Established by the World Bank in 1999, the Global Development Network (GDN) is a leading international organization dedicated to helping researchers and research institutions in developing countries generate, disseminate and apply high-quality, policy-oriented social science research to support economic and social development.
With offices in Cairo, New Delhi and Washington, D.C., GDN had a strong track-record of accomplishments, but it faced major challenges. Significant changes had taken place in the development research landscape. GDN saw an urgent need to diversify its sources of funding and ensure core funding sustainability. Yet its geographically dispersed board, composed primarily of distinguished academics, was not sufficiently engaged in strategically guiding the organization and ensuring its longer-term financial health. Against this backdrop, GDN decided to undertake an informed external review of its governance.
AKA was retained to review the role, structure and focus of the Board and suggest ways in which it could be better aligned with GDN’s evolving mission, vision, program focus and core business model, and to help strengthen GDN’s funding base.
AKA conducted an internal assessment through confidential interviews with individual Board members, key staff members and informed external observers and an analytic overview of best governance practices in similar organizations. Together, four key steps were identified to strengthen Board governance:
- Board members wished to re-affirm an active role in helping to shape GDN’s research agenda, its strategy for disseminating its research products, and its approach to connecting research findings to policy;
- The Board needed better information to fulfill its responsibilities to oversee GDN’s financial planning and stability (i.e., insisting on clear financial planning, budgeting and accounting; approving the annual budget in the context of a financial plan; tracking actual financial performance and the like);
- The Board could play a significant role in elevating the profile of GDN, its regional institutions and GDN-supported scholars, possibly with the addition of public Board members; and
- New metrics were needed to help regularly and analytically evaluate the performance of GDN in fulfilling its mission and achieving its strategic goals.
Specific initiatives were designed to implement each of these recommendations and thus strengthen the ability of the organization to achieve its goals.
In addition, AKA helped GDN to establish a Washington, D.C. office, recruit the first Executive Director of the office and build a strong foundation for its first U.S. fundraising initiatives.
AKA helped GDN to restructure its global governance, including instituting clearer Board roles and responsibilities and a new Board committee structure, and making provisions for regular self-evaluation of the Board as a whole and of individual Board members. The Board is now implementing a plan based on these recommendations.