The UN has six principal organs, home to subsidiary bodies, programmes, departments and offices. Unless one has direct working knowledge within the system, it’s tough to appreciate the operational culture and goals of individual divisions.
Emulation, however, is possible, and social enterprises (SEs) can benefit from it. The UN has personnel and resources to manage complicated operations, develop international regulations and drive results. Albeit on a smaller scale, many SEs implement the same activities as UN specialized agencies and programmes (such as UNHCR, UNICEF, UN Women, and others) – so why not learn from them?
Specifically, SEs can benefit from 4 key areas:
Compulsive data management is crucial for operations implementing programmes and working with stakeholders, including donors, partners and beneficiaries. Documenting and maintaining precise records enables SEs to:
- Analyze past data and compare and contrast with existing goals and priorities.
- Develop trust among stakeholders through accountability and transparency. This is especially important for SEs seeking to expand visibility among previously unengaged stakeholders.
- Be the go-to information gateway for the cause and key activities (crucial for attracting media visibility.)
- Establish cause leadership and ownership, which can lead to more partnerships and funding.
Data management should also include yearly operations plans, which closely estimate the budget, including: donations received; staff support and salaries; and all projected activities. For agencies with beneficiaries, this also involves recording exact assistance delivered (e.g. 455 pieces of firewood, 3 plastic sheets, and 2 litres of cooking oil.)
Effective operations plans contain a descriptive (written) section outlining goals and projected internal and external activities. Drafting an advanced plan with qualitative and quantitative information will strengthen the operational direction, and enable predictability.
Choosing the Right Partners
As their like-mandated UN counterparts, many SEs contract implementing partners (IPs) to help them carry out activities. When doing so, it is important to establish and adhere to certain criteria. This can mean the difference between successful activity implementation and damage to the organization’s reputation. Specifically, SEs should keep in mind:
- Legitimacy: is the potential partner nationally registered? Is it a positively recognized player in the field? Has it received awards and achievements?
- Communications: does the potential partner implement and report on activities in a timely manner? Does it support activities with photos, videos and reports?
- Data management: does the potential partner maintain precise records?
- Contract fulfillment: has the partner realized the initial terms of the contract?
By developing selection guidelines for IPs, SEs can increase their own legitimacy and reputation, while partnering with the best people and organizations in the field.
Communications and Information Sharing
Communication is possibly the largest neglect within SEs, the consequences of which are costly. Ignoring internal communications practices – such as consistent (daily, or a few times per week) reporting, team meetings and briefings, email confirmation and summary of daily activities – dilutes the organizational direction, reducing operational effectiveness, staff cohesion and morale.
External communications, comprising of public affairs, media relations and information management are equally vital. They promote the organizational mandate, enforce transparency and accountability and keep stakeholders up-to-date of goals and key activities.
Information-sharing and communications are enforced within UN agencies and programmes, particularly due to security realities and the global nature of the work. Minding communications means everything from hiring specialists to training public information staff, reporting major and minor field activities and developing engaging and informative campaigns as well as online content.
While individual bodies communicate on behalf of their own operations, the centralized UN News Center is responsible for reporting on all UN activity, as it happens – they even have a mobile app.
The Staff Staple
Lastly and most notably, staff is key to organizational success. While SEs generally seek to minimize costs – which they promote publicly – not investing in innovative, intelligent, and capable personnel with capacity to compete with their professional counterparts, will cause organizational injury.
The most obvious example of staff competency lies with management. Vision-oriented leaders capable of achieving results, despite sudden change, are key to SE success. Usually, they are managers with acute awareness of operational strengths and weaknesses who are attuned to the changing global environment and its effect on the organizations they lead.
They are also the managers who place particular emphasis on data collection, internal and external communications and staff development. These are the people who mean the difference between SEs that merely exists and those that thrive.
Lastly, it is not enough to hire skilled professionals. SEs committed to staying competitive and relevant must invest in professional development. Keeping up with the global crowd means keeping the staff, vision and ideas current, innovative and competitive.
Mina Jasarevic is a communications consultant currently servicing the NFP and Government sector in Ottawa, Canada. Prior to 2014 she served as part of the Public Information team at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
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