VSO Case Study

VSO is the world’s leading international development organisation that engages volunteers to fight poverty and reduce inequality.

In May 2015 MiDDLEGROUND facilitated the first of two leadership workshops in Pretoria with 50 leaders of VSO drawn from across the globe. Philip Goodwin, VSO’s new CEO, surprised the MiDDLEGROUND facilitators, when he asked them not to try to deliver a particular outcome! Instead they should draw from 50 years of VSO knowhow in volunteering, and try to build a “truly shared understanding of what we know and what we don’t know”. By all being clear about where they are, they would strengthen their combined impact towards the ultimate purpose of fighting poverty.

The Pretoria workshop offered an opportunity to face the “challenges” of the sector (more competitive, new Sustainable Development Goals demanding a refocus of work) and the organization (funding relationships shifting and need to develop old and new partnerships to match need) and reframe them as dilemmas” requiring a tricky choice, often between equally unattractive alternatives.

Through the workshop, everyone was enabled to put on their hats as “leaders for VSO”. They became a linked “system” of inter-dependent people, thinking as one rather than just focusing on their own functions. This made it possible to identify VSO’s biggest challenges or “opportunities”. Six sub-teams coalesced around each of VSOs six biggest challenges and created ambitious plans to take to the wider organisation.

In October 2015, the leaders gathered again in Nairobi. MiDDLEGROUND assisted them to look more deeply at how they were working with their “challenges” and how they can work towards integrating their new ways of leadership into ‘business as usual’.

During 2016, drawing from a rich VSO heritage, the strengthened global leadership team is steering the organisation towards greater impact and agility.

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“Excellent, very skilled, some of the best facilitation I’ve experienced in the last 20 years!”

Country Director, British Council

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