Defining Technology Challenges to Growth of an International Non-Governmental Organization (NGO): A Case Study

Defining Technology Challenges to Growth of an International Non-Governmental Organization (NGO): A Case Study

Jules K. Beck, Kit Kacirek
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-068-2.ch025
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This case study addresses the emerging need for technology-focused development for an international humanitarian organization whose mission is to further community sustainability and citizen empowerment through agricultural and animal husbandry projects. This case study, based on a multi-method needs assessment conducted in both the US headquarters as well as abroad, explores how the organization might address issues of growth and program sustainability throughout the fifty-one countries on five continents where the organization maintains programs by focusing on the development of technology support systems in its country programs.
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Within a ten-year period, an international NGO evolved from a “family community” where individuals had unlimited access to the CEO into an enterprise that had “corporate components.” Organizational growth forced the CEO to be less visible in daily operations and eroded the sense of family for the cadre of incumbents who had experienced the organization’s pre-growth familial culture. A tension developed between incumbent and new employees, and the relationship between headquarters (HQ) and “the field” became more complex. Given cultural differences and geographic separateness, the NGO’s field directors advocated for increased autonomy regarding decisions that affected their country programs. In contrast, HQ managers added policies, reporting duties, and training requirements to which field staff had to abide. Those burdensome charges, coupled with a distant HQ staff, many having no first-hand field experience, amplified the divide between the two organization segments.


While the NGO was guided by a board of directors and a senior leadership team, the organization’s founding values influenced all programmatic and institutional decisions. Those values honor individual wisdom and collective decision-making, and look to build sustainable community capacity. Organizational values were reinforced by messages that were prominently displayed on the organization’s physical structure, in its internal documents, and in its marketing material. The founding values have been institutionalized and used as benchmarks against which all plans, decisions, and activities are measured.

Under the CEO’s leadership, the NGO was transformed from a cash-strapped enterprise into a financially sound organization that expanded its community enhancement projects and initiated new global programs. Ironically, the organization’s success in attracting corporate and private donations that allowed it to expand its assistance to developing communities also created a strain on the leadership’s ability to manage its own internal growth.

As its employee base surged, the organization outgrew its physical location. As a result, employees were spread among three separate locations within a three-mile radius. That physical separation combined with additional bureaucratic protocols constricted spontaneous, informal meetings, and inhibited cross-segment collaboration within the organization. Many newer hires, including managers and supervisors, never met nor were introduced to the CEO―a cultural rite of passage for employees during the organization's formative years. The dichotomous split between new and long-term employees created opposing camps in the organization, polarizing the workplace. By 2001, employee turnover, once a rarity within the NGO, overwhelmed the training department. The symptoms of growth concerned some members of the NGO senior leadership team, but since the NGO was notably successful in fundraising, top management appeared unconcerned.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Technology Infrastructure: The interconnection among organization elements, divisions, departments, research laboratories, universities, and industries through fast and reliable communication networks.

NGO: Non Governmental Organization—used in this case study to identify an a legally-recognized international nonprofit

Pilot Study: Testing of a concept or approach on a limited basis to determine whether the study format or method needs to be revised before using on a wider basis.

Organization Culture: Shared basic assumptions that define behavior and how employees should think and feel about how business is conducted in an organization.

Interpretive Inquiry: The study of the immediate and local meanings of social action for the people involved.

Organization Change: How an organization’s culture evolves to preserve and maintain the integrity of the corporate system

Quantitative Research: sometimes referred to as positivistic, this type of inquiry uses a numerical approach to understand property, goods, and services in society through the use of statistics, such as student test performance.

Organization Values: The ideals and standards that define honesty, integrity, promotion, concern for the customer, and so on in an organization.

Case Study: An in-depth description and analysis of an organization or event to examine the interplay of important elements that represent the forces at work in the object studied.

Needs Assessment: The gathering and analysis of information to identify the strengths and weaknesses of an organization.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) Model: An approach to defining ability, capacity, or skill to identify, assess, manage and control emotions personally, in others, or of groups.

Field: The largely self-sufficient country programs outside of the NGO headquarters.

Global Survey: A quantitative 25 question investigation conducted to determine attitudes about leadership in the NGO.

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