Monday, November 14, 2016

Connections for Good

Last week was the annual NetHope Summit.  It was also the US election.  I think that juxtaposition merits a closer look.  As humanitarians and conservationists we have learned to deal quickly and constructively with crises.  Here are three things we practice:

1) We go to where the crisis is.  When a disaster strikes, many of us are on planes heading to center of the storm within hours.  We carry equipment and know-how and are ready to help. Running for safety, shelter or solitude is not who we are.  We go to the fire.

2) We work together.  We know the strength of collaborating.  We do this with each other and especially with the the local people we serve.  We also work with a strong sensitivity to the local culture. Context matters to us.

3) We restore communications.  Connectivity is in our DNA.  People's need to communicate often rises above their need for food and shelter.  They need to know their loved ones are safe and to tell them they are safe.  They want to connect and help, and we help them do that.  We restore the voices of the broken and the lifelines of data.  We do not rest until citizens and responders alike are able to rejoin the conversation.

Imagine if we applied these principles at home, right now.  How might we behave differently?

"The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent positions, strategies or opinions of any of the organizations with which I am associated."

Friday, November 4, 2016

On NetHope’s 15th Anniversary

As we gather for the 23rd NetHope Summit in Atlanta, I’d like to adjust back the clocks to October 2001 for just a moment, when we held our first summit in San Jose. Yes, it’s hard to believe, but we just passed our 15th anniversary!

A few weeks ago, the Basu’s invited the founding members, sponsors, fellows and guests to celebrate this 15th anniversary[1]. The group again gathered around Dipak and Radha’s table to share a meal and talk about our dreams. I was not able to make it this time, but sent my greetings in a video from Lisbon, where I am on sabbatical. I wish I had been there to raise a glass of Dipak’s wine in a toast to our successful venture in collaboration.

I’d like to reiterate the three things I shared. First, not being there is in itself a positive message. It means that the organization carries on, surviving its founders. I note that among the list of attendees at the dinner in 2001, most have moved on to other places. A few remained with NetHope or rejoined from other organizations, but most went on to other sectors.

In Jim Collins words, we have become clock builders rather than time-tellers; we have built an organization that makes it possible for others to interpret the times[2].

Second, breaking bread together around a kitchen table is intimate; it's personal. NetHope has been about relationships from the very beginning. Our fundamental value of trust depends on our friendships. While the setting of a small dinner is casual, collaboration is anything but casual; it runs deep. We believe in it. It is something we return to again and again.

I can picture our small group standing in Radha and Dipak’s kitchen last month 15 years ago. And an amazing thing is that our founding group of 7 NGOs will soon be 50.

Third, affirming our founding hypotheses. From the paper I presented at Cisco in 2001, the founding hypotheses continue to hold true:
  1. We had to be able to solve the “last mile” problems faster, cheaper, better if we did it together. 
  2. We would be a much stronger partner to the technology companies, on whom we depend, if we came as a group rather than the one-off, hat-in-hand organizations we had been.
NetHope is a collaboration that works, and it is clear that we are better together[3]

The potential of our collaboration was something Cisco saw from the start. We owe them a word of special thanks. Things tend not to hatch without some incubation. Cisco was our first incubator. Cisco, Microsoft and other partners been there since the early years helping all our members, and those we serve, through the NetHope relationship.

At an early Summit, I asked John Morgridge, then Cisco’s Chairman, who sat on a number of NGO boards, what frustrated him most about nonprofits? His answer: “That they don’t work together more, like you are doing at NetHope.” Working together and collaborating more is something we bring both to our nonprofit sector and our corporate partners. Let’s not forget that.

More importantly, we have become the example on how to collaborate in the nonprofit sector and with corporate partners. We have set the bar high. That’s something to be proud of. We now have a broader educational responsibility. The NetHope method of collaboration is something we can and should share.

In Conclusion, I’d like to share something I wrote when reflecting about NetHope a few years ago:

“This is how NetHope was born. There was an obvious and shared need, a scarcity of resources, and a desire to be part of a larger group that could gain some real momentum."[4]

We can celebrate this. We make connections for good. As I imagine turning the clocks forward in the spring, I look with even greater expectation to the next 15 years.

[1] Our first Summit in October, 2001 was with founding members STC, WVI, CARE, MC, CRS, WI, CI; Cisco hosted us on their San Jose campus.

[2] Jim Collins, Building Companies to Last”, Inc. Special Issue—The State of Small Business, 1995, with the headline “Make The Company Itself the Ultimate Product—Be A Clock Builder, Not A Time Teller”, here:

[3] This is the title of my active book project, which you can read on-line, here: . For some entertainment, listen to Jack Johnson’s “Better Together”, with lyrics, here:

[4] “We Are Better Together”, chapter 5.1,

"The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent positions, strategies or opinions of any of the organizations with which I am associated."

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Next Chapter

Dear Friends and Colleagues, 

I am pleased to announce that I have decided to take early retirement from IFRC. It's something I've planned carefully, with the welcome support of my USG over the past few months. 

I celebrated my 64th birthday last month, and mandatory retirement would be a year-away.  However, we completed our 5-year IT Strategy in 2015 and are in the midst of a strategy refresh process for 2016-2020. Under any scenario, I will not be here for its implementation.  If I were a new CIO coming into the IFRC, I would want a say in finalizing the IT strategy, and not be faced with reassessing it one-year into the plan; for IFRC, this would not be the best use of time and resources.  So the turn of this year was the right time to propose a new CIO come in earlier, finish the strategy work and own the new plan.

The CIO position has been posted on the IFRC job site. Please refer candidates here. (Note that the job closed on 21-June; announcements to follow by end-August).

My last day at office will be on Aug. 10th.  My wife and I will be moving to Lisbon until mid-December.  I will be working on finishing a few book projects and volunteering to help a colleague on a new NGO venture.  So the good work continues!

We look forward to being home for the holidays to celebrate with family and friends. Then the next chapter begins teaching at a university (still to be determined).   Thank you for your interest in and support of our IT and innovation work.  It has been an honor serve the RC Movement these past six years, and I have always believed that the best is yet to come.  So stay focused on the morning star. Best regards,


Edward G. Happ
Global CIO and Director of IT

“Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”  --Will Rogers, American Humorist

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"The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent positions, strategies or opinions of any of the organizations with which I am associated."

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Strategy: Mainline or Disruptive?

A few weeks ago Kevin Delaney wrote an article on strategy that Quartz posted[1].  His premise, as his title says, is that no one should have the word “strategy” in their job title.  He gave two reasons: (1) the gap between strategy and execution is already too wide; (2) giving strategy to one dis-empowers the others. Solution: Focus on execution and its improvement, and encourage everyone to think strategically.

This sounds curiously similar to the arguments about innovation: we need the incremental improvements in operations, and everyone should be doing it.  But it is precisely the routine aspect of this that is dead wrong.

Four points to consider: first, strategy needs to rise above the routine and chart a course to a new destination.  Doing things we’ve always done, but a bit better, won’t cut it for a strategy, nor work in a rapidly changing world.  I’m reminded of the Gartner strategist who said we are getting good at landing planes, but at the wrong airport[2].

Second, not everyone is a strategic thinker. Marcus Buckingham and the folks at Gallop taught us that we all bring different strengths to the job[3].  This is not about elitism; it’s about leveraging the different strengths we have.  The connecting the dots and seeing around the corners of strategic thinking, is not for everyone.  It’s for people who think that way.  Finding these thinkers in your midst, and listening to them, is a leadership mandate.

Third, strategy can’t be delegated; it must be led.  If the captain can’t articulate the destination, you need a new captain.  That doesn’t mean the captain doesn’t have to listen, that they are always right.  That’s also dead wrong.  But if strategy is not led from the top, the organization won’t get out the harbor.

Fourth, strategy needs to focus on the few.  Trying to include everyone’s idea is a recipe for failure.  The adage that a camel is a horse designed by a committee is a case in point.  Nonprofit organizations, whose culture is to reach consensus, is another context to consider.  The “Big Umbrella”[4] approach lacks the focus to execute well—precisely one of Mr. Delaney’s critiques.

So is strategy a mainline activity, a trait and job for all; or is it something that disrupts the status quo and thinking-as-usual?  I’d put my bet on the latter.

"The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent positions, strategies or opinions of any of the organizations with which I am associated."

[1] Kevin J. Delaney, “No one should have the word ‘strategy’ in their job title,” Quartz, May 12, 2016
[2] Dave Aron, VP of Research, Gartner Group, CCitDG Conference, October 8, 2009
[3] Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, Now, Discover Your Strengths, January 29, 2001.  The authors note 34 themes from their broad-based research, of which “strategic” is one.  Buckingham would later say that expecting everyone to have the same strength is akin to expecting all members of an orchestra to play trombone.
[4] See the story of the “Big Umbrella” in my book project Letters to a Young Manager, here: