For the past five years I have been working with practitioners, entrepreneurs, academics, investors and leaders from around the world who are serious about creating effective social change- work that is absolutely critical for tackling the massive inequities and injustices that plague so much of global society. Although I have been based in Asia, my work as a social entrepreneur and university educator has allowed me to cross pollinate and test ideas with people from a variety of backgrounds, geographies, and belief systems. Across the past year I have been on the ground working in various innovation hubs- across Thailand, Cambodia, South Africa, Indonesia, Japan, Australia the US and Netherlands – and have found patterns that I’m framing through three high level trajectories. The exciting part is that these are mainstreaming and especially important for doing smart social impact work – anchored by collaboration and focused on financial sustainability.
So what’s happening today with increasing speed? Take a look at the examples below and see what you would add.
- Designing Thinking and Behavior Science is Teaming Up: It’s no secret that ‘design thinking’ is a methodology or approach that we have seen grow significantly in the social impact sector- sometimes at a cost of this trend eclipsing meaningful impact. It’s been championed and mainstreamed in multiple ways – especially as courses become accessible, free and open sourced like this MOOC by +Acumen and ideo.org. That being said, often the critique lies in the expectation that this rather intuitive (and creative) process oriented approach is a silver bullet to solving deeply entrenched complex problems. As a believer in the power of design, I find it evermore exciting to build the next layer to this art through data driven science- especially behavioral science. This Stanford Social Innovation Review Article deconstructs the argument well. Ultimately we need to not only empathize and design bold solutions to nasty problems, but we need to clearly understand the psychology and driving forces to changing human behaviors.
- Local and Global Innovation Ecosystems are Becoming (Increasingly) Sophisticated and Strategic: There is growing cadence around ecosystem work and research. Thanks to technology and shifting organizational cultures that value collaborative openness and transparency we are finding hundreds of projects dedicated to building sophisticated and smart impact-oriented ecosystems. Examples include UK based NESTA’s project to grow Europe’s Digital Social Innovation Ecosystem. This is also happening in many parts of the world in person, not just the digital space, especially in hyper-local contexts- great examples from the grassroots (in communities as vast and contrasting from Nairobi to Lahore, to Guatemala City) by MIT’s D-Lab are in this IDIN Network post. Why is this so important? In many cases resources are wasted on project duplication and working in silos that don’t communicate or collaborate meaningfully- this learning curve is diminishing as practitioners and players pivot towards smarter, leaner ways to get things done.
- Traditional Aid is Dying and Financial Innovation is Critical for Survival: Ok, this may not be a surprise, yet there is a twist – traditional aid models are no longer reliable (or available) and NGOs have to be creative to generate revenue to stay financially sustainable. I noticed an extreme need for skills sets related to business modeling and innovation when at the Vital Voices Fellowship recently in South Africa. Of my 50 peers, the overwhelming majority of leaders were running organizations that had incomplete or non-existent backup plans beyond conventional non-profit funding practice. I ran a pop up workshop on business model innovation for those who were interested in developing a social enterprise model. Although the SE model is complex and not the holy grail, the message is clear- this sector needs more financial literacy and development skill sets. Although, many organizations, incubators, and accelerators exist, there is a systemic need to ramp up the access to technical training to NGOs and entrepreneurs who have their eye on impact, yet need investment to continue.
Although the above represent the 10,000 foot view of some key trends, there are certainly more on the horizon. Let me know your thoughts – find me @cocosavie on Twitter and check out @dsilglobal for the latest in research and forecasts.
Courtney is based in Southeast Asia where she continues to build DSIL Global into a impact driven social innovation organization. At DSIL she is focused on cultivating the network of innovation communities, program advisors and alumni as well as the curriculum curation for the Virtual Classroom, field programs and consulting arm, D/O. She is a current Vital Voices PONDS Fellow, serves as Adjunct Faculty at Thammasat University, School of Global Studies and Social Entrepreneurship for leadership and HCD; as well as the THNK School of Creative Leadership in Amsterdam for incompany programs. Other relevant experience includes launching and scaling the Japan based ‘Global Studies, Peace and Leadership Summer Seminar’; a program that included fieldwork with students from more than 40 countries to India, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines. From 2006-2014 she served on the Executive Committee of the of the Swiss-based NGO, World Alliance of YMCAs. Previous to co-founding a US social enterprise in 2011, she worked with Ashoka’s Full Economic Citizenship initiative in the Washington, D.C. area and has facilitated multiple trainings across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, North and South America. She is a Rotary Scholar and holds a Master’s in Sustainable Economic Development and Responsible Management from UPEACE, the UN Mandated Graduate School of Peace and Conflict Studies; see more at the thedhive.com