What makes an organisation ‘global’?

I just wrote this as my letter in the iCommons Lab Report (to subscribe go here):

Dear friends,

Last week, the iCommons team had a short workshop session to practice the ‘Checklist on openness’ that we’re hoping to work with participants to develop at this year’s iSummit. We practiced by using an equally slippery concept that we’ve been thinking about a lot lately, which is the question: ‘What makes an organisation ‘international’?’

After an initial brainstorm to capture the key characteristics that we should be looking at (including things like staff, community, beneficiaries, mission and funding) we started looking more deeply at what boxes needed to be checked in order for an organisation to validly call itself ‘global’.

What we came up with probably posed a lot more questions than answers. For example, ‘Do you need an internationally representative staff to be an international organisation – or is it enough for the staff to be aware of diversity?’ And ‘Can any small non-profit organisation claim to have beneficiaries all around the world – and does it matter if most beneficiaries are in developed countries?’ And perhaps most importantly, ‘What does it mean if most of your funding comes from one part of the world, and goes to another part of the world?’

We did, however, come up with a few answers – all of which were incredibly illuminating.

If a global organisation is only as global as the respect that it has around the world, then we need to develop mechanisms to ensure that we are accountable to our beneficiaries, as well as to our funders. Peer assessment, in other words, should be built into everything that we do. This also means that we cannot claim to have too diverse a range of beneficiaries because we will not be able to serve them all, and we will therefore suffer from their negative assessment as a result.

The exercise also showed me how important the distribution of funds is in the development of a validly international organisation. If we accept that an international organisation must serve a wide variety of local beneficiaries, then the organisation should necessarily have more than one physical location. This means that the organisation should spend its money in more than one physical location, thus empowering the network to serve its beneficiaries more effectively.

This doesn’t mean that money is the only way to empower local communities, but it’s absolutely essential that the wide distribution of funds is part of the question of how global, really, is a particular organisation.

I did this very basic graph of where iCommons spends its money, and I feel that, although we’re doing pretty well, we can do more to distribute funds outside of HQ.


This is not an easy thing to say because it seems so hard sometimes just to keep the core economically sustainable. But I do think that it’s a conversation worth having – a conversation about the shifting identity of a global organisation in a shifting world.

What do you think?

Best wishes,


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