Reflections on GSSR Day One


Sitting in my hotel room after a day of mad Twittering, I’ve been reflecting on Day One of The Global Summit on Social Responsibility. Today was a very engaging experience, and yet for me it raised many more questions than it answered. On some level, of course, I believe that was our purpose.

Today’s focus was discovery, and I think we found out quite a bit about where at least some leaders in the association community stand on the question of social responsibility. There is clearly enormous enthusiasm for some form of collective action and, from the very beginning of the day, collaboration was a key theme. Just about every group report that was made, either in DC or from the connected sites elsewhere, touched on the necessity of collaboration to tackle SR issues. There was also a special emphasis on how associations facilitate connection-building and can foster cooperation among stakeholders with divergent interests. Naturally, I am in basic agreement with all of these observations.

The unresolved question in my mind is how well our 20th century organizational capabilities will stand up to the rigors of supporting connectedness, cooperation and collaboration at 21st century speed and scale. Lasting human connection–the source of goodwill that is foundation of cooperation–requires more than directory listings, stack-a-ribbons and cocktail parties. Now more than ever, relationships are not fungible commodities, but irreplaceable resources demanding our on-going attention. Each and every relationship is unique and each requires high levels of trust and empathy to create and sustain, especially when that kind of care involves a blend of high tech and high touch.

Cooperation entails a willingness to set aside some measure of personal or organizational interest in favor of embracing a common good. Ideally, it is in this mode that our boards of directors should be operating, and yet we know from experience that parochial interests too often take precedence over shared concerns. When we are talking about “change at the scale of the whole,” as David Cooperrider describes it, the challenge of nurturing cooperation grows considerably more complex and the work of collaboration becomes more difficult. It may not be enough, therefore, to be satisfied with a fragile consensus. There must be deep and enduring agreement around a course of action, accompanied by a willingness to act boldly in pursuit of it even when the going gets tough.

Finally, collaboration in the Web-enabled world has an entirely different look and feel than what happens in agenda-driven committee and task force meetings. As we discovered today, collaboration in a new world of distributed and (hopefully) distributive engagement is messy, unpredictable and often frustrating. And yet it is precisely this kind of emergent collaborative effort we need to harness to tackle the huge problems facing our country and our world.

In each of these areas–connectedness, cooperation and collaboration–I’m wondering aloud whether we grasp the full dimensions of the task at hand and whether we’re as prepared as we will need to be to act. So right now, as I think about going to sleep, I’ll be nodding off with some big questions bouncing around my head. This doesn’t diminish my enthusiasm one bit…actually, it increases it! I think we’re on to something big here, and I hope that in the days ahead we’ll take our collective thinking to the next level to begin process of creating something truly remarkable together.

NOTES: Please keep following my Twitter posts (and share your Twitter posts/questions at #globalsummit) and view photos from GSSR!

Jeff De Cagna

Jeff De Cagna is chief strategist and founder of Principled Innovation LLC, and a contrarian thinker on strategy, business models, governing and the future of associations.


  1. I’m glad you’re on the ground there, capturing the questions for those of us not able to be there. I would venture to offer a few observations based on your post and my experience of the association world, both as an association executive and a consultant to many associations. I’ll be frank:

    As a community, those of us in associations are not prepared for the kind of collaboration you envision – neither for the scale, the speed, or the systems required for it. Nor do we (yet) embrace the idea of true collaboration – I’ll venture to say that consensus is a poor substitute for what we really need. I think consensus (as it is currently practiced) enables us to LOSE the best of opposing viewpoints rather than capture and use them. We need to learn to have dialogue across difference in a different way, in a way that demands that the direction of our intention be exceedingly clear – and that we are intending to do more (much more) than negate the opposite viewpoint. We need friction to create great (positive) change – and yet we don’t know how to navigate friction. It is, as you note, too messy. The fire of not knowing is what we need – and so few association execs, members of boards, etc., have gotten to where they are by not knowing – the plate tectonics have to shift in significant ways. We don’t yet feel the urgency, the burning platform, to make those shifts voluntarily. But we can, and must.

    Thanks for the food for thought. Wish I was there with you!

  2. “Life from a connected (remote) location” was very different than my usual positioning in the room for meetings like the GSSR. To quote a recent orator, it was “different not divisive”.

    I must say that overall it was a great experience and my guess is that it had to do with two things. First, the superior meeting place and technology assistance provided by the LA County Bar Association and second, because of great facilitators from Leadership Outfitters.

    The time difference did not provide too many logistical challenges other than being up at 5am and there was one period when lunch started back East and we then connected with our other state location, Sacramento for some continuing dialogue.

    For the most part, it was easy to stay engaged. The panel at the end of the day was a little tough for us, especially the speaker from Fairmount Minerals. I believe that showing the video that we saw at the Design Team meeting would have enhanced his presentation.

    As a member of the design team, the group asked me a lot of questions regarding the development of the program and I believe that they found it helpful.

    I came away glad that I did a remote site and feeling that perhaps it may have helped other groups if a member of the design team had been in more locations.

    Now, that said, post conference work and engagement is going to be very tough but MUST happen. You cannot generate this type of discussion and enthusiasm without continuing the dialogue. It is incumbent upon ASAE & The Center to figure that out to keep everyone engaged and to make this movement happen.

    Now, a word about the subject at hand. I came away from yesterday, still feeling that everyone does not “get” Social Responsibility and that it is an institutional mind set in how one thinks and acts. It is not examples of how groups “help a cause” or “volunteer outreach plans”. While I loved, loved, loved Sachs presentation — I am afraid that he propetuated this thinking. It is more than an association or group of people adopting a village in Africa. That is only a small part of it.

    I must say that our colleaqgue Ed Able was right on with his comment. Most examples that I heard yesterday were good submissions for Associations Advance America.

    That said, I do think the industry is “up for this movement” to get outside ourselves! One thing that would be helpful is for ASAE & The Center to be a model. They should appoint a CSR officer and get rolling inside the organization. That would give all of us a “real life” non-profit example of what to do.

    I do hope that we get there and it is going to take ongoing dialogue, repetition of the concepts (like we have never seen before), resources and really big picture thinking.

    I think the original thinking was that the industry would get behind one initiative or one cause. I don’t think that is what we can do. I think we can get behind a movement to make the entire industry more socially responsible and provide the means to do that regardless of the association’s interest, size, etc.

    I am sorry that I am missing Day 2 and Day 3, but have some pressing travels. Have great days!

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