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Change is Here

By Nell Edgington



One of the criticisms of an otherwise very well received speech last night by President Obama was that it was “too ambitious.”  Last night he vowed to take on healthcare and education reform, the recession, global warming, 2 wars, among other things.  That is ambitious, but does he have a choice?  Do we have a choice?  You could actually argue that it wasn’t ambitious enough.

Our world is changing so quickly and the problems are becoming larger and more complex.  This complexity requires, and indeed demands, a completely different, and by previous standards “ambitious,” approach.  The very ways in which we live, work, play, communicate are all changing, and exponentially.  Take social media and the flood of information it provides; we’re all trying to figure out how to keep up.

Lucy Bernholz, president of Blueprint Research & Design (a philanthropy consulting firm) and a philanthropic thought leader, argued recently that what we are experiencing is not a recession, but a complete restructuring of our world.  Our institutions are crumbling, our environmental resources diminishing, our economy melting down.  We are charting completely new territory:

It doesn’t make sense to think of this as a dip in an otherwise upward trend. It is more like a turn off onto a different path. People born since 1990, all over the globe, have fundamentally different assumptions than those born before that year about where information lives, who controls it, where and how work gets done, what the “proper” role of government might be, where their friends live, how much personal privacy they have, want or value, what kind of resources will be needed to fuel their futures, what kind of innovation might fuel the economies in which they will live, and what their individual relationships to others – proximal and far away – are, could be, or might be.

And she suggests many ways in which this restructuring could take place.  Several on her list point to a growing convergence among public, private and nonprofit approaches (which I’ve talked about before):

  • Social enterprise begins to morph the philanthropic giving that exists to its left and the commercial enterprise that exists to its right (on a spectrum from giving to investing
  • Individuals’ daily contributions and activities are a deliberate and recognized mix of paid and unpaid – and successful enterprises build themselves to catalyze those inside/outside, professional/volunteer, expert/amateur, user/producer contributions
  • Philanthropic giving is really asked (read: required by regulators or purchased: in a marketplace) to prove its value in the funding food chain of producing social good. So are social investing, social enterprise, and socially responsible investing.
  • Enterprises and activities that generate economic, social and environmental benefits move from marginal to the middle – and innovation shifts elsewhere
  • We will no longer assume that nonprofit = social good, commercial enterprise = profit, rather we will think about what we need as a society (investigative reporters, an independent media, universal literacy, human rights) and figure out new forms of delivering those things

So financing, once separated into private and nonprofit buckets, merges into a results bucket that combines social impact and financial profit.  Problems are no longer addressed from a profit or nonprofit position, but rather from a solution position, which draws on both.  Activity that provides a blending of profit and social good is no longer marginalized, but is actually revered and becomes the norm.

What we are already seeing, and will continue to see more and more, is a convergence of private, public and nonprofit money; private and nonprofit operating principles; private, public and nonprofit goals and reasons for being; private, nonprofit and government approaches to problems.  We no longer exist in neat categories that inform our activity, funding, thought, approach, world-view.

The social entrepreneurship movement has taken off so dramatically in recent years in large part because of this growing convergence.  People are recognizing that the old separations no longer make sense or work.

Convergence is real and is happening everywhere.  Those who are not “ambitious” enough and continue to view the world in stale and unbending categories will be left behind.

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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (www.socialvelocity.net), a management consulting firm leading nonprofits to greater social impact and financial sustainability. Social Velocity helps nonprofits grow their programs, bring more money in the door, and use resources more effectively. For more information, check out Social Velocity consulting services and clients.


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8 Comments to Change is Here

[...] Yes!  Nonprofits exist within a system that in effect penalizes them for trying to do good.  The result is a sorely undercapitalized sector held together by bandaids, desperate for more talent and resources, bracing themselves against the increasing number of problems they are being called on to solve.  It is a horribly broken system, which requires a complete resetting. [...]

[...] an opportunity to restructure and rethink a broken system.  Just as the nonprofit sector needs to “reset” how they operate and how they raise money given the economic crisis and the crumbling social safety net, [...]

[...] Yes!  Nonprofits exist within a system that in effect penalizes them for trying to do good.  The result is a sorely undercapitalized sector held together by bandaids, desperate for more talent and resources, bracing themselves against the increasing number of problems they are being called on to solve.  It is a horribly broken system, which requires a complete resetting. [...]

[...] an opportunity to restructure and rethink a broken system.  Just as the nonprofit sector needs to “reset” how they operate and how they raise money given the economic crisis and the crumbling social safety net, [...]

[...] them to  be risk averse.  But what if nonprofit organizations seized the opportunity that this restructuring offers and became bold.  I mean really [...]

[...] them to  be risk averse.  But what if nonprofit organizations seized the opportunity that this restructuring offers and became bold.  I mean really [...]

[...] is akin to the “resetting” of the nonprofit sector discussed before.  This is not a blip; things are changing in very fundamental ways and the WSJ [...]

[...] is akin to the “resetting” of the nonprofit sector discussed before.  This is not a blip; things are changing in very fundamental ways and the WSJ [...]

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