Home Blog & Media Harnessing the Power of Trust in Action: 8 Things We Can All Do to Build Trust, As Told by Humentum Members

Harnessing the Power of Trust in Action: 8 Things We Can All Do to Build Trust, As Told by Humentum Members

August 1, 2019

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Kim Kucinskas

Director, Community Strategy

Splashed across every sign, bag, and screen at OpEx DC 2019 were the words Growing Trust for Greater Impact. It was everywhere. Because every conference needs a theme, right? As conference organizer, for months I had wrestled with the question: when does a theme stop being a unifying idea and start becoming a call to action? With over 1,000 attendees on-site in DC, and almost 100 at our previous event in Kampala, how could we not try to make the most of an opportunity to demonstrate what Humentum can do – bringing groups of intelligent practitioners together, facilitating thoughtful dialogue and collaboration, and using that knowledge to inform important topics affecting our sector?

Choosing trust as the theme to bind everything together wasn’t difficult. We operate in a continual feedback loop of maintaining trust, growing trust, and repairing trust that is broken. Trust impacts our ability to do our work, and in turn, we impact the degree to which we are trusted. In the relief and development sector this rings particularly true. Trust is a necessity in the missions that we work towards, the communities that we serve, and the way that we fund that work.

But what does this mean in practice? Trust must exist within our organizations, within the sector itself, and with the wider public. Within organizations, staff need to believe that the right practices are in place to prevent a breakdown in trust from happening. Organizations must invest in strong compliance, financial management, program management, HR, and learning, as well as the cultures underpinning their execution. Trust must also exist within our sector. Have we built a reputation within our community, with our beneficiaries, and with our funders that we are reliable and trustworthy? Finally, trust must exist with the wider world. Does the public trust us? Can we admit when we are wrong, learn from it, and improve? Are we able to communicate our intent, demonstrate sustainability, prove accountability, and act with integrity?

The theme of Growing Trust implies a baseline. Indeed, we aren’t starting from nothing. Trust does exist in the many relationships we rely on, and through the good and innovative work that is happening every day. However, there is always more that we can do to build on what is working and to repair what we have broken, so that we can continue to do our work, and to do it smarter and better.

So choosing the theme of trust wasn’t difficult. The challenge was knowing how to harness the power of the collective. The Humentum community is one of practical action. No sooner is a problem identified than the question is asked “so what can we do about it?” We decided to begin the conference with real work. Set up a challenge and use the collective brainpower of over 1,000 practitioners to work the problem. We asked the community to draw upon experiences in their particular practice area to identify what is working, what is not, and what we can collectively do to move forward.

Trust in Action

I’ve realized that building trust has a lot to do with inclusion. From that work, eight key actions emerged from robust practitioner discussions. Here is some of what they had to say.

1. Invest In People

What that might look like, as told by Humentum members:

  • Diversity in leadership.
  • Leadership learn how to enable cultures of trust.
  • Invest in people talent.
  • Reward personal integrity.

2. Break The Silos

What might that look like?

  • Finance, program, operations, and HR speak to each other, using the same language.
  • Collaborate and integrate admin/finance & programs. Work as one team.
  • Cross-functional trainings for greater understanding and trust within organizations.
  • Better communication among NGOs.
  • Collaborative problem-solving within the sector.

3. Engage and Collaborate With Local Actors

What that might look like, as told by Humentum members:

  • Trust local expertise. Continue to engage trusted, local stakeholders to create ownership and sustainability.
  • Local program development.
  • Be inclusive. Actively engaging means co-creating and co-owning with local actors, including government.
  • HQ teams listen more to field office teams during implementation.

4. Share Best Practices

What that might look like, as told by Humentum members:

  • Facilitate sharing between local orgs.
  • Share more tools and resources with the sector.
  • Be reachable. Be a resource.
  • Be less territorial. Trust and share across organizations.
  • Create a best practices policy library for INGOs.

5. Build Sector Standards & Systems

What that might look like, as told by Humentum members:

  • Sector standards for: due diligence/risk assessment; audits; whistleblower policy…
  • Improve standards on reporting.
  • Benchmark survey of risks/challenges/growth.
  • Find an effective way to measure impact (report, compare and systematize measurements across the sector. What are the true measures of impact donors are searching for?)
  • Humentum and NetHope develop a M&E system for our sector.
  • Create an accountability dashboard.

6. Be Transparent

  • Create and communicate a clear vision of the future. Make the end goal clear.
  • Connect policy to procedure to organizational values.
  • Talk about what is not working and why. Then learn from it.
  • Explain the WHY.
  • Salary transparency.
  • Get good at decision-making. Be truly collaborative, transparent, reasoned and honest.

7. Take Risks – Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

  • Innovate. Iterate.
  • Celebrate successes.

8. Build A Culture of Trust By Being Willing To Trust

There is a lot of work to be done in the year ahead, and Humentum is ready to listen to the community as we prepare programming, prioritize initiatives, and get ready to head the advice of our keynote speaker Ann Mei Chang: Think Big. Start Small. Aim for Impact. OpEx DC 2019 ended, fittingly, with a discussion led by Raj Kumar of Devex that left conference attendees with one question. Change is here; are we ready?