.

While many organisations are engaging in initiatives to try to tackle these issues, there are a number of factors that are keeping them stuck.

Firstly, given the workload many leaders face, it’s often hard to find the headspace to address these complex challenges, making them feel insurmountable and only compounding a sense of overwhelm. So the solution cannot be about doing more, it has to focus on doing differently.

Thriving cultures: transforming wellbeing, engagement and performance

Thriving People are partnering with Bond to offer INGO leaders a fresh approach, a way to create successful, sustainable cultures that people love to be a part of.

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Secondly, when faced with escalating conditions outside of our control it’s easy to feel powerless. And the more time we spend focusing on these external forces, the more powerless we feel. Instead, we need to help people to focus on what is within our locus of control – how well we connect to ourselves and each other.

What’s the solution?

According to Otto Scharmer, Senior Lecturer at MIT and founder of Theory-U, “In order to operate in the complexity of this century we have to do some inner work” and indeed our 20 years’ experience has shown us that effective organisational change requires a shift in consciousness, through the development of greater self-awareness and empathy. How present we can be for ourselves and others is directly proportional to our effectiveness in leading, nurturing and embedding change.

When these skills are cultivated across an organisation, a more human-centric style of leadership is enabled, one which puts the emotional and psychological needs of employees front and centre.

And it has an impact. Recent research by Gartner suggests employees who operate in human-centric work models are 3.2 times more likely to remain in role than counterparts in other organisations. Stats like this are supported by our own experience – our work with Open Society Foundations resulted in an increase in engagement of 57% and created a more inclusive culture across the globe, for example.

All of this of course raises the crucial question: how do you develop the skills to create more human-centric, inclusive, sustainable cultures?

We’ll be exploring the answer to this question during a free 90-minute webinar, Thriving cultures: transforming wellbeing, engagement and performance webinar on 11 or 19 June. If you are grappling with any of the challenges we have explored in this article and you would like support in addressing them, come and join us.

This webinar introduces a blueprint that enables attendees to:

  • Create a compelling case for change and inspire others to follow
  • Create the conditions for your culture to thrive
  • Anticipate and mitigate barriers to success
  • Develop a viable roadmap for transformation