The big NOW re-structuring

The need

We started NOW out of pure enthusiasm in 2015. Officially instated as non-profit association in Switzerland in 2016, we never took the time to explore what would be the ideal set-up for this endeavour. We had lots of ideals of equality and inclusion, but not the experience of making such an organization work. Yet, we learned fast and managed a lot: between 2016 and 2018, we implemented two NOW Journeys, four Facilitathons, one edition of FLOW and one of UP and one Learning Facilitation Training. More than 130 people participated in one or more of our trainings. We also started consulting for other organizations on methodologies, measuring competences, as well as, social impact and diversity in learning programs. During all this time, we worked with two FTEs at most and with a growing group of amazing volunteers.

It’s not easy to create shared responsibility and make inclusive decisions at all times when some of your team members dedicate 2h/week and others 35h or more. Because of that, our staff ended up having a much better overview and was better prepared to come up with new ideas. As a result, it sometimes felt frustrating for the staff to explain things for volunteers that are obvious when you’re breathing NOW full-time. On the other hand, for the volunteers, it was sometimes hard to keep up with the pace and get both their tasks done (being a learning facilitator in one of the programs or helping with logistics for example) and stay up to date with the organization. Besides, at times our volunteers could not keep their commitment up because of other demands in their lives, creating a bigger workload for the staff.

These are just some of the growing pains that we experienced. At the same time, we also started feeling that we wanted to take this organization into different directions – without really knowing what these directions where. We needed help.

The process

The Mercator Foundation Switzerland was one of the first organizations to support NOW and they were also there for us in this challenging moment. With their support, we have been able to dedicate time and resources in 2018 to really explore what is going on. We hired Sibylle Stamm to help us explore the present and future of NOW through the lens of the agile methodology. With her help, we started understanding better why some tasks were done and others somehow never happened. Sibylle explained to us that – especially in a volunteer-driven organization – a key ingredient for anything that happens is “initiative”. This deep feeling inside a person that something needed to be done. An organizational structure needs to be built to embrace initiative and enable people to make things happen out of it.

An important turning point for us was when Sibylle lead us through a reflection on our personal purpose: where does each of us NOW team members want to steer our lives and what does that mean for NOW? We started being able to map out the different reasons we had to be part of NOW: from being part of a bigger community of changemakers to wanting to dedicate our professional lives to transforming the way people learn. And once we realized how these two needs were quite different from each other, we knew what needed to be done.

The result

It’s hard to think of a separation. Yet, once we realized it, it became quite obvious that this was the best way forward. Instead of one NOW, we head into the future with two NOWs. Whereas the NOW association is going back to the roots and is now fully powered by volunteers again, the Instituto NOW (based in Brazil) is taking the lead of the professional projects. NOW will focus on creating opportunities that connect NOWers across continents through different approaches but with a smaller scope, whereas the Instituto is taking the NOW methodology and is working on developing it further and scaling it through consulting and new technology.

Being separated also means it is much easier to understand what each side has to offer. We are already starting into a first collaboration this year with the implementation of a program connecting Switzerland to Brazil, starting July 2019.


Written by Rahel Aschwanden, General Manager of NOW between 2016 and 2018