Renewing Our Calling

Blog

August 02, 2017

Renewing Our Calling

Who said learning can't be fun?

By Tom Dente

President and CEO

Thank you to the many who contributed to the shared experience of last month’s InsideNGO Annual Conference.

At the conference, we spoke about how framing and re-framing possibilities has renewed and kept our community strong in the face of significant change. Notwithstanding the current challenges in our world, we are committed to a thriving sector and a vibrant community where highly-valued operational capabilities multiply and sustain mission success. While this represents an exciting aspiration, fully embracing this goal will require both collaborative and individual learning across our community in these changing times. 

We undertake this renewal as a community working within an increasingly challenging environment. Many recent studies in our sector have described the era of disruption in which we live. For example, a new paper by Conner Advisory highlights that “for many INGOs, this new generation of disruptors has created a crisis at two levels: operational and existential. At the operational level, organizations are being forced to reassess how work is done—breaking from outdated paradigms in order to increase efficiency and effectiveness. At the existential level, the demands of the current landscape have prompted a fundamental rethinking of what work is done.”

In addition to these operational and existential crises for organizations, we could also add the personal challenge: that is, given theses disruptions, how can we individually best adapt and thrive? Many of these same disruptive forces, notably advancing technology, are also changing the nature of professional roles, how work is done, and personal development for operations experts globally. What can we do?

While there are no easy answers, some hard-won insights emerge from across our community, centered on the need for lifelong learning. Together, our community includes thousands of operations experts and leaders in dozens of countries who are passionate learners. Though our individual learning journeys are shaped by our personal and professional goals, as well as our relative starting points, success often requires:

  • Committing to being a lifelong learner in our work;
  • Creating personal learning goals and tracking our progress for both formal and informal learning;
  • Approaching learning as an opportunity for growth, especially with perceived failures, in the spirit of Carol Dweck’s insights on the value of a growth versus a fixed mindset;
  • Becoming an active member, both as learner and instructor, in a learning community.

The participants at our annual conference demonstrated these qualities. The energy and enthusiasm shown at conference sessions highlighted the spirit of lifelong learning that our community exhibits from the newest professional to the most experienced expert. Both at the annual conference and throughout the year, we are a growing learning community: sharing insights and practices; collaborating to solve problems; contributing new ideas and raising new questions that energize professional growth. What drives this passion? I believe that it is the view of our work as a calling, not a just a job, or series of roles in our sector. For our NGO community of global operations professionals, viewing our work as a calling animates our activities, our roles, and our careers. This spirit makes us lifelong learners with a commitment to personal and professional excellence in the service of doing good.

In his book, Callings, Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorps, highlights the passion and purpose that a true calling requires. In the thousands of stories that his organization has collected, he reflects upon the characteristics a calling requires such as “discipline, resilience, enormous sacrifice, and tremendous hard work.” He adds that “at those moments when the fear creeps in and you’re unsure of where to go or what to do next, remember to trust your instincts always. Relentlessly follow your curiosity, allow yourself to be led by what truly moves you. And don’t compromise your values – ever.”

Dave Isay could be describing the experts and professionals we see each day in our organizations and across our global community: the strong discipline, calm resilience, relentless curiosity and deep commitment to the values that shapes our work. As we look ahead, we are inspired as we support each other in deepening our individual callings and embracing the learning that allows us to grow in our work and advance the shared purpose of our vibrant NGO community.

 

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