Is the future passing you by? 6 important trends for non profit boards

I attended my daughter’s graduation this week as we marked her last day at school after 13 years of challenges, accomplishments and growth. This in itself is not an unusual story, but she has had the added challenge of living with a disability, making her journey to this point more remarkable.

Luci though, has had one advantage that may not have been open to others living with disabilities in previous decades. From preschool to high school she has attended main stream education and classes supported by amazing educators, provided by a system that respects and celebrates inclusion.

Luckily for Luci, her school life and experiences mirrored those of her brothers and sisters.

As she embarks on her next journey to the working world she will also be able to experience unprecedented advances in society that in the coming years will provide a more level ‘playing living field’ for many with a disability.

Innovation, technology and entrepreneurialism have meant that for every 10 new ideas and inventions you see come to the sector, there are 90 more following closely behind that will be even bigger and better.

Working in and around the ‘For Purpose’ sector I regular warn non profit boards not to become too complacent as change is coming at an unprecedented rate.

There are some major shifts that all boards and senior teams need to stand up and take notice of.

1. Self-determination

The introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in Australia has not been a smooth one from a transition point of view, but its introduction in 2015 was predicated by the theory and hope that it would allow all people living with a disability to live their best lives.

The big shift in power that Luci will experience is that she will no longer be just a consumer of services, but the independent architect of her ‘best life’.

Attending the ‘The Future is Remarkably Inclusive’ Sydney meetup at the Microsoft Reactor in September, David Masters, Microsoft Corporate affairs and disability lead, gave insight into how voice recognition and artificial intelligence technology is giving rise to products that will help Luci to interact with the world more seamlessly.

Products like Google Home coupled with voice and online service booking will mean she can be far more in control and live with a greater degree of independence.

For boards this means that the traditional product and service models will need to turn around to a much more customer centric model that recognises and embraces this new power.

2. Choice is Exploding

As a flow on from the changes mentioned above, new connected services and providers are emerging that give Luci greater choice in what she wants to do and how she wants to do it. Via the online marketplace HireUp, she is already engaging the services of individuals to help her. As she gets older and more confident, the range of services she will be able to access will only increase.

In his talk at the Third Sector conference in September, Dr Gary Johns, Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission (ACNC) Commissioner said that against a population growth of 1.6% the sector is growing at 4%; there will be 65,000 charities in Australia by 2020.

Add on top of this the growth in ‘For Purpose’ organisations and socially minded enterprises, the range of service and options is growing exponentially and coming from non traditional providers.

The danger for boards and organisations is resting on past reputation and achievements in a bid to remain connected and relevant. Organisations may need to reinvent their models or look to partner with a broader group of providers to remain current.

3. Generational Shift

The numbers tell us that at this present time there are more young people in the world than older. 3.5 billion young people are looking to find their way and make their mark on the world.

I have attended a number of events over the past months relating to social entrepreneurism and disability support. The overriding message that is being shared is that ‘Young people don’t just want to participate, they want to be part of something meaningful’.

Sashenka Worsman, CEO of Oaktree speaking at the 3rd Sector Conference, said that including young people in program development, decision making and coaching not only increases engagement but results as well.

This was also evident when I attended the City of Sydney’s “Understanding the social enterprise sector in Sydney” workshop as part of their ‘A City for All’ Social Sustainability Policy and Action Plan, where there were myriad stories from 20 to 30 something year old socialpreneurs in startups that are hungry to be part of a more conscious and sustainable community.

This change in thinking also impacts giving. As options to support worthy causes increase, younger generations are less attracted to traditional charity and more aligned to engaging endeavors.

4. Entrepreneurialism is King

I have had a number of non profit board members say to me that the young people don’t want to get involved. My experience is the opposite, as the number of entrepreneurs in the inclusion space is growing. What I am finding is that old hierarchies and expected norms are being bypassed for more meaningful inclusive experiences.

They probably get your “Why” but may not agree with your 'what' and 'how', so if they can’t find their place or niche in what you are doing then they will create their own.

Boards need to engage individuals, listen to what these innovators are saying and support new ways of delivering products and services.

Great social entrepreneurs and emerging businesses I have met in the past few months include Victor Lee at Communiteer, Hiam Sakakini - Co-founder ThinkChangeGrow, Joshua Ross Humanitix (2018 Third Sector, Social Entrepreneur of the Year), Max Burt at The Wheeleasy Foundation, Peter Horsley and Margaret Chang at Remarkable, Danny Hui at Sameview, Dr Joe Dusseldorp, David Borg at Teleportivity Aideen Gallagher and Emma Small at Risk Managed and many many more.

5. Technology is ubiquitous

There is a fundamental shift in how the younger generations see challenges faced by those with disability or living impairments. They see their challenges, not their disabilities, and as such these challenges are opportunities waiting for solutions. Their brains are going at a million bits per second looking for ‘Hacks’ that can improve people’s experience of the world.

I could provide many examples here but organisations like Remarkable which is a disability tech accelerator, are providing funding, support and mentorship to find tech solutions to disability challenges.

This drive is coming from many areas including changes to the way younger people are interacting with the world. They have grown up with technology and connectedness at their fingertips so they don’t see limitations and are excited by the myriad possibilities.

For Luci, access to technology such as smartphones, tablets and watches remove barriers around isolation, access and finances. She taps on and taps off transport, can ride with Uber and even order food online (we haven't introduced this yet :-) without having to master finance and money.

Technology being introduced into retail outlets like Teleportivity's live cloudbased video platform will allow Luci to connect with customer services aimed directly to her.

6. Lines are blurring

There are blurring lines between non profits, charities, social enterprises and social purpose businesses. As funding, fundraising and attitudes shift the old idea that there is a hierarchy of ‘Doing Good’ in the community is being eroded.

The idea of only large charities having the ability to find solutions is changing and the big end of town having a monopoly on employee giving and volunteering scheme is shifting as all sizes of established and emerging businesses want to support and give back to causes they are passionate about or connected to.

We even see organisations like banks and car manufacturers attempting to move into the “trust and emotional” space with their advertising and messaging that was traditionally the domain of the non profit sector. The result is a less clear line between the for profit and not for profit standing in the community.

The interweaving theme is that all of these forces (and more) are working overtime to alter the society in which we live. Sentimentality over established institutions is eroding and staying relevant is becoming increasingly challenging.

Non Profit boards need to be thinking strategically about where change is coming from and look for more innovative ways to engage and above all remember your “Why”. Why does your organisation exist and what are you trying to achieve?

Be open to new ways of meeting your objectives, listen to new voices and remember in this climate if you aren’t moving forward you are going backward. There is no standing still.

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robert @ leadingforpurpose . com . au

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Leading For Purpose