#LearningwithIntegrity: Reflections on Global Integrity’s closure
Initially, I planned to share hard-learned lessons related to Global Integrity’s closure so others could avoid similar mistakes. It was a very long list. I’ve since realized as a sector we are more adept at identifying weaknesses than imagining new possibilities. As Global Integrity navigated a financial crisis and worked to articulate a transformation strategy over the past few months, we unearthed paths to sustainability that we did not have time to fully explore. By sharing these glimpses of potential, I hope we can spark inspiration and contribute to the resilience of our partners and allies in the anti-corruption and open governance movement.
Collaboration: prioritizing connection over consolidation
I’m a self-professed collaboration nerd who gets overly excited about collaboration models and co-creation approaches. From the start, I was gaga for the Open Gov Hub, a dynamic coworking and event space in Washington, D.C., which we co-founded with Development Gateway: An IREX Venture in 2012. Better integrating the Hub into our program strategy and expanding the resource sharing, connections, and collaboration it provides was essential to our transformation strategy. It was also work we hoped would increase recognition of the Open Gov Hub as a public good for the open governance community that deserves greater investment.
Beyond the 70-plus Open Gov Hub members, the Global Integrity network represents actors operating across geographies, sectors, and issues with highly divergent perspectives and ways of working. Our transformation strategy focused on leveraging this diverse community to generate innovative solutions and explore new possibilities. We knew we would need help to make our vision a reality, so we engaged peer organizations to explore strategic partnerships. These conversations ultimately resulted in a Collaboration Committee composed of our friends from Accountability Lab, BudgIT Foundation, and Development Gateway: An IREX Venture. Committee members offered strategic advice and much-needed solidarity during a challenging time. Just as importantly, as we sought to chart a sustainable path forward for Global Integrity, they ensured we prioritized the interests of the anti-corruption and open governance movement over self-preservation.
This group also provided in-kind support that inspired a new business model based on partnerships with like-minded organizations that could facilitate resource-sharing and efficiencies. We identified administrative consolidations that would help us distribute operational costs across a combined portfolio of work, and we explored joint program management arrangements that could open new networks and partnerships for expanded reach and impact. Rather than replicating private sector mergers and acquisitions that consolidate money and power, we sought to create new partnership models focused on strengthening connections, relationships, and collaboration among a diverse and inclusive community of governance reformers working collectively towards more accountable and open governance systems.
Resource mobilization: balancing systemic change with immediate needs
Systems change is messy and complex. Changing the systems that enable or dis-enable corruption and open governance requires governance reformers to understand and adapt to emerging system dynamics and build durable trust-based relationships that enable collaboration and sustain work in the long term. And this takes patient, flexible resourcing. After Global Integrity’s core funding partnerships ended, we failed to identify a relevant, alternative revenue stream and instead relied on reimbursable, fixed-term consultancy services and project grants. This funding kept the lights on for a while, but we needed unrestricted funds to invest in the core capacities and approaches required to advance systemic strategies.
The business development plan that supported our transformation strategy would have focused on developing a tangible product with quantifiable results that we could package and use to generate revenue for building relationships, convening stakeholders, surfacing insights, and adjusting approaches. In other words, we set aside the assumption that we would eventually crack the narrative and say the magic words that unlocked the support we needed for our strategy. Instead, we embraced becoming pragmatic subversives who would happily provide the product or service we thought donors and partners would pay for if it generated sufficient resources to advance our strategy, allowing us to invest in less popular but essential activities for long-term change.
Transformation: understanding our barriers
Transformation requires shifting power within our organizations and through our relationships with partners to realize more just, inclusive, and sustainable societies. (See Accountable Now‘s definition of dynamic accountability.) In the context of localization, transformation is not about organizations like Global Integrity becoming local experts or working more locally; our role was to adapt our ways of working to be more effective in brokering partnerships and access to funding and support for local governance reformers. We made significant progress, connecting local governance reformers with global partners, amplifying local agendas and building meaningful relationships and capacities that minimized our role over time and transferred ownership to local leaders. In 2022, Global Integrity transitioned the leadership of the African Integrity Indicators research project to the Kenya-based African Institute for Development Policy, and in 2023, the Education Out Loud project Kuyenda Collective to the South Africa-based Public Service Accountability Monitor.
Unfortunately, our work as a facilitator and connector was under-resourced and remained ad hoc, which limited our ability to advance local leadership in the anti-corruption and open governance movement. Perhaps we could have garnered the support needed to transform in the ways we wanted and needed to if we had adopted a more radical approach to shifting knowledge, partnerships, and resources to local governance reformers — even if that meant working ourselves out of business.
Realization: knowing when it’s time to end
The idea that we missed an opportunity for transformation brings me to a crucial realization. I spent significant time listening and learning with Global Integrity’s partners and allies. They genuinely believed in Global Integrity and its meaningful contribution to the anti-corruption and open governance movement. The more I came to know the Global Integrity team, the community, and the work, the more I agreed. This may be why we did not seriously consider a strategic sunsetting. Reflecting on our journey, our efforts toward a responsible wind-down, shifting power, and advancing Global Integrity’s mission could have been more impactful if we had embraced the idea of a strategic ending earlier. Sometimes, an ending makes way for new beginnings. #EndingwithIntegrity