Episode#1: Prologue

In Episode #1: Prologue, I talk about the main research question of my PhD and the three components that, I consider, act as catalysts to step-up the pace of actions, we are collectively going to take in the next decade for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. 

I also talk about my educational background and how they have influenced the directions of my PhD research. And at the end, I share my dream – call it a vision if you will.

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Hallo – This is Somaye Dehban, a passionate Dutchified Iranian who is rather obsessed with impact measurement, cross-sector partnerships and scale up.

I am the creator and host of Scale Your Impact, a podcast for anyone who has an interest in understanding and measuring impact, and figuring out how to scale the effectiveness of cross-sector partnerships to achieve the 2030 agenda of the United Nations.

Join me every 1st Tuesday of the month to hear about the articles I have read or written on these subjects and beyond.

Now let’s partner up to measure this episode of Scale Your Impact.

Welcome to the first episode of Scale Your Impact. Thank you for showing up and tunning in.

As you may have already noticed, I have a cold; it’s not ideal to start the first episode of your podcast series with a voice that is not your natural voice. And I guess we are never in an ideal situation when we want to start off things or change the course of our actions. So I am grateful that I still have the opportunity to start off what I wanted to do and that’s launching these podcast series.

I thought this less than an ideal situation also sets the tone for what you can expect from me in these podcasts. I mean that in our conversations, I will share my true state of being with you without trying to sound different. I will talk about my PhD research which includes impact measurement, scaling, cross sector partnerships, Sustainable Development Goals and many other topics not just as an academic and a researcher but also as a policy advisor and politician, as an entrepreneur and as a concerned citizen.

Most challenges addressed by Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have root causes in the so called “Wicked Problems”. Wicked Problems refer to “issues that are difficult to define and can be assessed as either problems or opportunities. To address these problems an inter- and multi-disciplinary perspective is essential since they require other ways of thinking, and also need the involvement of a diverse set of interested parties to work on solutions.

That’s why I have chosen the following title for my research:

“Embracing the Complexity (Wickedness) of Our Collective (inter)Connection,
with a tagline that reads: Upscaling the Impact of Cross-Sector Partnerships of Civil Society Organizations to Accelerate the Collective Progress towards 2030 Agenda.

It’s a mouthful, isn’t it?

What it basically means is that I believe if we want to scale our impact to achieve Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, we have to appreciate and understand the different levels of complexity we face in our problems whether they are at societal, or economic or environmental, or any other level. And I believe we can only manage to solve these wicked problems if we work together across various sectors.

Based on the United Nations Economic and Social Council report in May 2019, there has been progress on certain SDGs and their targets; nevertheless, the slow progress on many SDGs is considerable and the most vulnerable people are still suffering. The same report states that the global response is not ambitious enough to guarantee the achievement of the SDGs by 2030; Therefore, in a series of cross-cutting areas action is needed to dramatically accelerate progress and this requires political leadership, urgent and scalable multi-stakeholder approach.

We have less than a decade to reach the goals we set for ourselves in 2015, after the closure of Millennium Development Goals. And by just doing things as we did before, we are not going to achieve SDGs by 2030. That’s why I decided to dedicate my life, in different domains, to play an active role in not only raising awareness about SDGs but also to find solutions to step up the progress. So in 2019, I started a part time PhD at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University in the Netherlands.

In my research, I aim at identifying, and modifying the inter-connectedness of the three components that, I consider, act as catalysts to step-up the pace of actions. Actions we are collectively going to take in the next decade for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

These three components/catalysts are:
The positioning and motives of civil society organizations at the local and international level as not merely implementers of international development (as defined in the 2030 Agenda) but also as agents of change that play an active role in the “balanced” society;

What it means is that we need to understand what encourages civil society organizations to form cross-sector partnerships, and we need to hold them accountable as agents of change and not just as organizations who implement series of projects without any agency. We need to look at the role of every component of a balanced society.

The effect and configuration of cross-sector partnerships for not only accelerating the pace of international development, but also to make it lasting and truly sustainable;

When I talk about cross-sector partnerships, I am referring to partnerships between the three components of a balanced society i.e. the market, the government and the civil society. And we need to understand how the configuration of these partnerships impacts their effectiveness and efficiency.

The impact of applying the Complexity Sensitive Theory of Change to the intended international development, that not only includes an “alignment” between the complexity of the problem and the complexity of the solution, but also the complexity of the changing context.

As a practitioner in development aid sector, I have witnessed first hand how the complexity of theory of change of the solution does not match the complexity of the problem. Or how it could not be adjusted to the changing context of the problem. And therefore, it is very important to align these complexities prior to starting any projects.

Interestingly enough, there has been so many research and case studies on each of these elements that I mentioned. However, there is a lack of a comprehensive and holistic approach/framework to enhance the impact of cross-sector partnerships of civil society organizations. And that’s what I am trying to achieve with my research.

To that end, I have defined a wicked research model (consisting of 4 inter-related models) to investigate several variables and the relations among/within them.

In these podcast series, I will walk you through my research and these 4 inter-related models that I have developed. I will talk about the existing research based on which I developed these models and how my own experiences as a practitioner have shaped my research approach.

Of course my other experiences have also influenced my research, for instance, my graduate studies in gender and ethnicity at Utrecht University, has influenced me to add the element of Diversity and Inclusion in my research; as an example, in model 4 of my PhD, I investigate:

How and to what extent does the (type and form of) leadership (perhaps in combination with organizational structure) in CSOs influence their motives for initiating, forming, and participating in (Cross-Sector) Partnerships?

Investigating the answer to this question can unveil whether there is a correlation between diversity and partnership. For example, would having more female employees at the decision-making level lead to more (effective and efficient) cross-sector partnerships?

Moreover, this question can answer whether the type of organizational structure influences the possible forms of leadership and considerations for inclusion and diversity. For instance, would promotion of employees with ethnic-minority background to higher decision-making positions be facilitated or hindered by flat organizational structure?

My undergraduate studies, at University College Utrecht – which is a liberal arts and sciences college – has trained me to take a multi, intra and cross-disciplinary approach to my research and I am borrowing theoretical frameworks from philosophy, sociology, psychology to just name a few. For instance, as stated in my research proposal, the outcome of my research is deconstructing (Derrida, 1967) a process from an idealist thinking style to a synthesist thinking style. In this process, the way of perceiving a solution to a problem moves from a dilemma (a choice between solutions) to a trade-off (striking a balance between two options); to a puzzle (in search for an optimum); and to a paradox (search for a new combination). If these terms do not sound familiar to you, don’t worry at all – in the upcoming episodes I explain each of them for you.

Each of my other studies and learning experiences have influenced my research in their own way, from my degree in applied mathematics in computer sciences to change management to strategic problem solving. I get to these experiences in the upcoming episodes as well.

Through this research, I introduce new ways of developing cross-sector partnerships based on already existing data and research from across sectors which would accelerate the collective progress towards achieving Agenda 2030. I aim at writing a manual, a self-help book, for Civil Society Organizations (and by extension their donors and private sector partners) to take on board for developing their cross-sector partnerships to play their active role in their yet-to-become-balanced society.

Beside sharing different elements of my research with you, at the beginning of every episode, I will read and talk about the original text of Sustainable Development Goals, as it was written and published in 2015 by the United Nations under the leadership of His Excellency Ban Ki-moon. I chose to add this reading to my podcast because in my conversations with many individuals who are quite passionate about SDGs, I realized they have never read the actual text, and their knowledge is limited to the infographics that they have seen about specific SDGs.

As you may have noticed, I mentioned that I am a part-time PhD candidate. It means that beside my research, I have other engagements. One of them is running my own consultancy as a Nexus Strategist where I combine Harmony and Progress to bring about Positive Impact. I developed this concept because I have a vision – call it a dream if you will.

And that dream is that I want to live in a world with true personal freedom of choice, equality of opportunity and the ability for people to thrive, which is balanced with a personal responsibility to contribute to the collective good.

I believe this world is possible by taking an integrated nexus approach to challenges and opportunities. This approach needs to focus both on individual components as well as the inter-relatedness and inter-dependencies of the entire system. Only in this way we can reduce trade offs and create and hence leverage synergies.

That’s why through Nexus Strategies, I bring (back) balance and harmony to the context in which we operate and apply change leadership to build a coalition of unlikely allies to collectively develop a pragmatic strategy.

This research and any other activity that I undertake is linked to the dream I shared with you. And I believe we can measure the impact of our dreams, directly or indirectly. And if we can measure it, we can scale it.

What was the scaling moment of this episode for you?

Did you hear about something that IMPACTED your understanding of what IMPACT really means?

I hope you gained a deeper insight into the complexity of impact measurement and impact scale up. Also learned something about the importance of cross-sector partnerships to accelerate the progress towards achieving sustainable development goals.

Want to hear more?
Sign up for my thematic newsletters to get notified about each episode and more. You can do this by going to my website: somayedehban.com/newsletters

Until the next partnering – bedrood.