Technology and the Creation of a New Social Economy

CBC Radio One had some very interesting programs this week, all of which can be tied back to Generating Social Capital, effective community development and the interconnectedness of our social and economic systems.

Spark, a program about technology hosted by Nora Young, was discussing the use of open source software, APIs and Wikis. It is quite serendipitous that this show aired now, I am just in the middle of Dan Tapscott's book, Wikinomics. The interview and the book have got me thinking about what a new organizational system in the non-profit sector would look like.

In the Karma & Cents winter newsletter this year I talked about collaboration. This article was followed by a piece in the spring newsletter about Community Economic Development models and how the most effective ones have mulitple partners.

With ideas provided through the Wiki and Open Source communities the way we collaborate and how we define collaboration has changed. The traditional collaborative model was typically a connection between a few people or organizations around a topic/issue. In the new collaborative model we have thousands of people sharing their expertise and holding each other accountable for effective delivery of the program, project, or solution to the issue. In addition, new economic models are evolving out of this collaborative space thereby identifying new resources (human and financial).

So what would this new model look like if we expaned it to the organizational structures of today's society, specifically around the Non-Profit and Charitable sector?

I would argue that by breaking dow the silows around issues, tearing up the turf around donors, and engaging multiple agencies in program development and delivery, we would have a more efficient, effective and impactful non-profit sector.

How would this work?

  1. Donors will be able to direct their resournces to a couse as opposed to an organization. The cause being managed by multiple agencies from different angles will ensure that the donor's dollars are being directed at the most effective approach at that time. This in turn will limit duplication and force organizations to address the issue and not just the program.
  2. Cultural Barriers between users and supporters, rich and poor, ethnic groups, geography will be torn down (over time). This tear down will result in communities building each other up, instead of individuals directing resources down.
  3. Resource Attraction to organizations will be easier because people will self-select by their attraction to solving the problem. People who have the solutions or parts of the solutions to the issue will be the ones who focus their energies in that direction. The growth the charitable sector will be by qualified, innovative people, thereby shoring up the leadership gap that is currently facing the sector as baby-boomers retire. From this we will see the creation of a new economy within the non-profit sector, not one driven by donor dollars, but one that is driven by social enterprise AND community investments (individuals and companies).

What does this new society look like?

Currently our society is built in silos. There are three of them, Non-Profit, Government and Private. Information is being passed on an inconsistent and limited basis down each of these silos and across on an even more limited basis. What this new system could look like would be a pool of individuals from a cross-section of industries, geographies, backgrounds, etc. From this pool are different tributaries pulling people by interest, knowledge, expertise down around an issue and then spitting them back out again into a different pool with a different collection of individuals looking at a different problem. Each pool generates new ideas, solutions, micro-economies, governance systems and ultimately connections.

This idea brings me to the next CBC interview from this week on Q hosted by Jian Ghomeshi. Jian interviewed Zambian author, Dambisa Moyo on her new book Dead Aid. This book reveals the negative effects that foreign aid from individuals and governments is having on African societies.

The idea that our aid is having a negative impact is not new to readers of this blog. I have written in the past how donations to some organizations overseas have unintended consequences.

Moyo highlighted effective CED funding models like Kiva, and how building businesses and capital systems ins better than aid. She also stated that she likes what China is doing on the continent, by bringing business investments, employing people and driving the economy. I think that using China as an investing company is not a good example.

China might be bringing in new businesses and thereby driving up other businesses supplying to the workers and their families, but China has some well-known distasteful approaches to business. Specifically around the blatant disregard for human life standards. It is the Chinese business in Sudan that is propping up a corrupt government, that has led to mass murder of those living in Darfur, and created an even wider socio-economic gap. Another example is one that is not so widely known about - China built much of the road infrastructure in Ethiopia. This was originally seen as a good thing because it enabled the food producers in the north to transport goods to the desert communities in the south. What these roads also provided was for flower growers from places like India to move into the country and start drawing up precious water resources for flowers to be exported out of Ethiopia. In essence, these roadways are contributing to another drought. What is even more ironic is that Ethiopia was the only African country not colonized, and today, it has more countries exploiting its resources than ever before (one might argue the exploitation is going unchecked).

I believe that if this was an effective model, this type of capitalism would be driving down corruption, not strengthening it.

There has been some good come out of China's investment and the work that NGO's are doing on the African continent. I have written about where your jeans go when you send them overseas - how used clothing is sold in the market and has provided a cottage industry for tailors. Another revenue stream provided by NGO's is the volunteer corps that arrive in the countries and stay in the guest houses (not major hotel chains... but there is an economic trickle from that too) run by families. We might not agree about how volunteers and donors should travel and work in developing countries, but let's face it, these people require services and supports that can be provided by the local citizenry.

In tying these two interviews together this is what I see:

Effective CED should be conducted in an open source, wiki manner. By doing so, a new economic system will be created: new avenues for donors (community investors) to participate, new governance and accountability systems will provide ease of growth and partnerships. This structure will integrate the private public and non-profit sectors as one system - the Human system.

The Power of Protest

Bush Rally (1) 

(Photo provided by Mike Scullen) 

I was just at the anti-G.W. Bush rally outside the Telus Convention Centre in Calgary, Alberta. 

Here's the image: A line of predominantly white men over the age of 50 with a smattering of women and perhaps a handful of others representing other minority groups in suits wrapped around the Hyatt hotel along Stephen Avenue Mall.  Across from them a group of protestors who, in contrast to the well-dress businessmen, looked like a rag-tag bunch.  In-between the media, some police on bikes, some cops with cameras and others like myself who are there because we don't support Bush and his former agenda, but we also recognize that our city is built on oil dollars and, right or wrong, it is Bush's policies that made some of our city (read those who were standing in line) very wealthy over the past decade.

So here's my limited take on the whole thing - when you have a legitimate claim that Bush has committed crimes against humanity and then you put up a placard that equates what is happening in Iraq with genocide you water down your argument and make your cause look like a joke.  If you want Bush on trial for what he has done and to be held accountable for his actions, make legitimate claims on the poster-board. 

One of my favourite signs was one that read, "The Geneva Convention Does Not Apply to the Elite."  This passed in front of me when I was standing beside Brett Wilson, CEO of First Energy and member of CBC's the Dragon's Den, standing out from the rest of the suits in his signature jeans and sneakers.  There is something to be said about Calgary's elite standing in line to listen to the man who single-handedly ruined the American economy through poor foreign policy and economic decisions and who is going to be sharing his thoughts on where business should be directing their energies over the next few years. 

I wonder what these people are going to take out of this presentation, what are they going to apply to their own lives, what are they going to tell their kids when they go home tonight about what they learned from the former leader of the United States?

A friend asked me if I had a ticket (which was selling for $400 each... and they say we are in a recession) would I use it.  For sure I would! I want to know what he is saying inside those hallowed halls of the Telus Convention Centre.  I especially want to know how the City of Calgary is justifying the expenses that are being put towards Bush's visit.  Let's be clear, whether you supported Bush and his administration or not, it is your tax payer dollars that are being sucked up during his visit here.

That's my rant for the day.  Back to philanthropy and such next post.

Stimulating the Economy through the Charitable Sector

Next week Prime Minister Stephen Harper Stephen Harperis going to release his budget to Parliament.  As our country, alongside the US, are looking at multi-billion dollar bail-outs for various for-profit sectors, the importance of a strong non-profit and charitable sector is ever more apparent.

The Calgary Herald reported in today's paper that the charitable sector is a $112 billion industry employing 2.1 million Canadians and comprises 8.6 per cent of the nation's GDP.  This is a sector that has been filling in where government has fallen short and has managed to function, for better or worse, during the booms and busts of our economy for decades.

If we are looking at a stimulus package - perhaps the for-profits that are turning to government for bail-out funding should take a page out of a charity's operating handbook.  How many organizations have generated innovative and far-reaching programs and services based on shoe-string budgets?

In Alberta, the incentives for donating are great - almost a 50% tax deduction for charitable giving.  With over 19,000 charities and non-profits in Alberta the financial power is quite significant.  Perhaps, in addition to (or instead of) bailing out the for-profit entities, the government should also look at increasing the capacity supports for the organizations that are filling the gaps where government and business has fallen short?

While they are at it, this might be a good time to review the approval process for registering charities and non-profits.  One thing they might start looking at is the issue of duplication of services and stop issuing registration numbers to organizations that are not adding to the sector, instead using their extensive database to link similar organizations in order to share resources and do even better work? 

Just a thought during our tighter financial times...

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

So the issue for Baby Boomers isn't which charity to give to, rather the question is can I afford to give to charity at all?

Coming from someone who is advocating investing more in community projects this seems like a moot question.  I recently had a conversation with Nick Offord of The Offord Group about the direction of Canada's charitable sector and specifically about talking to people about strategic philanthropy.

Our conversation touched on several topics but one that resonated with me and why I am writing about it now is the conversation on the values of charity.  The wealth transfer (something that I have blogged about before) in conservative numbers is around $3T in Canada over the next decade.  When Canadians spend less than 1% on charity currently what will that look like in the coming years?  Nick's comment to me was that charities competition isn't necessarily with each other (though that is a big part of it), rather the competition will be with people and companies that are telling Boomers to save "just in case."

Just in case of what?  Donations to medical institutions are increasing, not because of an "insurance policy" mentality of giving (i.e. I am going to give to St. Michael's because I might end up there).  Medical giving is increasing because Boomers are getting sick and so they are giving after the fact.  If it was "just in case" then hospitals and medical organizations would be growing by leaps and bounds and people would be giving to them before they got sick.

What would it look like if financial institutions worked with the charitable sector to help address the "just in case" mentality?  My assumption would be that there would be more money invested in asset management firms so that people could funnel their charitable giving directly to organizations that are effective, efficient, transparent and can show proof of impact. 

So while Boomers are saving for rainy days they can also be securing their future by investing in community, social services, the arts and medical that will ultimately help them during those rainy days.  Let's face it, the government isn't going to be doing it.

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