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Workshopping an Organizational Exit: highlights from WaterSHED’s NGO learning event

On May 20, 2021 WaterSHED teams conducted a Khmer-language learning event for NGOs working in diverse sectors in Cambodia, ‘Aiming for the exit: learnings​ ​from WaterSHED’s decade of market systems work’.

In most sectors, NGOs are rewarded for widely publicizing individual organizations’ success. In a recent learning event, WaterSHED encouraged peer organizations across diverse sectors in Cambodia to consider the opposite: what if we defined success as the sustainability of our organization’s impact rather than isolated successes of the organization? 

WaterSHED Executive Director Sovattha opened the event with a presentation on WaterSHED’s strategy over a decade followed by three breakout sessions on different aspects of our systems-strengthening work: 1) Research and M&E, 2) Programs, 3) Executive Strategy. 

For many participants, the specific approach to government engagement in WaterSHED’s strategy was especially compelling. One participant in the Programs Breakout commented that “WaterSHED’s relationship with the government at the national level is so bold – especially for a local NGO! It is smart that WaterSHED aligned its targets with the targets of government departments so that your success was the success of the government.”

More broadly, each breakout asked participants: If your organization would not exist tomorrow, who would need to do what? What questions do you need to ask to ensure a sustainable legacy of work?

“Learning events like this are important. Many of the participants were eager to stay longer – some even using their personal time to join the discussion. Many were familiar with exiting a project, but no one had ever heard of an NGO exit, “ said Sovattha. 

“Many told us that WaterSHED showed them something they had never seen before, an NGO – let alone a small, local NGO – facilitating government ownership of sustainable programs. This event was also special because it was a chance for NGOs to speak openly about the challenges in organizational strategy and stakeholder relationships they face. Even for us at WaterSHED, we all took away important lessons.”

A recording of presentations can be found below:

 Due to technical difficulties, the research breakout session was not recorded. Their PowerPoint presentation can be found here.