Navigation Menu

What ICA Is: 1c

Responce to Social Issues

ICA responds to critical social issues through viable programs


ICA stands in a tension and maintains a balance between two operational dimensions. One involves success as a functioning “institution” with a clear mission, effective programs, and sound management principles to ensure a continuity of service. The other concerns ICA’s intention to serve as a change agent and to inspire creativity and organized action by others. In its past, ICA has referred to the latter as “movement” building. These two aspects are inherently connected and cannot be separated if ICA is to remain true to its historical legacy. For the sake of clarifying roles and functions, this section, 1c, focuses on institutional matters while the next, 1d, focuses on ICA’s relationship to the work of others beyond itself.


Institutions are important. As legal entities, they preserve and maintain a historical presence in a way that movements cannot. Institutions are built to survive while movements pass away once a major contradiction has been addressed. Programs are the staple of institutions and they are adjusted and reinvented to achieve particular objectives over time. In doing so, institutions transfer values and wisdom from one generation to the next. The insights and contents of this handbook, for example, will soon disappear without an institutional vehicle to keep them alive. By their very nature, institutions are driven by concerns about financial viability. Failure to give adequate attention to fiscal management will bring the institution to its demise, and an end to its programs, regardless of their underlying value, when bills cannot be paid and payrolls go unmet.


While sound financial management is important, institutional security and self-perpetuation are not ICA’s driving purpose; social transformation and change are. Current assumptions about the structure and funding of nonprofit organizations, especially in the U.S., make achieving this purpose immensely difficult. Three principles have been helpful in maintaining managerial integrity in the context of ICA’s mission. One is to create and maintain the minimal institutional infrastructure necessary to support innovative programs and collaborative partnerships. A second is to start small with incremental organic growth occurring as opportunity and funding allow. Both are based on a fundamental insight, that form follows function. Too often there is an over eagerness to establish programs, structures, and positions before they have been justified, financially or otherwise.


A third helpful management principle has been to distinguish between “ICA inspired” and “ICA branded” strategies and to honor them both, but to not confuse them.

These principles guided the creation of “Accelerate 77” (a77), a program to strengthen the interaction and influence of bottom-up sustainability initiatives with top-down planning. Undertaking this program was risky and required an immense upfront investment of time and money. It involved innovative voluntary efforts, much of it by university students from ICA’s service-learning program. Had ICA waited for full funding before launching the program, a77 would never have happened.


Ensuring program quality is a high value for protecting a “brand” while widespread social impact is driven by an ability to “inspire” creativity and innovations among others. The “Technology of Participation (ToP) ®” is perhaps ICA’s most well known brand around the world. Other programs represent ICA brands as well. Determining and acting upon an appropriate balance between controlling ownership of these brands with an interest in widespread social change is the subject of the next section.


Resources for continuing the conversation:

  • Forces for Good: Six Practices of High Impact Non-Profits, by Leslie Crutchfield and Heather Grant.
  • “The Death of Hull House” by Daniel Flynn and Yunhe (Evelyn) Tian, The Nonprofit Quarterly (annex).
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, edited by Incite! Women of Color Against Violence; (related article in annex).