The Power of Asking the Right Questions

June 9, 2014

A year after participating in Innoweave’s Impact and Strategic Clarity module, Girls Action Foundation  is buzzing with renewed energy and a clearer sense of direction.

Learning how to effectively articulate and measure impacts is a powerful process. Even for leading organizations, gaining new insight on organizational strategy and real-world impacts can be difficult, but it is incredibly valuable.

One year after participating in the first cohort of the Innoweave Impact and Strategic Clarity (ISC) module, we asked senior leaders at Girls Action Foundation:

What’s changed in the way you work, based on your participation in the module?

“We’re looking at our programs with a strategic perspective, involving both the board and managers, as well as other team members as needed,” explained Saman Ahsan, Executive Director. Ownership and a shared strategic perspective are key elements of the profound culture shift that’s taken place at Girls Action Foundation. Ahsan notes that through the ISC process, the team has “undertaken an evaluation of our network, as well as a review of our young women’s leadership program.”

“What I enjoyed about the Impact and Strategic Clarity module is that it forced us to move from from hope– the “what we hope to do”–  to define actual concrete achievements and accountability,” notes Juniper Glass, Senior Director of Strategy and Partnerships. “Most organizations have a big, overarching vision and then they have their day-to-day work. What bridges the gap between those two is the outcomes and intended impact we aim to achieve.”

Glass explains that having a visual representation of their Theory of Change has had a tremendously positive impact on the way teams understand their work.

Girls Action Foundation's Theory of Change

Girls Action Foundation’s Theory of Change

“The quality of our thinking has improved. The theory of change has really become a practical tool. For example, we use our local girls program as a learning lab to learn about what’s going on with girls, to try out new innovative practices and workshops, etc. which we can then implement at the national level.”

Gaining clarity in a complex organization

“Like most nonprofits, we have a lot of complexity within the organization,” explains Glass. “There’s the fact that we work locally and nationally, have different program streams with different client groups and age groups; plus we also have a systems change objective. All of that complexity was difficult to convey to new staff, or even team members who had been around for a while, to see where their work fit into the organization as a whole.”

“To be able to put all of that on one page in the form of an organization-level Theory of Change was challenging but really great,” Glass says.

Speaking of impact

Girls Action clarified specific intended impacts for each of its local, national and systems change streams. As identified above in their Theory of Change, some of these include:

  • For local work: 200 girls annually in underprivileged communities of Montreal gain confidence, critical thinking and communication skills and social supports.
  • For medium-term outcomes: increased number of girls’ programs across Canada, and more girls’ programs reflect Girls Action key practices.

Getting the Board on board

One action that is paying dividends for Girls Action is their decision to involve members from their management teams as well as their board in workshops and meetings.

Innoweave ISC coach Lara Evoy, who, along with her partner Stephanie Garrow, worked with the team, says, “It was really amazing that Girls Action decided to do this because it meant that not just the management team but also their staff and board understood and participated in the process. They had a Board member actually sit in on all the Innoweave meetings and come to all the workshops.

“In turn, that person could be the spokesperson to the rest of the Board. Someone who really got it and could champion the work to the Board.”

This is significant because investing time (a notoriously scarce resource with nonprofit management teams) can sometimes increase the feeling of being overwhelmed, especially if the organization’s leaders feel sandwiched between the sometimes conflicting priorities of their staff and their Board.

The benefit to the Board of being involved in the ISC process is that, as Evoy says, “Boards are then able to speak with greater authority and be clearer about what the organization does when conversing with governments and funders.”

Continuous Improvement

There is more to do. The team at Girls Action is making important strides towards working more strategically and orienting their programs and activities around impact.

“This internal process is ongoing after the module,” Ahsan reflects, “but it’s hoped that at the end of it we will have answers to our questions, as well as strategic directions that will be arrived at collaboratively, hence owned by everyone.” Thanks to the Impact and Strategic Clarity process, the organization has been rejuvenated and reinvigorated with a shared vision and a map of how to get there. It’s a cultural shift that is paying early dividends.

Applications to participate in the Innoweave Impact and Strategic Clarity module are open between now and July 2nd. Click here to learn more.