Throughout the five months in Nairobi, I have supported the Good News Centers Kenya (GNC). GNC is a small charity founded in Den Bosch by local entrepreneurs in 1986. The organization supports bright and motivated school children from a relatively small slum called Kibagare in Nairobi, through sponsoring their school fees. GNC has a simple formula: it raises funds from private and corporate sponsors in the Netherlands and spends these donations for 100% on education for the children of Kibagare. A Dutch-Kenyan Nairobi based committee oversees all payments. The board in Den Bosch asked me in 2010 to review the direction for the next three years before and during our stay in Nairobi.
The request for review was an ambivalent choice. The board is a tight knit group of friends and –ex- colleagues aged between 60 and early 70. On the one hand they realize that their generation is becoming less active as volunteers and sponsors. On the other hand they would like to keep things as they are. Therefore they looked with some apprehension to me as a representative of a younger generation: how will his involvement change the GNC?
For this assignment I organized a meeting in which we explored our views about the future. I decided to run the meeting in a different way to change the setting, the perspective and take a fresh look. Ingredients: Rotterdam office, interactive approach with dialogues in pairs around focused questions, some new people who had supported the Nairobi committee in 2010 and virtual attendance of the Nairobi committee.
For me much of the strategic direction of GNC shaped up in a second meeting with four experienced aid experts, who dedicated two hours to think through the GNC initiative from their external perspectives. I invited the board members from Den Bosch, but finally only the resigning chairman joined the meeting. The outcome of the second meeting was a rich set of questions, which could inform the direction for future years. “Strategy formulation can be such a simple process”, I thought satisfied with our progress in January 2011: if only you are willing to listen to people who will critically and constructively support the initiative.
Six months later I turned out to be too optimistic and naïve. I never got to the point of using the rich set of questions with the board in Den Bosch. They became wary about inviting externals and the dynamics of the Rotterdam meeting, which they experienced as cold, business minded and rational. I was taken aback, shocked and disappointed. Strategy formulation can be simple from the outside. It is certainly not easy on the inside.