The General Assembly - some guidelines and lessons learned
The General Assembly
II. Organizational Growth Phases
For many member organizations that grow internationally, a change in
governance is needed to accomodate growth. Organizational
III. Staff Training
There are a number of ways to begin to integrate international thinking into your staff's daily operations. These include:
If your organization already has international members or connections the following are examples of some practical steps you can take to modify the way you do business, from the "easy- to-do", to those that may be more time-intensive but will demonstrate your organization's true commitment to being an international player. Be aware of the message you are sending and then modify any messages that may not be sending a positive message to those of other nationalities. You may be surprised at how even the smallest of gestures will send a very positive signal.
Some "easy-to-do" Steps
Some more challenging activities to consider
Try analyzing your programs and services through a "global filter". How are they being perceived by international members or other target groups? Initially you might want to do this in a streamlined fashion by having a few staff members or volunteers look at some sample products and programs to identify what messages they believe are being sent
If you would like to pursue this further, you can initiate a complete international "audit" or review. This might include sending a survey to international members or advisors or having several task forces (with members of different nationalities represented) review different products and services. Additional information on international audits can be found at the American Society of Association Executives' Global Opportunities website at <http://asaenet.org/go/gointl/intlaudit.htm>.
You might consider conducting a more formal training of your staff on internationalism. You can do this in-house or with a professional trainer. If you are a larger organization, be sure to include staff members from throughout the organization and don't just limit this to those with the international or membership services portfolios. Providing this training opportunity to others throughout the organization will help to maximize your chances that implementation of new ideas will be successfully implemented and send the message that this is not just a token process. An international orientation or program will be most effective if all parts of the organization share an understanding of the organization's approach to internationalism and how its implementation may involve various parts of the organization.
Many organizations will begin the process of international engagement with members or other guests from overseas who attend their annual meeting. If this is the case with your association you may want to devote a part of your initial meeting planning sessions to an orientation on making your overseas attendees feel welcome and enhancing the international opportunities for all members at the meeting. This may include featuring some international. guests as speakers or hosting an international reception. (For some additional ideas on making your meetings more international see "The Fine Art of Planning an International Meeting" in Nonprofit World, November/December 1998, Volume 16, number 6, published by the Society for Nonprofit Organizations).
Finally, increasing an organization's international perspectives is an on-going process. Integrating this effort into a dynamic and on-going strategic planning process will recognize this need for continued organizational commitment. For each part of your strategic plan you may want to look at questions such as: How does it reflect an international engagement with the world? How will it be viewed by the organization's membership and constituents - especially those from outside of your headquarters' country, or those especially committed to global perspectives? What messages will it send about the organization externally?
Ready to start?
As in initiating any new change the key is to know where you are headed and then to get started in a manageable way. Do you like the idea of your organization becoming more internationally oriented but need an internal discussion to see if the leadership shares this perspective - put a discussion on the agenda for your next meeting! Is your organization committed "in principle" but you need to put some action and momentum behind these words - what one international idea (start with some of the suggestions outlined above or develop one of your own) can you implement within the next 30 to 60 days? Then what can you put in implementation over the coming year?
V. Multinational Boards
Each Board member's cultural perspective pooled together in the Board environment can create a multinational window on the world. This window can identify important international trends and information to better improve the organization's operations in an increasingly global world. To benefit from these multinational perspectives, however, the Board that is just beginning to incorporate representatives from diverse cultures, or has expanded its geographical representation, must be open to these new perspectives. A peer to peer respect is crucial, and when a colleague's verbal presentations or decision-making process appear bewildering or counterproductive to another, the organization may be best served if other Board members do not prejudge this colleague without first striving to understand more about their cultural background.
It is important to take into account the variance in perspectives Board members of different nationalities may bring to their Board experience. Some examples to consider include:
1) Participation in fundraising in any form may be an uncommon experience for Board members in some countries and the new Board member may be uncomfortable with this role.
2) In a country with an emerging democratic system, some individuals may not have had as much practical experience in the consensus approach used in some organization's Board meetings.
3) The culture in some countries may make it far more acceptable and even desirable to award contracts or other business opportunities to close relatives or acquaintances, something that would be considered a conflict of interest elsewhere.
4) Even in countries with similar legal systems, cultural approaches to solving problems or viewing the world may be very different.
You can help to avoid misunderstandings by being clear what the organization's expectations are of Board members when interviewing potential Board candidates. A written job description and Board operational policies and ethical guidelines can be helpful tools.
Other considerations you may want to explore further include the following benefits and challenges. In addition to the important benefit of creating a broad-based prism for viewing the world which is discussed above, other benefits include:
Additional practical challenges include:
In short, the benefits to a truly multinational Board are great, and may indeed be a "competitive advantage" to the nonprofit organization that is thinking and planning for its future in strategic ways. As with all benefits worth having, however, they do not come easily but require education and vigilance on the part of all of the organization's stakeholders.
For additional information see:
The section on Board roles in: "The Mangement of International Non-governmental Organizations "
"Multinational Boards" in Going International Newsletter
American Society of Association Executive's Association Management , January 2000, "Board Members from Beyond"