Building Blocks of Learning Organizations: Enabling Flexible, Adaptive Development Programming
Projects trying to create systemic change—whether in markets, public health, or governance—have a notoriously difficult task: to shift mindsets, behaviours, and institutions in incredibly complex systems. Social, political, and business norms are continually changing, and often invisible until acted upon. This requires programs to remain outcome-oriented, to learn quickly, and continually adjust interventions in response to new, unexpected insight. While the external impact of successful projects is often talked about, the internal structures and processes that enabled such projects to succeed are seldom highlighted.
Drawing on EWB's partnerships with numerous successful market facilitation projects, this talk will explore the common elements of learning organizations. It will explore and share insights on questions such as: How can learning, flexibility, and agility be managed for? What specifically can be done to foster teams that are sharing relevant information, taking ownership over the outcomes of the program, and innovating to achieve them? What are some of the hard processes (i.e., reporting structures and time carved out for reflection and learning) that enable effective learning? What are some of the softer elements (i.e., management messaging and role modelling, tone and feel of an office) that enable it?
While this talk will be primarily based on experience from market-based programming, the lessons shared on building learning organizations will be widely applicable. The need for teams that can collaborate, learn, and adapt is one that cuts across all sectors.
Amir Allana is a Program Manager with
Engineers Without Borders Canada. Allana and his team provide embedded, context-specific support to programs implementing market facilitation. This support ranges from targeted skill-building and training in the tactics of working with market actors, to one-on-one coaching with field staff and managers to develop and implement strategies, to working alongside senior management to build a culture of learning and adaptation (both the hard processes and softer, organic elements). Allana has worked across several programs implementing market facilitation, including the USAID LEAD project and more recently USAID Uganda's Feed the Future Agriculture Inputs Activity - both implemented by Tetra Tech. He has also been working extensively with two programs run by Mercy Corps, who is employing market facilitation in very tough, post-conflict environments in Northern Uganda. The team also currently has partnerships with Kenya Markets Trust and Swisscontact Uganda. He holds a degree in Engineering Science (Systems Engineering) and a Certificate in Business from the University of Toronto.