3 Questions

Jan Rotmans

Jan Rotmans, Professor of Transitions and Transition Management, stirred our minds by sharing his vision about the transition our society is currently going through. He argues that we are in a change of eras comparable to the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. Jan believes that  we are moving towards Society 3.0: decentralised, bottom-up, flexible and with small networks instead of a society dominated by bureaucracy and large companies.  We asked Jan what these changes will mean for organisations and individuals in the development sector.


Simavi reached its 90th anniversary. What do you think about the changes we have made over the years?

“In transition terms, Simavi is a niche player in the development field because you are a relatively small size and a flexible organisation. Simavi is absolutely a front-runner with the transition process you have already been going through. This has resulted in a new mission, vision and strategy with a clear goal: improve the health of 10 million people by 2020.”


How should development organisations, such as Simavi, deal with the changes our society is going through?

“Each and every organisation – whether it’s in development cooperation or not – needs to transform and reinvent itself.  You have to build in flexibility in terms of people, competences and how you are organised. The more bureaucratic and top-down steered you are, the less chance you have of surviving as an organisation. The more agile or flexible you are – and the more competent your people are – the bigger the chance you will survive. A more modern process organisation in development aid is very horizontal, project driven, small and self-steering.

Organisations need to work on new modes of operation from their old business model. That is what I call the ‘shadow line’. It means you develop a second line with new projects, experiments and clients, as well as radical innovations that are entirely different from the basic (primary) product line or things you’ve always been doing. This is important because you need to overcome the thing you have always been doing for quite some time.

For example, look at the process development cooperation is going through. Instead of providing people with a well, the new paradigm is more bottom-up and cooperative:  how can we help people get funds for a well or help them build their own well?  It means moving towards a facilitating role, rather than a directing role.”


What implications do these changes have for the people involved?

“System transitions require organisational transitions to make your organisation more adjusted to a new era. But it also requires a personal transition. Many people that are part of this transition process fear they will lose their job, status or income. It is important not to fear the change that you’re part of. You need to go through your own individual transition: from being unconsciously incompetent to consciously competent, to unconsciously competent.

I believe that more NGOs will disappear in the next 10 years because they’re not equipped with the new requirements we put on development cooperation.  It won’t be the biggest organisations that will survive, not even the smartest ones, but the most flexible and agile ones. I have seen this happening in many other sectors: that’s why I call for development cooperation 3.0, which is more value-driven, cooperative and facilitating.”

Jan Rotman’s presentation about transformation in the development sector.



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