Change is inevitable in the world in which we live. Major disruptions are taking place economically, politically, socially, and technologically. While at times disturbing, these disruptions can spur the creative process and create opportunities to reimagine what we can do for the good of society as individuals, as organizations, and as communities.
I recently heard Malcolm Gladwell challenging the notion that the recent Middle East uprising are a Twitter and Facebook revolution. He instead pointed out that the Iron Wall came down during a time when most people in what was then East Germany had no access to information yet over a million people were mobilized many more then showed up in Tharir Square. Yet on the other hand we also know that how we consume and contribute to information flow has fundamentally changed.
What is common among the recent events in the Middle East is that they are leaderless uprisings with no visible leader in the mold of a Gandhi or King.
Why is that the case, what has changed? I would posit that the changes in how we consume and contribute information is at the center of these changes. We are no longer at the end of the information flow pipe as consumers of information rather we are at the center of information flow. We are both creators and consumers of information and actively adding to the body of knowledge. This I believe is a fundamental reimagining of the world and the opportunity it opens up for those of us in the development space is exciting.
These disruptions also prompt penetrating questions: For example, who are the experts? Are they the ones we have traditionally thought of as having expertise, or are they the people living in villages who, through the use of mobile technology, can provide data and information needed to diagnose health problems or make payments on microfinance loans in real time? What is the role of experts and specialists when technology is making critical services more affordable and accessible?
What are the new appropriate models of partnerships? As nontraditional approaches are becoming more pervasive, we see increased collaboration among large companies and nonprofits that often leads to unexpected positive outcomes. While many organizations are struggling, the ones that are creating greater value through collaboration-NetHope, for example-are seeing their membership grow.
Today nonprofits are increasingly thinking of businesses as essential partners in scaling up their impact and in achieving sustainability. Social entrepreneurs are realizing that not all breakthroughs will be exploited effectively by large corporations and that some early stage adoptions and innovations will come from them. Further, governments will have to be mindful about the timing and extent of policies that will be needed to help with these innovations that are taking place outside of the norms.
These disruptions are blurring the lines between charitable contributions, venture funding, and direct funding. Organizations can now access multiple modes of funding, and funders are increasingly being pushed to rethink their funding purposes and the outcomes they seek.
Nonprofit organizations are being forced to rethink the financial and social returns on their development investments. They can now share their research and learning more broadly, so they have the opportunity to reassess who is being served by their work. Is it the organization itself? The end recipients? The larger community? Or the entire development ecosystem?
In the same way, as services are being made more accessible institutions have to think of themselves not as isolated islands of privileged expertise, but as vital and precious elements in an ecosystem of different organizations that contribute to their evolution as well.
We must also reimagine the role of volunteers. Volunteerism is increasingly a long-term strategic commitment and investment by an individual or group of individuals and not merely a one-way act. Organizations and their volunteers are increasingly able to form strategic relationships toward specific goals.
Finally, we must reimagine the role of technology in nonprofit work. Technology is not simply a transactional tool that allows organizations to accomplish discrete tasks more efficiently. It can be-and must be-a transformational tool that organizations view as a powerful strategic ally in the successful pursuit of their mission.