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Top skills for 2024 in the impact world

Catalina Rojas

January 9, 2024

"Skills, skills, skills." This mantra is as crucial for the social impact sector as "location, location, location" is for real estate.

As we delve into 2024, the realm of social impact is swiftly evolving, necessitating a diverse and robust skill set. For those aiming to make a tangible difference, mastering the right combination of technical prowess and soft skills is key in steering the ship of social change.

This post is a combination of human generated content and AI assisted + based on our extensive engagement with impact employers, upskilling organizations and professionals from around the globe, as well as regularly diving into relevant literature and events.

Navigating the Business of Change

Understanding the business side of change is vital in a world where monetary resources are as crucial as innovative ideas. This involves not just securing and managing funds but also comprehending and adapting to financial trends. The global social impact funding landscape, increasingly competitive, emphasizes measurable outcomes and sustainable models. Financial literacy and resource management are critical for ensuring the longevity and efficacy of impact initiatives.

Building Partnerships for Collective Impact

Social change does not happen in a silo. Rather, it requires the synergy of diverse partners across the public, private and social sectors. Building and nurturing connections across nonprofits, grassroots groups, policymakers, companies, funders, academics, activists and more is a pivotal skill. Each partner brings unique strengths to the table. Developing the competency for genuine, ethical and mutually enriching collaboration enables joining forces across theory and practice, disciplines, geographies, and perspectives to drive systems-level transformation. (Stanford Social Innovation Review).

Photo by Vardan Papikyan on Unsplash

Moving Beyond Transactional Engagements

Partnerships in the social impact space often start with a transactional purpose - a funding requirement, a programme delivery need, a shared lobby for policy change. Yet the most successful partnerships evolve into long-term collaborations by building trust and relationships. They shift from an organizational centric view to shared goals and accountability. This requires investment in understanding each other's assets and needs, co-creating initiatives owned by all partners, and consistent engagement across leadership and operational levels.

Navigating Inevitable Tensions

Bringing together diverse viewpoints and interests inevitably leads to tensions - different notions of success, constraints, power dynamics. Managing these productively necessitates open communication, structured coordination, and compromise. Frameworks like Collective Impact's five conditions provide guiding principles. At the core, partnerships must be underpinned by the spirit of equality, transparency and belief in pluralism of thought.

The Bewildering Task of Alliance-Building

Furthermore, alliance-building across large networks of partners can seem bewildering. Convening numerous stakeholders, aligning interests, and achieving consensus requires exceptional skill. Factor in constraints of each group, unintended exclusion, and inherent privilege dynamics. Still, framing issues collaboratively rather than competitively, and allowing flexible structures facilitate the process. Initiatives like CityNetwork offer models of bold collective action across cities worldwide despite complex partnerships.

The Power of Curiosity and Humility

Curiosity fuels the drive to continually question, learn and adapt, a necessity in a constantly changing world. It opens minds to new possibilities and sheds assumptions that limit creative problem-solving. Intellectual humility is equally vital, keeping leaders grounded, self-aware, and open to diverse perspectives.

Cultivating curiosity and humility at an organizational level involves fostering a culture of asking why, looking beyond easy answers, and uncompromising truth-seeking. Creating psychologically safe spaces for self-reflection, dissenting voices and experimentation. Tackling wicked problems like inequality, climate change or global health crises necessitates mapping complex systems, recognizing interdependencies, and exploring countercultural solutions. Rather than hubristic overconfidence, leaders must champion reflective inquiry, audacious imagination, and collective wisdom. The path ahead necessitates this balance of conviction and openness.

Focused Execution in a World of Distractions

In an era of endless distractions and information overload, the ability to focus and execute tasks effectively is invaluable. This skill is about strategically prioritizing the vital few priorities that drive maximum impact and concentrating energy on driving those forward. Research shows that office workers are interrupted or distracted every 3 minutes on average, hampering productivity by up to 40% . Leaders who can focus their team's efforts on the most vital goals without tangents see up to 400% higher project completion rates and fast execution.

Consider as well that 60% of information workers toggle between apps over 1,000 times per day , while the average professional receives over 200 work emails daily. This fractured focus hampers meaningful progress. Developing an organization-wide culture that enables intentional attention on key outcomes is essential for impact.

Photo by Chase Clark on Unsplash

The Rising Importance of AI and Data Analysis

In the dynamic landscape of 2024, professionals in the social impact sector are also increasingly focusing on how to use and integrate technology tools while maintaining a human, ethical approach. This balanced perspective recognizes that while technology, particularly AI, can be a powerful ally in driving change, it is not a panacea for all challenges. We need to keep the human in tech and humanity at the center of our work. Professionals who are fluent in human and tech skills are likely to have flourishing careers.

Skills for Ethical Tech Integration

  1. Critical Evaluation of Tech Tools: The ability to critically assess the appropriateness of various technologies for specific social issues is vital. This skill involves understanding the strengths and limitations of different digital tools and considering their relevance and impact on the targeted community.
  2. Data Literacy and Analysis: With the growing importance of data in decision-making, professionals need to be adept at collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data responsibly. This includes an understanding of data privacy laws and ethical considerations in data handling, underlined by resources like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and particularly issues related to potentially more vulnerable communities.
  3. Human-Centric Technology Design and Application: This involves designing and applying technology solutions that prioritize human welfare and ethical considerations. The IEEE’s Ethically Aligned Design provides guidelines for developing and using AI and other technologies responsibly.

In the world of social impact, the burgeoning reliance on data demands a specific skill set: the ability to decipher and communicate data effectively. As we forge ahead in 2024, the need for professionals who can transform data into meaningful insights is more critical than ever. This competency is not just about crunching numbers; it's about understanding and narrating the stories they tell.

Data Analysis: The Backbone of Informed Decision-Making

Data analysis skills are crucial for understanding complex social issues, tracking progress, and showcasing results to stakeholders. The ability to analyze data allows professionals to diagnose problems accurately, monitor developments, and make informed decisions. In the realm of social impact, where every decision can have far-reaching consequences, these skills are indispensable.

Resources and Tools for Effective Data Storytelling

For guidance on ethical data storytelling, organizations like DataKind offer valuable resources. They emphasize responsible data use, ensuring that the narratives crafted are both accurate and impactful (DataKind). Tools like Tableau have become essential in this space, offering intuitive solutions for data visualization and dashboard creation, making complex data more accessible and understandable (Tableau).

Certifications in data science, analytics, and visualization are also becoming increasingly valuable. They signal a professional’s proficiency in handling data and extracting meaningful insights from it.

The Growing Demand for Data Analysts

The demand for data analysis capabilities in the social impact sector is soaring. The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation, projects about 90 million job openings for data analysts globally from 2020 to 2025 (World Economic Forum). This surge is driven by the increasing reliance on data for decision-making and performance measurement in various sectors.

Beyond Numbers: Ethics and Transparency in Data Use

However, the true value of data lies in the ability to interpret, communicate, and apply it ethically. Understanding potential pitfalls such as biases in data is crucial. It's not just about the data itself, but how it's used, with a focus on transparency and involving the community in the narrative process. The integrity of data storytelling is key - while accurate data can drive progress, misleading statistics can erode trust.

By refining their analytical and visualization skills, professionals in social impact can leverage data more effectively for decision-making and storytelling. It’s about ensuring that their efforts remain relevant and impactful, rooted in the truthful representation of data. The increasing emphasis on data in decision-making underscores the importance of these skills in today’s social impact landscape.

These skills not only enhance individual capabilities but also collectively drive the sector forward, ensuring that efforts are impactful, relevant, and sustainable. These skills have been identified as important based on ongoing discussions and observations in the field of social entrepreneurship, leadership, and career development.

The landscape of social impact in 2024 is not only data-driven but also heavily reliant on the power of communication and storytelling. The ability to weave compelling narratives that resonate with diverse audiences is as crucial as the technical prowess to analyze data. In this context, communication and storytelling emerge as key skills for amplifying impact and driving change.

The Art of Storytelling in Social Impact

Storytelling in the realm of social impact goes beyond mere narration. It's about crafting stories that connect deeply with people's emotions, values, and beliefs. This skill involves taking complex, often data-heavy information and turning it into narratives that inspire, motivate, and call to action. An article by Ella Saltmarshe in the Stanford Social Innovation Review highlights the importance of storytelling in social impact, emphasizing its role in connecting with audiences on a human level and driving engagement.

Communication: Bridging Gaps and Building Connections

Effective communication is the bridge between data analysis and storytelling. It's about conveying insights gleaned from data in a manner that is clear, persuasive, and accessible. This skill is particularly important in a world where social impact initiatives often involve collaborating with diverse stakeholders, including community members, funders, policymakers, and other partners. Francesca Gino in an article in the Harvard Business Review underlines the value of communication skills in leadership and collaboration, noting that they are critical for success in cross-sector initiatives.

Navigating the Digital Landscape of Storytelling

In 2024, digital platforms continue to play a pivotal role in how stories are told and shared. Social impact professionals must be adept at using digital tools and platforms to disseminate their narratives effectively. This involves not just understanding the technical aspects of digital communication but also being aware of the nuances of different platforms and how they can be used to reach and engage different audiences. Resources like DigitalStorytelling4Change provide insights into leveraging digital storytelling for social change, offering strategies to make the most of digital platforms.

Ethical Storytelling: A Responsibility

Amidst the power of storytelling lies a significant responsibility – to ensure that narratives are ethical, respectful, and do not misrepresent or exploit those they depict. Ethical storytelling involves being truthful, avoiding sensationalism, and respecting the dignity and agency of all individuals featured in narratives. The Ethical Storytelling pledge provides a framework for storytellers committed to respecting those whose stories they share (Ethical Storytelling).

The Path Ahead: Integrating Diverse Competencies for Systems Change

In sum, as the social impact sector evolves in 2024, integrating a diverse set of competencies is essential to drive meaningful change. From understanding emerging technologies, to strategic financial planning, to the power of storytelling - these capabilities empower impact leaders to navigate complexity and accelerate solutions.

Yet no one leader excels in all. The path ahead involves more collaborative skill-building across sectors and roles. Business strategists must partner with community organizers, data scientists with policy advocates, creatives with investors. Multi-disciplinary teams focused on systems change can integrate human-centered design with the science of scale and sustainability.

As connections strengthen across unusual allies, the collective impact accelerates. The challenges of inequality, environmental degradation and disempowerment become more surmountable. The metrics start to shift - from program outputs to progress on societal outcomes. By competently combining complementary capabilities, we bend the arc of change farther and faster.

A great place to keep up, share, upskill is the PCDN Career Campus. Become a member of the PCDN Career Campus to get daily access (to job, funding, upskilling, socent and fellowship opportunities) community (network with other impact professionals); learning with sector-experts and exclusive workshops as well as weekly office hours. Basically a cup of coffee or two for a 24/7 career center for impact professionals.

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