This year, the African Development Bank observes its 50th anniversary. Everyone loves a good party, and I hope the Bank will take time to celebrate. But the Rockefeller Foundation’s recent, very successful Centennial program shows that major anniversaries are powerful opportunities to accomplish broader goals. Done correctly, anniversary activities can position an organization to be even more effective in meeting future challenges.
Here are five pointers drawn from our own experience, which apply to any organization observing a big anniversary—whether you’re the African Development Bank, a private corporation, or a community group.
1. Set a clear goal or goals that you want to accomplish.
There is an infinite list of interesting activities you can do, but select only those that further the goals you’ve set for your anniversary program. We decided that our Centennial program should help us be even more effective and impactful in improving the lives of poor people around the world. If an activity didn’t help us reach that goal, we didn’t do it.
2. Use your past as a springboard to the future.
Past accomplishments provide great credibility to engage a wide range of participants in conversations about the future. In our case, we held global events, crowd sourced ideas, and wrote books on topics that are part of our history, but we focused the conversation on imagining the future. We gained a wealth of new thinking that we’ve incorporated into our work today.
3. See the anniversary as an opportunity for an organizational tune-up.
Re-examine your priorities to ensure that they fit the needs of the future. Look at your operating model to make sure that it strengthens your work and helps you make better and faster decisions. People both within the organization and outside will see this as a very natural exercise during a major anniversary.
4. Build up capacities that expand the reach and agility of your organization.
For example, we experimented with crowdsourcing and competitions to tap the wisdom of the crowd in finding innovative solutions to pressing problems. And we started looking at new ways of building networks of people and organizations that can solve problems together. That led us to launch 100 Resilient Cities—using a challenge model to create and grow network of cities around the world to build up their resilience to climate events, economic crises, violence, population pressures and other shocks and stresses. What started as a way to further mark our centennial is now its own institution dedicated to one of the greatest needs of this century—better preparing for the challenges of urbanization.
5. Don’t forget to engage your own staff.
They will want to be involved. An anniversary can help them feel that the organization’s legacy is theirs, too. It can inspire them to shape the future as well.
Oh, and remember: be sure to have a birthday party.