Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Everyone is a non-profit?

This month's question of Netsquared is: What do you think the role of nonprofit organizations is in the changing world of social media? They start off with this video of Clay Shirky answering the question. Well, if Clay Shirky has answered it, what can I add?? He is basically saying that the lateral connections that are possible as a result of social media are far more radical than the changing relation between non-profits and their members. So the question for non-profits is: What do you do about those lateral connections? Which are beneficial to us or to our cause? Suggest to them that you, 15 people, could get together and work together. You can watch Clay Shirky explain it in the video below.

So what do I think? I can answer this for development organisations, as that's the sector where I have experiences. In a way social media make it easier for each individual to become a non-profit. We can all start a fundraising session on our blogs, we can organise a twestival for a charitable cause. Is this an important change that development organisations should watch out for?

To answer this question it may be good to look at the private initiatives by individuals and the professional development organisations. Initially development organisations ignored the private initiatives, but they have slowly realized that it has its powers and needs to be cultivated because it is so important for creating a broader commitment for development cooperation. So in the Netherlands, joint initiatives like Linkis and Impulsis were started by development organisations to support the private initiatives. Lau Schulpen of CIDIN did a study into private initiatives in Ghana and Malawi. Some of his findings:
  • The private initiatives work in splendid isolation
  • There is lack of sustainability of the intiatives
  • There is little accountability over results. Learning levels are low.

This is ofcourse a different situation than Clay Shirky talks about. These private initiatives are not using social media. Are not connected and are not sustainable. So what could be the role of the professional non-profit development organisations? Now some thinking outloud; there could be two ways if professional organisations see a role for themselves to create synergy:

  1. They could leverage social media (like helpalot, a social network for charities or Nabuur trying to get people north and south to help) to facilitate connections around themes and geographical areas. This is probably in line with what Clay Shirky says, but the difference is that a lot of people are NOT yet participating through social media. In this case the non-profits need to think strategically what to look for, how to create communities around certain causes- align energy- link private initiatives and (paid) professionals, with the professionals as experts. Get private initiatives online and share, but this needs to start face-to-face and it is a cultural change from the current isolated initiatives. What can we gain from this? A wider understanding of development work, more private funding better aligned to certain causes probably.
  2. You could also see the private initiatives as charities, working on welfare, and the professional organisations as working on development issues. In this case, it is better to create separate lateral connections. Maybe help private initiatives to use social media to communicate with their charities in the south. Stimulating learning between professionals is also happening by organisations like Agri-ProFocus and PSO.
  3. Taking Shirky's view that fast lateral connections ARE happening online through social media, non-profits could also start with listening online to what's happening. Did you know about twestivals? Do you know global voices? Beth Kanter has a good blogpost about listening. Organisations and individuals north and south are sharing more online, but are we listening or are we only sharing? How much time do we want to invest in this? How to avoid becoming overwhelmed? After listening ideas for facilitation may come up, with their mission in mind. But keep in mind that this is a minority group.

I'm not sure this makes sense to the original question or is too specific to the development sector. I guess in our case we cannot assume that we are all a non-profit. But we can also not ignore the fact that we might all become a non-profit in the future, working voluntary towards causes we have some emotional ties with.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Thanks for your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

excellent post .. thanks for sharing this .. congrats for winning the book.