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More than 60% of NGOs are committed to shared leadership to tackle the challenges facing the sector

The Leadership at NGOs study being prepared by the ESADE Institute for Social Innovation offers initial data on how third-sector organisations have transformed themselves and adapted their leadership over the last decade

The people at the helm of Spanish NGOs are committed to shared leadership to tackle the challenges facing the sector. This is one of the conclusions of the Leadership at NGOs study conducted by the ESADE Institute for Social Innovation in conjunction with the PwC Foundation. Coinciding with the ESADE-PwC Social Leadership Programme’s tenth anniversary, a Social Leaders Forum was held, at which a preview was offered of some of the data from the study being carried out by researchers from the ESADE Institute. The event, which took place at the PwC building in Madrid, was attended by both the president and managing director of the PwC Foundation, Santiago Barrenechea and Marta Colomina, who highlighted the history of success of the partnership with the ESADE Institute for Social Innovation. 

Speaking on behalf of ESADE, Professor Ignasi Carreras, director of the Social Leadership Programme, stressed that shared leadership, found at 61% of organisations, ‘is the product of the culture of participation typical of the sector and enables more collaborative, less hierarchical management, empowering and motivating teams’. He also noted that, over the last decade, the sector has undergone a ‘generational changing of the guard’, with 40% of managers having been in their positions for less than 5 years. This change ‘is necessary for the healthy renewal of management, to facilitate innovation and adaptation to the new realities with which NGOs co-exist’. However, the survey results also show that more than 20% of managers have held their positions for more than 15 years and that managers had come to their current positions from another sector in only 23% of cases, reflecting a certain degree of ‘inbreeding’. 

Another key finding of the study, based on more than 450 surveys of teams from all levels of the third sector, is the presence of women in managerial positions. Some 43% of the general management positions at NGOs are held by women, and this figure is considerably higher amongst the teams that make up these organisations. Respondents viewed women’s positive impact on the analysis and understanding of the environment, conflict resolution, improvement of the work environment, and promotion of a collaborative spirit very positively. 

Ten years of transformation

Carreras also emphasised how NGOs have evolved over the last ten years, noting that the sector is recovering from the crisis and has managed to increase its social impact. In this regard, he highlighted how NGOs are transforming themselves to tackle the challenges and opportunities of digitisation. He also stressed how they have managed to deepen their ability to engage in more effective partnerships with companies and government agencies. At the same time, he pointed to some of the emerging challenges for NGOs: becoming knowledge organisations and being more entrepreneurial and innovative.

The event ended with a discussion between social leaders including Mercedes Valcárcel, director of the Tomillo Foundation, Fernando Mudarra, director of Ayuda en Acción, José Maria Vera, director of Oxfam Intermón, Beatriz Sánchez Gaitán, from Hazloposible, and Beatriz Morilla, head of Corporate Social Responsibility for the Spanish Banking Association (AEB).  

The speakers laid out their vision of how the sector has evolved over the last decade, whilst at the same time pointing to trends that can be expected in the coming years. According to Valcárcel, ‘The sector’s three areas of improvement have been the professionalisation of the workforce, an increase in the level of partnership, and greater team diversity.’ Mudarra highlighted ‘the sector’s greater openness’ and the fact that it had ‘stepped out of its comfort zone, which is especially necessary in the current context of a more informed and demanding society’. Looking forward, both Sánchez and Morillo predicted a much more hybrid model in response to social challenges, in which NGOs would take on more entrepreneurial and sustainable roles, but also engage in joint actions with other sectors. 

The partnership between ESADE and PwC arose from the need to train ‘a new generation of leaders able to tackle the major social challenges of the future’ and due to the fact that leading third-sector organisations requires a very different skill set and leadership style than other sectors, such as business, politics or the military. This, in turn, revealed the lack of academic knowledge on this kind of leadership, opening up a field in which ESADE researchers have made great strides in recent years.