In March 2019, over 70 people convened in Kampala for the Humentum Conference, OpExEastAfrica: Growing Trust for Greater Impact. It was an excellent opportunity to spend two days among a group of practitioners from the development sector to discuss and reflect on the importance of trust. It also looked at how trust affects an organization’s capacity to deliver greater impact.
In 2018, I attended a similar conference in Arusha, also hosted by Humentum in conjunction with ActionAid. At this point, I held the role of Learning and Knowledge Management Advisor at ActionAid. This year, in my current position as Online Member Services Specialist with Humentum, my appreciation of the role of learning, and its impact on an organization’s growth, was reinvigorated.
The conference aimed to enable dialogue among social sector actors through various participatory sessions, showcasing best practices from organizations and focusing on learning trends in the sector.
My main takeaways from the conference were:
The You in Trust
The conference started on an energetic note with Fay Ekong from Ravel Works bringing the topic of trust to life, and closer to home for everyone in the room. The ‘Trust and Civility Starts With You’ session set the stage for the next two days; in short, it homed in on the importance of individual trust for those supporting organizations. To build organizational trust, you must hold yourself accountable for your actions. The cost of distrust within organizations can result in communication breakdown, disruptive leadership, tension among staff – all of which has an impact on the overall growth of an organization.
Systems Enable Building Trust
A speaker from the dialogue panel quoted the Lord’s Prayer: “Do not put my (the employees) staff into temptation”. Good systems in organizations nurture trust among employees and minimize the risk of distrust. When an organization puts systems in place to enable trust, the rewards will be felt over time through staff motivation and higher financial returns, among other positive impacts.
A management approach that relies 100% on trust (of people and systems) was an eye-opener. A holacracy management approach is different from a conventional management style, in that it requires a flexible organizational structure and clear roles and responsibilities. To that end, it also increases individual and team autonomy, with unique decision-making techniques that are led by a team leader and geared toward action rather than the over-analysis of issues. This management approach is effective when systems work and are trusted.
Trust in the Systems
An organization may have all the required systems and processes in place; however, users should be able to trust the systems and follow procedures. That said, this should also allow space for innovation, which means ensuring that learning and continuous improvement are at the forefront, rather than taking risky short cuts.
Build Trust, Reap Growth
The importance of building trust was emphasized as necessary for a more significant impact. Most sessions brought out experiences and examples regarding how systems and processes that are enabled and supported in delivery, can achieve impact and sustainability. These include working and cascading learning in humanitarian contexts, sustaining learning agendas in development programs via questions, and working with multi-generational workers to foster learning, among others. The impact can manifest itself in the growth of an organization, effective business processes, as well as improved outreach that is measured by systems put in place to enable said processes.
The conference provided a vast platform for organizations to learn, collaborate, and support peers to as they strive towards greater impact.
I was a happy camper at the end of the conference, and in a good place, having had the privilege to spend time with some of my colleagues and practitioners from the development sector and beyond.