Designing and delivering a new global strategy for a changing world
“Action Planning did a great job. Their facilitation skills really helped us out, to the extent that we hired them for some additional facilitation. Acting as a critical friend, they helped to challenge our thinking. Their analytical skills were very helpful as well.”
Zita de Pooter, Strategy Adviser, SNV
SNV is a mission-driven global development partner with a mission to transform the world’s agri-food, energy and water systems to enable sustainable and more equitable lives for all. Rooted in the contexts and societies where it works, SNV is one team of over 1,600 people in more than 20 countries in Africa and Asia. It has a proud history, successfully adapting to major change several times, not least in becoming an independent international development NGO having previously been under the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Today it faces a changing global context, where development budgets are under pressure, INGO roles are being redefined and the pandemic and conflicts have set back global progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
In response, SNV decided to develop their organisational strategy to 2030 and tendered for a consultancy to support them through the process. Speaking about our proposal, SNV’s Strategy Adviser Zita de Pooter said, “We really liked what they laid out in terms of process and some of the initial ideas in there. We felt it would align well with what we had in mind and what would work with our organisation.”
SNV's need for a consultancy team to work alongside them to develop their new organisational strategy had been considered in the light of many ongoing internal and external considerations that SNV was undertaking at an important juncture in its organisational life. From our initial discussions we felt that the organisation was willing to be vulnerable – they knew that change was necessary to adapt to their external environment. They wanted a small team to “be a critical friend, walking us through this process and guiding us through the complex discussions we’re going to have to have”. There was also clearly a need for deep dive analysis and assessment of the international development context in which SNV is working, and how that might change in the period to 2030.
We put together a small team with the specialist skills to gather information, facilitate workshops and write a coherent strategy that SNV could ‘sell’ to its global team. “We knew that along the way it was really important to create that internal buy-in,” said Zita.
Our proposed approach and methodology was designed to provide SNV with both an ‘expert guide’ and ‘critical friend’ to walk alongside the organisation during three phases. Phase 1 was internal and external analysis. SNV sent us a lot of organisational documents, previous plans and critical thinking that they had carried out internally, as well as some reports from other organisations. We added our own research and resources to this body of work.
Phase 2 involved internal consultations but prior to this SNV wanted to bring in the wider leadership team of 25, so we arranged a kick-off workshop and added a few more points in for internal engagement. For phase 2 in particular we designed a very inclusive process to get input from across the organisation as well as from external stakeholders.
Phase 3 was the drafting of the strategy document, which was well received. “The first draft was very good,” said Zita. “It did help us tremendously. We had a lot of our own ideas that came out of the stakeholder consultations and workshops we had done with Action Planning but putting that down on paper was difficult for us. So they were really helpful.”
A small group, including Zita and the SNV CEO, built on that first draft from Action Planning and then had a very inclusive process, sharing it with a core consultation group who had been guiding the process from the start and the extended leadership team for their comments. They then implemented the changes based on the feedback and we facilitated another workshop to iron out some of the final decisions and secure approval.
The key outcome was a new organisational strategy to 2030. Along the way we helped SNV in various ways. Our facilitation skills helped to make the process inclusive; our critical thinking helped them to challenge their own thinking in a constructive way; and our analytical skills helped them to assess the implications of every decision. As a ‘critical friend’, we provided reassurance and support while daring to point out some of the difficulties.
This was an important project for an outstanding organisation and we highlighted the following essential considerations:
- The right inclusive process is vital: SNV’s 1600 staff, its Board and key external partners needed to be fully engaged in developing the strategy.
- Strategy has to be built on sound foundations: a deep understanding of the organisation and its changing context enabled the team to identify the key strategic questions, challenges and opportunities.
- It’s not just what you do but how you do it: with decades of project and technical expertise it was necessary to consider how the organisation related internally with staff and externally with stakeholders
- Ambitious ideas are not enough: we also had to understand how the organisation itself needed to change if it was to deliver on those ambitions.
- INGOs face many challenges: these relate to legitimacy, identity, relevance, focus and impact in the context of changing public and political perceptions and partners’ needs and expectations, in particular the need to ensure that interventions are driven by the perspectives of in-country partners and communities.
- No organisation can deliver maximum results on its own: partnerships, the sharing of experience and leveraging influence are critical for sustainable impact at scale.
- The physical environment is key to sustainable livelihoods: in a world increasingly defined by the impact of climate change, sustainability has to be a central element of development strategy.
- The SDG targets for 2030: while off track and under pressure, the SDGs still provide a powerful and focused framework.
SNV’s new 2030 Strategy builds on these elements to define the organisation’s contribution to accelerating and scaling SDG-aligned impact and ensure its sustainability and relevance through the next decade.