Wednesday, February 07, 2007


Trust, Foundation, how will it turn out?

I've had a productive chat with Mrs Assad about the Foundation, as it is now going to be called (the matter of coming up with a final name has taken a lot of unresolved discussion, but the official and legal title is The Syria Foundation for Development - not sexy but at least it's agreed).

The gist of the chat was my unease about what sort of organisation this Foundation looks set to become. My belief is that it needs to be directed towards its public outcomes - getting the work done with individuals and communities - not towards becoming an institution, however respectable. I believe it should be as small as possible, challengingly exciting to work for, passing responsibility to young people in the team and supporting them like mad while they grow in the role. I think it should aim to be fast, flexible, creative, risk-ready, inspiring. In other words, not the usual corporate model. I've raised these things before in early discussions with the consultants who advised on the shape and formation of the Foundation, but their rather more conventional viewpoint held sway.

Syria needs a new model for organisations desperately. It really hasn't even got good companies yet, let alone ground-breaking ones. There's still a strong hierarchical culture in business, an absence of good delegation, low teamwork at every level, resistance to accepting reponsibility. We have a unique opportunity, it seems to me, to change that , and establish (sorry) a new paradigm. But so far, I don't see that happening. In the projects themselves, the language is of doing things in new ways, empowerment, decentralisation, fun, ideas. Over the top looms the possibility of an old-fashioned, by-the-numbers body, which won't be a joy to work for, and where the accountants rule.

I think we've done some good work on setting out values for this organisation, but they won't be enough to shape the Foundation's behaviour or attitude on their own. The culture depends on our dreams for a different way to get things done, a different view of people and by people. I unearthed a paper I had downloaded some years back in which it says something like: people should be motivated by what they can contribute, not what they take home. Positively, my sense is that Mrs Assad wants the same. Let's hope.


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