Corporate Meets Development: Julian Rowa’s First 6 Weeks at CFK February 11, 2016  by      

By: Julian Rowa, CFK Executive Director

Julian, 3rd from left, with several members of CFK's staff at the CFK office in Kibera, Kenya.

Julian, 3rd from left, with several members of CFK’s staff at the CFK office in Kibera, Kenya.

It’s been 6 weeks since I joined Carolina for Kibera as Executive Director. So far, I am thrilled by the work being done in the community and am eager to bring some of my experiences and corporate background to the organization. As an entrepreneur and former leader in the finance sector, identifying how to unify my perspective on leadership and CFK’s work has sparked thought-provoking questions and highlighted the organization’s potential for growth.

So, how do I begin to depict my mental journey at CFK? Here goes nothing.

Corporate meets Development, the bottom line meets philanthropy…is this an explosion about to happen? Is there a stark separation of the two worlds or are they powered by the same principles? In the world of commerce, organizations mobilize and create intermediations to offer goods or services, while not-for-profit organizations raise funds from which programs can be designed and delivered. But are these sectors truly different?

Conversely, is the NGO world ready for the corporate mindset? Would this create the change required to bring greater impact in international development? And then the detail-oriented questions: what is sustainability and why does it have different connotations among similar players? How does one measure capacity development which is viewed as a critical success factor?

These are just some of the questions I’ve asked myself, mentors, and peers over the past 6 weeks. Perhaps the biggest question is this: is leadership the panacea to bridging the “imaginary” gaps that have existed between the corporate and development worlds over the years? Leadership is transferable and all that is required is the wit, the wisdom and the courage of its application. I am persuaded that taking a careful corporate approach to CFK’s work will help drive performance and create greater accountability not to mention an unprecedented value addition.

In my 6 weeks as leader of Carolina for Kibera, I have arrived at the considered view that organizations— notwithstanding their sector, DNA or mission—are motivated by one factor “to succeed.”  Success is designed and driven by leadership that begs the question, “What do I need to change and why?”

I have focused on 5 factors I consider critical for CFK’s revival and growth. These factors are synonymous with the corporate way of driving organizations, and are as follows:

  • A focus on company, where revenue is generated, costs are managed and—to sneak in some NGO lingo—funds are raised.
  • Control, which involves the adoption of a risk mindset to put in place preventive and detective controls that are all subject to monitoring and evaluation.
  • As for colleagues, it is about getting the best from people through performance contracting, continuity through succession planning and training and development.
  • Community refers to engagement with the Kibera community to build trust and synergy.
  • Customer service or confidence-building is the 5th “C” that defines and captures our interaction with those we come into contact with.

Julian RowaIn my short stay, I realize that a lot of good has been achieved. In our aspiration to become world class at what we do and to ensure we exceedingly deliver on our commitment to the community, we have designed an approach from the “5 Cs” pillar to guide our strategy.

There is a lot of excitement in the air! The coming weeks will be interesting as I seek to align my thinking with that of our staff, the board, the community and our partners.

I will issue a report card on the status in the next six weeks. I invite you to stay tuned and read along.

Julian Rowa
CFK Executive Director


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