Establishing a Measurement System for Organizational Self-Reliance

Organizations in the Journey to Self-Reliance

By Asaad Taha, Ph.D., PRINCE2®, MSP®

Self-reliance is a cornerstone of the United States’ culture and self-conception. The nation’s founders were avid advocates of Britain’s Adam Smith, France’s Jean Jacques Rousseau, and other contemporary liberal thinkers. Smith dared to free people from feudal binds asserting their rights to own property, pass it on, and act in their self-interest. Rousseau asserted the values of nature as the model of self-sufficiency. Washington, Jefferson, and Adams — farmers themselves — repeatedly praised the character of self-reliance.

The 18h-century American colonies were 150 years into their history as an experiment heavily dependent on agrarian disciplines, a nation born of whole cloth proud and confident in its ability to pull itself up by the bootstraps, take on all comers, and present itself as a model for global interests. Theodore Roosevelt would famously say, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

Service members, spouses, families receive U.S. citizenship on Andersen
Newly naturalized U.S. citizens place their right hands over their heart as they recite the Pledge of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony Nov. 23, 2016, on Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. A naturalization ceremony is the culmination serves of extensive application procedures, background investigations and successful completion of a citizenship test. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Benjamin Gonsier)

Presidents, thereafter, have invoked the U.S. origins to assert the nation’s power and primacy by taking a high moral road:

  • Ronald Reagan: Ronald Reagan spoke of the Shining City upon the Hill, “In my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”
  • John F. Kennedy: President Kennedy said, “Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us — and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, State, and local, must be as a city upon a hill — constructed and inhabited by men aware of their grave trust and their great responsibilities.”
  • George H. W. Bush: Throughout his campaign and presidency, President Bush spoke of the City on the Hill, shining so brightly it became “a thousand points of light.”
  • George W. Bush: The younger President Bush drove his war against terrorism, saying, “America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world.”

These sentiments reiterate a core American self-perception. Whether or not a citizen has ever farmed a field or swung an ax to fell a tree, they believe in their distinctive character, independent of the constrictive mores of the worlds they fled or repudiated. They consider their experience unique and destined for exceptional merit. It follows they feel morally and historically accountable for spreading the character of self-reliance. So, they believe the world can and should follow their lead.

President Kennedy articulated this mission at the launch of USAID: “There is no escaping our obligations: our moral obligations as a wise leader and good neighbor in the interdependent community of free nations — our economic obligations as the wealthiest people in a world of largely poor people, as a nation no longer dependent upon the loans from abroad that once helped us develop our own economy — and our political obligations as the single largest counter to the adversaries of freedom” (Ellis, 2019)

But, under the direction of President Donald J. Trump, USAID has taken a transactional approach, restructuring “its policies, strategies, and program practices to improve how it supports each country on the Journey to Self-Reliance — or to put it another way, a country’s capacity to plan, finance, and implement solutions to local development changes, and a commitment to see these through effectively, inclusively, and with accountability” (The Self-Reliance Metrics & Country Roadmaps, 2019). The Trump quid pro quo understanding of “America First” seeks “to reduce foreign aid by up to 37 percent, and there are reports that some officials in the administration are seeking to merge USAID with the State Department” (Ferrerello, 2017).

USAID’s new Policy Framework reads, “As we help others on their Journeys to Self-Reliance, we also advance U.S. national security and prosperity. U.S. foreign assistance complements America’s defense and diplomacy. Our work to foster self-reliance is an essential tool to safeguard U.S. national security. These programs curb threats at their source, bolster our economic opportunities and commercial ties, advance liberty, and democracy extend U.S. influence and ensure we stand with those in need when disaster strikes” (USAID Policy Framework: ending the need for foreign assistance, 2019).

The relationship between the State Department and USAID “may have reached a nadir with State Department delaying funding to USAID field missions, [Office of Foreign Assistance Resource] micromanaging USAID budget and programs, and a collapse in the joint exercise at State-USAID structural redesign” (Ingram, 2018). For example, USAID 2017 data showed support in Burma, resulting in the first civilian-led government since 1962;” assistance to those in Ukraine “whose efforts give voice to citizens and increase their influence on the political process … to rally to support peaceful protests, push for reforms, and inform the public;” and aid to Ethiopia “where local officials were able to respond quickly and early to mitigate the effects of the 2015–2016 El Niño drought, avoiding widespread food insecurity” (USAID Key Accomplishments, 2017).[1]

This shift in sensibility requires receiving states, organizations, and agencies to meet and match the USAID criteria. And, it, unfortunately, reconfirms the view of some that “USAID has been a taxpayer-supported program for neocolonial exploiters requiring long-term protection at public expense” (Ellis, 2019).

USAID and its leadership avow The Journey to Self-Reliance will benefit global partners, national security interests, and American taxpayers. USAID acknowledges the need to tailor its partnerships with the strengths and challenges of individual cultures. However, “While America’s aid programme is the world’s largest, it is far from the world’s most respected. Only about 5% of America’s aid flows meet internationally agreed best practice standards around the use of recipient country budget, audit and procurement systems” (Why America’s overseas aid agency needs reform, 2017).

However, the metrics suggested by USAID only measure self-reliance at the nation-state level. They do not have any metrics for stakeholder organizations. To design achievable and effective metrics, our position affirms the architectural value of three pillars indicative of self-reliance: organizational resilience, enabling bureaucracy, and agility. This whitepaper argues how we want (1) to help translate USAID’s self-reliance metric from an abstract concept to a measurable and tangible concept, a best practice at organizational levels: health systems, institutions, civic services, and public services and (2) to bridge the gap between the country and individual levels.

America’s emphasis on individual self-reliance dates to the teachings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. He valued personal independence, “the ability to think and act without the help or influence of others, the ability to decide what you should be or do.” It follows, then, “Dependency is the act of relying on others to make decisions for an individual. This causes people with the power and privilege to take responsibility for the lives of those that are less fortunate. Dependent people learn to rely on others, failing to find the motivation to solve problems on their own” (Why America’s overseas aid agency needs reform, 2017).

Dependence is a learned behavior that must be reversed before an individual can become self-reliant. “Self-reliance is a key component in any strategy aimed at avoiding protracted [consulting dependency] situations and is central to building durable solutions” (Handbook for Self-reliance, 2005). And, as Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, said, “We know that we must move beyond the traditional humanitarian assistance model of just providing assistance. We need to move beyond just saving lives to being in the business of changing lives” (qtd. in Green, 2016).

The innovative work at S4F.Solutions™ will bridge the gap between self-reliance at the state level and individual level. We empower, enable, and energize a middle level of the self-reliant‎ chain with a framework to selectively process humanitarian resources making organizations, agencies, and systems self-reliant. This is a missing component of the self-reliance chain, the bridge between the state and an individual’s self-reliance.

Understanding the journey’s milestones

Through several changes in administration, the U.S. leadership Commitment has continued a move to link its financial aid to assisting nation-states progressing toward self-reliance. It wants evidence of alignment between the country’s laws, policies, actions, and informal governance mechanisms with those of the United States. USAID seeks to align contributions in size and form with a country’s ability to manage its own development journey.

“To end the need for foreign assistance, we must focus on building self-reliance — defined as the ability of a country, including the government, civil society, and the private sector, to plan, finance, and implement solutions to solve its own development challenges. This approach must be the cornerstone for how we orient USAID country partnerships” (The Self-Reliance Metrics & Country Roadmaps, 2019). Legacy approaches to the same issues have relied on horizontal linearity, a stiff and static supply chain concept of deliverables. Therefore, they tend to focus on efficiencies more than results.

To this purpose, USAID has listed metrics recording the progress and results toward a commitment to and the capacity for self-reliance (The Journey to Self-Reliance: Transformation at USAID, 2019):

  • “Commitment” referred to “How well a country’s laws, policies, actions, and informal governance mechanisms — such as cultures and norms — support progress towards self-reliance.”
  • “Capacity” included measures of “How far the country has come in its journey across the dimensions of political, social, and economic development, including the ability to work across these sectors.”
  • Individual metrics have been only slightly modified or replaced for the 2020 release (Country Roadmaps: What’s different? 2019).

Understanding the journey’s needs

Our position is built upon three pillars of the self-reliant organization: Organizational Resilience, Enabling Bureaucracy, and Agile Thinking. As currently configured, USAID’s The Journey to Self-Reliance is missing some integral components of self-reliance concepts, the bridge between the country and individual self-reliance, which is the organizational‎ level.

Figure 1. Organizational Self-reliance Three Pillars: Resilience, Enabling Bureaucracy, and Agile Thinking, ©2019 S4F.Solutions™

These Pillars support potential on the part of organizations, intermediaries, and individuals. They enable and empower engaged stakeholders to realize achievables with full Value for Money. Still, they avoid the self-destructive aspects of personal and institutional self-interest while fulfilling dimensions with metrics and key indicators.

Pillar 1 ‎Organizational Resilience

Figure 2. Pillar 1 ‎Organizational Resilience, ©2019 S4F.Solutions™

According to BSI, “Organizations that are resilient behave in a very specific way and have long understood what this means to their long-term success. They take a proactive approach to governing themselves and have pinpointed the importance of being fore-warned” (Hayes, 2014).

These internationally valued standards are used in the assessment of large organizations and businesses, including the largest aid organizations. However, the concept of self-reliance also pursues “related concepts like self-help, mutual-help, indigenous participation and rural development” (Fonchingong & Fonjong, 2003). Some assume, “If these institutions are strengthened by the state and made more democratic, they can play a greater role in planning for local and regional development” (Fonchingong & Fonjong, 2003, p. 216).

Making such theory actionable challenges organizational oversight on local, national, and international levels. Organizational Resilience is necessary to achieve the social impact expectations of grantors and grantees, a key to safeguarding the Value for Money of donors, implementers, and beneficiaries. Most resilient organizations anticipate and respond to threats and opportunities, whether internal or external environmental factors change gradually or suddenly.

Enhancing organizational resilience is an invaluable strategic goal, the result of best business practices and proactive risk management. Despite the potential rewards of becoming more resilient, “organizations struggle to prioritize resilience and to link resilience to emergencies and crises with the ability to operate effectively, efficiently, and competitively during business as usual” (Lee, Vargo, & Seville, 2013). S4F.Soluions™ is prepared to assess and monitor these metrics with innovative use and integration of new and proven frameworks supporting self-reliance.

Pillar 2: Enabling Bureaucracy

Figure 3. Pillar 2: Enabling Bureaucracy, ©2019 S4F.Solutions™

Bureaucracies are administrative systems arranged to produce outcomes. They are characterized by the hierarchical management of people and processes to actualize specific results. Inevitably, they seek to sustain their existence out of necessity or self-interest.

All functioning organizations hang on bureaucratic skeletons. They may be strategically engineered. They may be accidental and unintended. And, they may be coercive or enabling, broadly identified in terms of how formalization affects organization members and beneficiaries.

S4F.Solutions™ offers assessments of organizational bureaucracy, encouraging exploration, engaging accountability, and empowering positive psychology.

Pillar 3 Agile Enterprise

Figure 4. Pillar 3 Agile Enterprise, ©2019 S4F.Solutions™

“Agile” suggests potential energy ready to move nimbly and quickly around barriers. Agile capabilities excel in moving when there is no formal procedure, rule, or regulation fitting the need. Agile Thinking marks a paradigm shift in how stakeholders think. It asks them to move their focus from structure, process, and strategy to a liberating openness.

This represents a challenging and comprehensive cultural change. “This is because adopting Agile is not a matter of learning skills or understanding a procedure, it is about adopting a set of values and principles that require a change in people’s behavior and the culture of an organization” (Moreira, 2013).

To novices, Agile work is characterized by fluidity, dynamism, and energy. As viewpoints come and go, they create a footprint of circles and feedback loops. Meetings are dominated by sticky notes and markers instead of spreadsheets and Gantt charts.

Instead, it promotes the circular convergence and divergence of views and prototypes, setting in motion a perpetual continuous integration, delivery, and testing philosophy. Agile remains holistic as it explores a positive attitude and a thirst for knowledge in a culture valuing team success. So, S4F.Solutions™ utilizes Agile methodologies and principles in building self-reliance.

Measuring the performance and promise

S4F.Solutions™ offers proprietary tools, training, testing, and framework strategies to help organizations understand to what extent they promote or undermine innovation, performance, delivery, and prosperity. It offers best practices to identify organizational complexity, weakness, strength, and necessary courses of action to achieve self-reliance.

  • We developed metrics and methodologies to meet emerging needs for strengthening organizations with resilience and agility for a shift to enabling bureaucracy. Reliable and valid measurement and benchmarking of the three pillars provide a better look at where the organization is versus where it wants to be.
  • We created a comprehensive and dynamic framework to integrate results measured as improved capabilities, increased benefits, and evidence-based social impact with the inventory of contributing resources. That integration occurs through a metabolic operation converting resources while extracting values.
  • We created an action plan that accurately tracks implementation. The process helps our partners simplify the collection, analysis, and use of data to interpret findings to accelerate improvement. The assessment streamlines measurement, analysis process, and easy sense-making to improve visualization and engage executives by giving them ownership of the tools that promote change and sustainability.
Figure 5. S4F Framework, ©2019 S4F.Solutions™

S4F.Solutions™ invests in issue-based, evidence-based, and systems thinking behaviors. It provides a perspective to view, monitor, measure, value, and sustain work, helping organizations reach self-reliance. We offer means, methods, and metrics to scale and sustain goals fit for purpose, fit to use, fit to context, and fit in time.

Figure 6. Organizational Self-Reliance Dimensions & Sub-dimensions, ©2019 S4F.Solutions™

S4F.Solutions™ brings education and experience from the highest executive suites to the trenches in crisis. Our education in management theory, design/systems/agile thinking, and human development has been tested in and adapted to field delivery in first-hand action in local, state, and global initiatives. And, this has left us passionately resolved to expedite, safeguard, and inspire where systems have and continue to fail.

We offer our services confident we have shown here how S4F.Solutions™ is positioned to help translate USAID’s self-reliance metric from an abstract concept to a measurable and tangible concept, a best practice at organizational levels: health systems, institutions, civic services, and public services and to bridge the gap between the country and individual levels self-reliance concepts.

Asaad Taha, Ph.D., PRINCE2®, MSP®

Senior Managing Partner @S4F.Solutions™

Asaad Taha is a leading Social Impact Entrepreneur and Senior Principal Adviser with multi-sectoral expertise on the continuum of social impact programs — from the strategic level to frontline delivery.

In-the-trenches experiences have built his reputation in Agile, Design, and Systems thinking. He continues to design, develop, and deliver results-based portfolios to monitor and manage donor and government-funded programs.

Asaad’s record includes working engagement with national and global agencies, institutions, international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community-based (CBOs) and faith-based organizations (FBOs), as well as the DFID, USAID, GFATM, USDoS, and more.

Asaad Taha is an Arabic/English bi-lingual consultant, speaker, and thought leader in Social Impact strategy, systems design, and delivery solutions.


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[1] USAID’s vision, mission, and metrics are available through and

A Social Entrepreneur | Futurist|Principal Advisor @ S4F™ Solutions™

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