Game-changing Leaders

Game-changing Leaders
Learning Brief

The Novalis Ubuntu Institute

Non-profit collaboration networks: an introduction to The Next Generation Community of Practice

Category: Game-changing Leaders | Secure the environment for young people to lead | 14 May, 2014 - 10:00


What is TGN Community of Practice?

The Next Generation (TNG) Community of Practice is a network of youth leadership development organizations located in the Western Cape province. It was formed in 2012 following the Leadership Development for Public Innovation Conference in which the need for improved collaboration between organisations in the leadership development sector was identified. TGN Community of Practice was officially launched on 1 April 2012.

Why was it started?

The Community of Practice was first conceived when the founding partners sat down together to discuss ways of improving collaboration in the field of youth leadership Development in the Western Cape. They began by discussing possible answers to two questions:

  1. What does it really take to pave the way for our next generation of leaders?
  2. How do we support them to take a stand and to confidently guide our country forward?

Who founded it?

Three founding organisations conceptualised the idea of a community of practice: TSiBA, Educo, and Novalis. The DGMT funded the initial formation of a community of practice that would attempt to facilitate and prototype a collaboration initiative in the province.

What is its goal?

TGN Community of Practice members believe that the goal for the youth leadership development sector is to contribute to South Africa’s future well being as a nation by developing a core of young people that are prepared to lead in a thoughtful, informed, collaborative way based on strong values of service to others. Member organizations of the Community of Practice aim to improve the quality of youth leadership development to this end.

TGN Community of Practice membership

The founding TNG members have each invited 5 other youth leadership development organisations to join the Community of Practice. This has helped to grow the membership base. Most members have their own networks outside of the formal Community of Practice meetings and they are encouraged to undertake “learning journeys” to more fully understand each other’s work.

What does it do?

Since its launch, TNG Community of Practice has hosted nine workshops, created a comprehensive members database, produced two research reports and two books, and implemented four prototype partnership projects.

As organization representatives get to know about each other’s work, they have begun to offer services to one another. They are starting to explore collaboration opportunities, including the sharing of resources where possible.

A unique aspect of TNG Community of Practice is the involvement of youth participants, and the intergenerational dialogue that has started to emerge between development organization leaders and the young beneficiaries.

A brief sketch of the Community of Practice activities

A leading representative from each interested organisation is granted an interview to ascertain how the community can collectively add value and increase understanding for all participating organisations in the community. This ensures that participating organization representatives have a say in the purpose and vision of the Community of Practice (A report of these interviews is available to interested parties upon request. Title: “Findings of the Stakeholder Interviews”).

Initial findings from the interview analysis promoted the formation of the first cooperation activities. This involved 25 NGOs participating in video, playback theatre, and world café sessions, as well as in processes of “co-initiating” and “co-sensing”.

The co-initiating phase involved the founding organization members. The appointed project co-ordinator met with the core organization representatives and young leaders to decide their common intent for the Community of Practice. This stage involved deep listening and dialogue interviews. Everyone agreed that more collaboration was needed, and the youth participants were clear that there needed to be exposure, inclusivity and partnerships. But all were also uncertain as to how this should happen. The founding members signed an initial Memorandum of Understanding to support the process going forward and more organisations were invited to join.

The co-sensing phase began with the co-ordinator conducting a one-on-one interview with each potential TNG member to discover what would really add value in a community of practice based on youth leadership development. Most people interviewed were inspired by an opportunity to explore a common passion for something positive and enduring where there is a shared vision and energy for action. There is confidence in the abilities of the youth and a deep desire to work in partnership with them.

Embracing youth partnership. Youth members are not merely the recipients of programmes but are active partners who bring information, knowledge, insight, understanding and wisdom to the field of youth leadership development. TGN Community of Practice embraces youth partnership and collaborative engagement.

What are the challenges facing TGN Community of Practice?

The main challenge is that although many excellent interventions are to be found in the field of youth leadership development they tend to be unconnected to each other. There is little opportunity to share what is happening in this field in a co-ordinated way with a spirit of co-operation and mutual support.

From the beginning, TNG Community of Practice has lacked a clear visionary purpose. The diverse set of participants, representing a variety of organizations, all have differing expectations of the desired outcomes. In this context it is difficult to prioritise everyone’s interests and needs in a democratic and representative manner. We have realised the need to crystallise a common purpose and identify strategic steps to take next. The whole community has agreed to become collectively responsible for the Community of Practice’s focus going forward, instead of relying on the founding members to come up with all the plans.

TNG Community of Practice members identified four specific areas of focus that it is working towards:

  1. Individual development of members,
  2. Organisational development of participating organisations,
  3. Youth leadership sector development,
  4. Community of practice development.

A final challenge involves leadership. When the appointed coordinator is away the Community of Practice lacks direction, and activities stall momentarily. We are addressing this issue and seeking solutions.


The Next Generation Community of Practice was built on the principles underlying Theory U, which states that the first challenge is to uncover common ground by listening to many voices from many different perspectives. To do this we created a listening platform, we encouraged discussion, and we set forth an open-ended agenda for the network. This meant having a picture of the future that was intentionally incomplete. There needs to be lots of blank space so that others can add their voices and participate. This shifts the power dynamics from ownership to belonging and everyone being able to see their part in the whole.

Building a Community of Practice takes time. Upon reflection, it could have been useful to have a narrower purpose from the outset, and to include fewer stakeholders at the initial stages of development. However, doing so ran the risk of undermining the formation of an inclusive community. Overall, TGN Community of Practice has allowed the forging of new, lasting relationships; generated a sense of greater understanding about players in the youth leadership sector; and opened doors for new collaborative projects amongst its members. We regard this as a success.

39 Rosmead Avenue, Wynberg, Cape Town

 (021) 797 1857

In Short

This brief introduces TNG Community of Practice as an exciting, new network of youth leadership development organizations located in the Western Cape. If you are interested in joining this Community of Practice, or in starting your own such network, this learning brief is for you.

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