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From the Sponsor’s Desk – Stronger Economies, Better Lives

We know how difficult it is to deliver projects successfully within an organization. Imagine the challenges involved in managing hundreds of concurrent projects in developing countries and communities around the world. That’s exactly what the Canadian Executive Service Organization (CESO) does and has been doing successfully for almost 50 years in Asia, Africa and South America and among Aboriginal communities across Canada.

In this post, we’ll look at the steps CESO takes to manage its relationships with government and non-governmental organizations, private sector enterprises, its small and medium size business clients and over 700 volunteers to launch projects and ensure their success.

Thanks to L.O. for the details on this venture.

The Situation

CESO was founded in 1967, on Canada’s centenary, by several noteworthy Canadians including Maurice Strong, Mitchell Sharp, Paul Martin Sr., Claude Hebert and Cy Peachey. Its mission: to strengthen economic and social well-being in Canada and abroad through engagement of skilled and experienced Canadian volunteers working co-operatively with partners and clients to create solutions that foster long-term economic growth and self-reliance.

The Goal

CESO envisions a world where there are sustainable economic and social opportunities for all. It has two strategic priorities: private sector development and institutional strengthening. Their partnership model involves working at the institutional level with associations/governments to strengthen the overall industry and also at the client level (private sector development) to achieve their goals.

To realize their vision, CESO operates according to four core values:

  1. Striving for Excellence
  2. Demonstrating Respect and Integrity
  3. Living Collaboration through Sharing Skills and Knowledge
  4. Encouraging Volunteerism

The Projects

CESO provides a variety of services to organizations and communities within Canada and in many other countries around the world.

Service areas include:

  • Strategic Planning: helping clients answer questions about what they do, how they do it, where they want to go and how they will get there and to document their goals and create a plan to ensure that they achieve them.
  • Business Development: helping clients with start-up, expansion, marketing, locating sources of business financing and all aspects of management.
  • Accounting and Finance: assistance in accounting, banking, national and international tax issues, financial management for individuals and businesses and financial reporting.
  • Organizational Development: helping clients create the structures that foster success, from human resources to policy and training development to mediation and change management.
  • Community Development: working with community leaders to develop feasibility studies, land use plans and community assessment frameworks and “train the trainers” in community health management.
  • Governance: Partnering with band councils and all levels of government to help implement award-winning, streamlined governance systems that are fair and accountable to all community members.
  • Production and Operations: Manufacturing experts assist with research and development, production and maintenance management, as well as application for quality management (ISO) certification.

What’s amazing to me is that CESO provides all these services and more with less than 50 staff and over 700 volunteer advisors who contributed over 6,000 days of their time and expertise in 2014.

To deliver its services cost effectively, CESO has a very flat, focused organization with the following key roles:

  1. Country Representatives (CR): CR’s are the on the ground staff for a given country who look after business development – finding and identifying partners/clients, as well as building and sustaining relationships. They also manage local government/stakeholder relations and liaise between CESO, the local/regional/national governments and Canadian embassies. They are also accountable for client relations, ensuring that the needs identified in the plan are being met successfully.
  2. Lead Volunteer Advisor (LVA): The LVA is the individual volunteer who leads the planning with a local partner, collaboratively developing a “Partnership Action Plan.” This plan is the blueprint for assignments that will be carried out over the entire course of the multi-year project. The LVA will also brief/debrief Volunteer Advisors pre and post-assignment, and oversees the delivery of the Partnership Action Plan. The project management process also includes measuring progress at key points, troubleshooting as necessary to ensure local partners meet their goals.
  3. Volunteer Advisor (VA): VA’s execute individual assignments. They connect with the LVA, are briefed on the project and their role, and execute the short term assignment. They often connect with the client and partner ahead of time to determine needs and start the mutual plan for the assignment. On completion, they submit their recommendations and participate in evaluation of the assignment and the project overall.
  4. Program Officers: They provide coordination and logistical support to CRs, LVAs and VAs
  5. Knowledge Officers:  They facilitate getting evaluative information back to CESO. As well, as their name suggests, they are also accountable for eliciting and sharing information and best practices.

The Results

Over the years, CESO projects have had a positive influence on citizens world-wide, as follows:

  • Up to 50,000 beneficiaries in each – Haiti, Jamaica, Vietnam, Guyana, Suriname, Burkina Faso, Benin, Cameroon, Kazakhstan, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, China
  • 50,000 to 100,000 beneficiaries – Canada, Belize, Columbia
  • 100,000 to 2,000,000 beneficiaries – Tanzania, Bolivia
  • 2,000,000 to 6,000,000 beneficiaries – Honduras, Peru, Senegal, Philippines

That’s quite an amazing legacy.

In addition:

  • Over 400 assignments were completed in 2014
  • CESO has over 350 clients/partners in Canada and around the world including government agencies, chambers of commerce and other non-profit organizations
  • 310 new staff were hired in small and medium sized businesses post assignment, 43% of them women
  • 78% of small and medium sized business clients reported improved operations post assignment

Perhaps most telling about the relationships that develop between the CESO volunteer advisors and their clients, 85% of volunteers have provided follow-up mentorship with their clients after an assignment.

How Great Leadership Achieves Success

How does CESO achieve such amazing results with such a small permanent and part time staff? There are three key elements to their success:

  • Getting the right people with the necessary skills in place up front
    CESO uses an effective stakeholder model to ensure the key decision makers are engaged and involved in every assignment.
    • CESO looks for experts in their field, experienced managers and professionals who have the capabilities to function effectively in remote, foreign and unstructured settings. CESO volunteers are obviously self-motivated. While travel and living expenses are covered while on assignment, there is no compensation other than the opportunity to do good works for people and organizations in need of assistance. In fact, CESO’s Volunteer Advisors must pay a small initiation fee when they successfully apply and join the roster.  They must also pay a small annual fee to stay active on the volunteer register.
    • CESO partners with local organizations that have an intimate knowledge of the situation on the ground, including local chambers of commerce, government agencies and other non-governmental organizations. CESO’s Country Reps manage the relationships with the local partners and solicit client candidates for the CESO assignments.
    • Finally, CESO’s clients are the small and medium sized business owners and government or NGO managers who need CESO’s advisor assistance. They and their staff are the direct beneficiaries of the projects as well as the constituencies they support.
  • Using proven processes to guide each engagement from inception through completion
    With years of experience in national and international assignments, CESO has built a solid framework of proven practices to guide its operations, including:
    • The advisor application and acceptance processes including resume guidelines
    • Eligibility requirements
    • Privacy policy
    • Principles of conduct
    • Conflict of interest guidelines
    • Frequently asked questions
    • Comprehensive social media coverage
  • In addition, the Partnership Action Plans that the Lead Volunteer Advisor’s develop with their local partners form the foundation for the development activities that will occur over the multi-year horizon. Over the plan period, the plan may pivot, grow or change, depending on a variety of factors, but it always reflects the collaborative results and forward thinking of the partners involved. It is their strategic plan. It enables many, low risk, short term assignments to deliver incrementally toward the overall goals, even as those targets evolve.

    What helps bring all aspects of CESO’s operations together is its learning framework, built upon a comprehensive evaluation process and a commitment to knowledge management. The learning framework benefited and evolved from CESO’s participation in a community of practice undertaking with other national and international agencies that looked at ways to meet financial accountability requirements while strengthening planning and evaluation for learning and respecting confidentiality. The learning framework now supports and informs all organizational operations, programming, planning and strategic directions.
  • Leveraging lessons learned on each project to ensure insights from a legacy of experience yield continuing value
    CESO’s commitment to knowledge management is a core strength. Examples include:
    • CESO has learned to break down assignments into manageable chunks knowing that shorter duration assignments get completed more effectively. International assignments are typically two to four weeks in duration. National assignments are usually from two days to two weeks.
    • While CESO staff review client requests for assistance and develop a short list of potential volunteer advisors, it is the clients themselves that actually pick the advisor they believe will help them most. Because it’s the client’s choice, there’s a greater commitment to making the relationship work.
    • CESO staff facilitate contact between the volunteer advisor and client prior to the assignment. This preparatory work allows for a greater degree of collaboration on the design of assignment activities, and gives the advisors a more complete picture of client needs, enabling them to hit the ground running once they arrive.
    • In addition to the expertise the volunteer advisors bring to the engagement, much of the focus of the short-term assignments is on mentoring local clients and partners to ensure sustainable value.

I think CESO’s story is revealing. Here’s an organization that relies on somewhat uncertain government and donor funding, limited resources and committed volunteers to serve an international clientele superbly. They do it with a lean, highly focused organization. Their actions are guided by clear mission, vision and values. They always engage and serve their principal stakeholders. They plan big and do small. They measure, manage and communicate their performance and manage and leverage lessons learned. Why doesn’t every organization do this?

Here’s a suggestion. Take a look at your own organization and the projects you’re involved with. Are they making use of the practices CESO uses so well? If not, seek to start putting them in place. You and your organization will be the beneficiaries. As well, put these points on your checklist of things to do in future endeavours so you too can be a Great Leader. And remember, use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks covering stakeholder, process and decision area best practices right up front so you don’t overlook these key success factors.

Finally, if you have a project experience, either good or bad, past or present, that you’d like to have examined through the Project Pre-Check lens and published in this blog, don’t be shy! Send me the details and we’ll chat. I’ll write it up and, when you’re happy with the results, Project Times will post it so others can learn from your experiences. Thanks

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Drew Davison

Drew Davison is the owner and principal consultant at Davison Consulting and a former system development executive. He is the developer of Project Pre-Check, an innovative framework for launching projects and guiding successful project delivery, the author of Project Pre-Check - The Stakeholder Practice for Successful Business and Technology Change and Project Pre-Check FastPath - The Project Manager’s Guide to Stakeholder Management. He works with organizations that are undergoing major business and technology change to implement the empowered stakeholder groups critical to project success. Drew can be reached at [email protected].

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