Using Project Management for Social Change

“Let’s not try to solve world hunger” is an oft-used warning about scope creep. Don’t tell World Vision, Oxfam, Inter-America Development Bank, CARE, Catholic Relief Services, and the hundreds of other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working around the globe in developing countries to improve living conditions. Their efforts promote education and increase access to basic health care, clean drinking water, cheap solar energy, and other essentials that citizens of the developed world take for granted.

For those of us in the project management profession, it is easy to see this work as a never-ending series of projects. Key people in the NGO community have come to the same conclusion. Their passion for project management and development has created PM4NGOs.

PM4NGOs was launched in 2010. This nonprofit’s stated mission is to maximize the impact of project investments for donors and beneficiaries. To do that, PM4NGOs pursues two primary strategies:

  1. Promote and enable professional project management practices to be contextualized for the development and humanitarian environments.
  2. Develop and maintain standards for project management in development and humanitarian agencies.


To meet these goals, PM4NGOs has created a certification based on a description of project management that bridges the gap between the realities of development projects and the existing standards such as PRINCE2 and the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Professional (PMP)®. The certification is called “Project Management for Development Professionals,” but is usually referred to as PMD Pro. The accompanying standards document is called A Guide to the PMD Pro1.

How do another standard and another certification make a difference? Mike Culligan is one of PM4NGOs founding board members and a principal author of the standard. He explains the genesis of PM4NGOs: “After 20 years of working on projects in the development sector I was introduced to the project management standards that were commonplace in industry. That was a revelation. But it wasn’t easy to apply them. I found that they simply didn’t connect with the way development workers were running their projects.” Other seasoned development project managers felt the same way.

Culligan and his PM4NGOs colleagues want to promote proven best practices, but know that to be accepted these practices must be contextualized, described in a way that makes sense to development projects. Culligan, along with all other PM4NGOs board members, is a volunteer. His full-time job is providing learning opportunities to 59 major NGOs around the world. The freely available “Guide to PMD Pro” creates a global standard that development workers will recognize. It can be adopted by international NGOs or small, local NGOs.” The standard can also be promoted by independent training and consulting firms, just like the PMI and PRINCE2 certification.

PM4NGOs puts a special emphasis on serving its unique audience. “A very important role of PM4NGOs is to make certain that access to the new certification is broad and the price affordable,” says Vadim Usvitsky, PM4NGOs board chair. “We work in an environment where professional credentials are very important but not often available. We want to make sure the PMD Pro reaches all project managers that are interested.”

The members of PM4NGOs have donated their time and money to write the standard, to develop the certification exam, and to have both translated into multiple languages. They also strive to make the certification accessible by keeping the cost of the exams to a minimum, as low as $20 per applicant in some cases.

Early results from the field are positive. World Vision International is using the certification as a basis for training over 1,000 field workers in 16 African countries. Dozens of development organizations in Latin America are collaborating to educate over 600 professionals using the Guide to the PMD Pro.

Projects undertaken to achieve social change need proven project management practices such as planning, risk management, and scope control. They also need optimism, persistence, passion, and imagination. The founders of PM4NGOs have a grand vision and the hard-won experience to make it a reality. To learn more, visit their website:

Using Project Management for Social Change
This article is excerpted from the new book, The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management, 4th Edition. Copyright 2011. This material is used by permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.







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Written by Eric Verzuh
Eric Verzuh, PMP, earned his PMP in 1992. He is the author of the bestselling Fast Forward MBA in Project Management and the PMP® Deep Dive, a better, faster, and more fun exam prep program. You can contact Eric via email at
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