Managing for Change: Leadership, strategy and management in Asian NGOs by Ian Smillie and John Hailey

Managing for Change is an insightful comparative study of how voluntary organizations provide the ‘cutting edge’ of social change in the resource-crunched, unstable and complex political and financial environment of South Asia. It is a product of the NGO Management Research Programme conceptualized and directed by the Aga Khan Foundation Canada.

In just about 200 pages, the book explores and to a degree measures how some of the most successful NGOs are managed in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It profiles, in management terms, the factors that have enabled these organizations to rise above others in the same field.

The book’s eight chapters take the reader through experiences in managing the external environment, systems of organizational culture, learning, strategy, governance and leadership. The chapter on ‘strategy’ is of particular interest and relevance in South Asia considering the often random, reactive and unfocused methods with which NGOs operate. The lesson drawn is at once universal and practical: ‘No matter where a strategy originated – with the chief executive, a donor or in the suggestion of a field worker – participatory processes are needed and are widely used in order to build consensus and institutional support.’

Representing a synthesis of nine case studies, Managing for Change is an enquiry into ‘successful management’ and the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of organizational success. It would have been even more useful if it had included a few ‘not-so-successful’ cases and discussed the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of their failure/mediocrity.

The work also deals with issues of power, participation, hierarchy and governance, probing the evolution of these concepts over time, as the case study NGOs grow from small groups of ‘like-minded friends’ into large institutions influencing government policy change and operating in scores of villages.

The book has an easy, free-flowing style, devoid of technical jargon. It does not provide a standard or magic formula for success, but it surely draws out the main ingredients that go into making NGOs successful. Anyone who reads this book will emerge inspired and motivated – and this is the object with which I think this book has been written and published.

Noshir H Dadrawala is Executive Secretary of the Centre for Advancement of Philanthropy, Mumbai, India. He can be contacted by email at

Managing for Change: Leadership, strategy and management in Asian NGOs
Ian Smillie and John Hailey
Earthscan  £16.95

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