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How ICA Works: 4d

ICA demonstrates its values

ICA demonstrates its values and keeps them alive as a learning organization


During the past 50+ years, ICA has undergone many transitions. While some have involved subtle changes, others have been much more obvious. ICA has changed its name and strategic endeavors. Particular programs have come and gone. It has moved from poverty level stipends to competitive salaries with all the implications that accompany professional staffing. It has moved from one location to branch offices connected to a central headquarters and then again to autonomous organizations in different nations working together as partners within a global federation. Throughout this incredible journey, a number of essential core values and practices have been maintained to render a distinctive ICA character that still endures. This is a story of continuity and change.


Though the specifics are unpredictable, unforeseen changes are most assuredly in store. Entrusted to new generations of ICA leadership is a cyclical process, a rich history, and legacy. It is the charge to each generation, as it was for their predecessors, to maintain the “essence” of the organization while giving new shape and form to the particulars. Some key disciplines have enabled this to happen in the past and should continue to serve ICA well as it moves into the future.


Central to these disciplines is ICA’s commitment to be a learning organization. A learning organization is the term given to any enterprise, be it commercial or non-profit, which facilitates reflections and new insights among its members and continuously transforms itself. Learning organizations develop as a result of the pressures facing modern organizations while finding ways to remain effective, competitive, and true to itself. Below are particular and important practices that have kept ICA on a vibrant journey as a learning organization.


First, ICA is clear about its mission and keeps it before itself in all that it does. Practically, this means rehearsing its purpose and values perpetually. Most importantly, this activity involves all ICA stakeholders, not just senior leadership. This is accomplished not only during meetings but in the decor, stories, rituals, etc., that surround its entire operation.


Second, ICA builds upon this rehearsal by regularly reflecting upon its work. In the context of the mission, this involves lively discussions that examine and evaluate the purpose of programs — what’s working or not and ways to improve. It also pushes edge thinking on the next big thing.


Third, ICA holds itself accountable. Are we living our values, are we walking our talk? It encourages self-examination and provides an environment for frank appraisal. For an alignment of values with ongoing practices is the primary means for realizing genuine organizational integrity.


Fourth, ICA is always ready to transform itself. It is courageous and unafraid to grow and change. These, however, are never undertaken casually or in response to the trendy and fashionable. Change at ICA is governed by an unwavering commitment to its values and mission and a careful consideration of lessons learned from serious reflection upon its work.


Resources for continuing the conversation:

  •  “Peter Senge and the learning organization” by Mark K. Smith, 2001; retrieved on May 5, 2015 from (see annex).
  • “Wonder And Affirmation In Discovery And Transformation: A Case Study Of The Institute Of Cultural Affairs” by Suresh Srivastva, David Cooperrider, Tojo Thachankery, and Xiaoping Tian, Case Western Reserve University Department of Organizational Behavior, November 1989 (see annex).
  • “A Global Strategy for Human Development: the Work of the Institute Of Cultural Affairs” by Stuart Umpleby and Alisa Oyler in Systems Research and Behavioral Science, Vol. 24, No. 6, 2007 (annex).
  • “From Mission to Profession: A Narrative of the Institute of Cultural Affairs” by Hans Hedlund in Ethnographic Practice And Public Aid: Methods and Meanings in Development Cooperation, Hagberg, S., and Widmark, C. (eds), Uppsala University, 2009 (see annex).