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The Constellation is a Starfish organization

I sit in a packed train from Brussels to Amsterdam passing by snow covered villages in the beautiful Belgian countryside. I am reflecting about a very intense week and pondering how to summarize this in one blog.

It started with two days of reflective action with our multinational Core Facilitation Team (CFT) in Brussels about our ‘business models for the future’. Phil Forth tossed the most important word of the two days: FRACTAL. Like a snowflake consists of all similar snowflake structures, we realize that we are a fractal organization where new member organizations (RDC, Bel, PNG, India, Kenya-Competence etc) become fractals of our own Core Facilitation Team in Chiang Mai. Core functions will be the same which also allows great opportunities for mutual capacity building through peer assists. What the CFT learned the last four years will be useful for them. The global CFT functions can even be transferred to other members in a later stage. Suddenly, I have to leave behind the models I learned at University or earlier jobs. In the latest business literature, we are considered a ‘Starfish’ organization. The goal remains: structure follows function and not the other way around. Not obvious for NGOs and the UN as I experienced later that week.

The next two days I spent in Geneva. Great discussions with different institutions both UN and non-UN. I won’t go much into the content of the meetings and the very positive outcomes, but once again the importance of innovative and creative leadership became clear. It also strikes me how often function still follows structure for some institutions which limits innovation and creativity.

Thursday evening it’s time for Transfer in my own context. I am invited at the Rotary club of my father to speak about the Constellation and our work. My parents are in the room and 2 minutes before the start I choose to forget my Powerpoint and just start talking. Passionate words flow from my mouth with illustrated stories from around the world. The 30 men are blown away after 25 minutes and cannot stop asking questions. The local mayor tells me:” My community here would find it very difficult to discuss such topics openly with each other”. Afterwards he mentions that it would be interested to apply it to youth and crime. Another successful business man tells me his nephew died of AIDS a few week ago and everybody told him: “he was just sick”, while whispering afterwards in his ear: “he had AIDS”. So is my own home province AIDS Competent? No, far from that. They could learn a lot from a settlement in Papua New Guinea or Kithituni in Kenya.

The Rotary club will finance a pilot to connect Indian and Kenyan communities via video-conferencing to share local responses to common challenges. The Rotary members are invited to attend the video conference, share, learn and apply in their own context. I turn the world map on my desktop 180 degrees and suddenly the North becomes the South. I agree with Marlou: It’s just how you look at it. I smile and continue my beautiful train journey.

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Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on January 20, 2009 at 6:56pm
Hi Gaston and Lau,

Loved the association of Constellation with a starfish. Kind of cute as Usa said. Thanks for the in-depth analysis and reflections. I always learn a lot from both of you.

What you said about members from the Rotary club taking a lesson or two from communities in PNG is so true. I have seen a stronger community feeling among tiny villages in Nagaland or Karnataka than their counterparts in a cosmopolitan like Mumbai. While on a SALT visit to a quaint village in Nagaland, I came across a very powerful experience of community strength. Nagaland is a remote state in the Northeastern part of India. Schools had been facing the problem of absenteeism of teachers for a long time. The government finally handed over responsiblity of salaries and appraisal of teachers to the the village communities. Suddenly there was a total turnaround with teachers reporting regulary. This experiment was a huge success and government is planning to apply this concept in Primary health centres. A new term has been coined for this process, Communitization.

Looking forward to more stories,


PS: Lau, thanks for the mindful hug.
Comment by Usa Duongsaa on January 19, 2009 at 11:38am
Many thanks Gaston for sharing and Laurence for clarifying the concepts of the starfish and the spider. Very interesting. I'm smiling at the thought of calling ourselves the Starfish for AIDS Competence. Sounds kind of cute and friendly. And much easier to translate into Thai than the Constellation :-)

Comment by Onesmus Mutuku on January 19, 2009 at 11:14am
We have many of the spiders and spiders webs here in Kithituni. Their webs matches what we have have seen communities describe for year (Community to community transfer of vision and hope).The star fish is awesome though!
Comment by rebeka sultana on January 16, 2009 at 3:30pm
Gaston,Thanks for sharing your reflection. Laurence thank you too for putting this paragraph, I did not know about spider and starfish. Yeah,its a simple platform for communiction and sharing. I am happy to be a part of the Starfish!
Comment by Jean-Louis Lamboray on January 14, 2009 at 10:23am
The amazing thing is that we got to that design intuitively. It makes me think of Mr Jourdain in Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme who is all in awe when he learned that he was speaking in prose!
Comment by Laurence Gilliot on January 14, 2009 at 10:10am
Thanks for sharing all our reflections! I would like to add the quote that you send to us the other day. It comes from the book "The Starfish and the Spider".

One thing that business, institutions, governments and key individuals will have to realize is spiders and starfish may look alike, but starfish have a miraculous quality to them. Cut off the leg of a spider, and you have a seven-legged creature on your hands; cut off its head and you have a dead spider. But cut off the arm of a starfish and it will grow a new one. Not only that, but the severed arm can grow an entirely new body. Starfish can achieve this feat because, unlike spiders, they are decentralized; every major organ is replicated across each arm.

But starfish don't just exist in the animal kingdom. Starfish organizations are taking society and the business world by storm, and are changing the rules of strategy and competition. Like starfish in the sea, starfish organizations are organized on very different principles than we are used to seeing in traditional organizations. Spider organizations are centralized and have clear organs and structure. You know who is in charge. You see them coming.

Starfish organizations, on the other hand, are based on completely different principles. They tend to organize around a shared ideology or a simple platform for communication

Read the inspiring summary here:

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