Framing the Future

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June 06, 2017

Framing the Future

How will we choose to frame the future of our sector?

By Tom Dente

President and CEO InsideNGO

This year marks a special anniversary for InsideNGO. Forty years ago, a group of young finance professionals working in development gathered at the old Riggs Bank building in the Adams Morgan section of Washington, DC, and launched the Association of PVO (Private Voluntary Organization) Financial Managers. They focused on three areas they believed were important:

  • First, they decided to share and pool their expertise in the spirit that “we are our own best experts;”
  • Second, they looked for new ways to regularly collaborate to solve problems;
  • Finally, they developed workshops to grow in their roles and to aid their organizations.

Faced with uncertainty and with the unknown, they imagined a different future. Over the years, expert practitioners, members, and partners from around the globe have deepened and expanded these ideas in ways unimaginable in 1977. But this work is not done, and new thinking and innovation will be required for InsideNGO to meet the changing needs of its growing global community.

In this spirit, our annual conference in July takes the theme of “Framing the Future of NGO Excellence.” Why this theme, and why now?

Dr. David Rock, who champions the neuroscience behind effective leadership, notes in his book Quiet Leadership that “we have the ability to consciously choose the mental filter we see through in any moment, and this choice of filters significantly affects how the world appears to us.” He adds that “the technical term for this is the ‘frame’ we see through, and when we change our frame, we’re re-framing.” It is this deliberate choice of the frames we apply that often reveals new possibilities and new options to take action.

This framing and re-framing matters—it allows us to see what is similar and what is different and understand why. One example: in 1977, the US had inaugurated a new outsider president, there was growing excitement about a new Star Wars movie, and Apple released a new computing product, the Apple II. The famous US economist, John Kenneth Galbraith, had just released a book entitled The Age of Uncertainty which described how a new economic era was emerging that was different from the relative stability of the last century (the 19th). Fast forward to 2017: The US has a new outsider president, a new Star Wars movie will be released later this year, there are rumors of an iPhone 8, and uncertainty is in the air. 

Forty years ago, a special community dedicated to improving financial operations for US-based international agencies developed a new frame to elevate and transform their work and better support their organizations. This initial frame was expanded over the years to incorporate the broader needs for operational excellence across an even more diverse and global sector. Along the way, adopting new mental filters, challenging our perceptions, and embracing new possibilities has kept our community vibrant. Our frame looking ahead may be: a thriving sector where highly-valued operational capabilities matter more than ever to mission success.

There are real obstacles to this framing. We face new challenges in responding to accelerating global needs, but framing this way may help us discover the new ideas, insights, and opportunities that will keep our community vibrant and ensure that our members continue to deliver on their missions. 

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