Technically challenged? Building the New Economy Roadmap for the Charity Sector
If I were to give you two choices to support an organisation working on reducing recriminalisation rates of offenders, which one would you choose?
The latest EdTech solution for daily learning and rehabilitation that claims an incredible 0% reoffending rate among its 20,000 users over 4 years; or a local non-profit reaching over 100 young people a year through its 1:1 life coaching programme that had seen reoffending rates drop to 10%, and a significant improvement in prisoner-officer relationships?
Both examples show the importance of investing in the personal development of offenders to unlock their human potential and give them a better chance of reintegrating into society, but one is scaling exponentially and the other is caught under the weight of government spending cuts and struggling to survive.
At the moment I’m transitioning from my role sourcing emerging tech opportunities for investors and corporates, to joining the Rainmaker Foundation to help scale a Charity Accelerator, which aims to create a safe space for innovation that is sorely missing in the sector.
I constantly see Tech for Good examples that are rising up to disrupt the way charities have traditionally dealt with social problems, offering data-driven solutions and capturing the market space for delivering these services before charities have even realised that they no longer hold the industry monopoly.
For most small charities, when you speak about integrating technology, they think of social media tools for increasing fundraising. They’ll be familiar with peer-to-peer fundraising platforms like Just Giving, and trying to channel traffic to their pages, but they’ll have very little knowledge of the business model or technology behind it that enabled it to become such a widely used tool.
The leap to thinking about how technology could help them improve the sustainability of their organisation and serve more beneficiaries in a better way, simply hasn’t emerged for most yet. We see a two-tiered situation coming about. Where at the top-level, the larger international NGOs are directing millions to innovation, spurred-on by the potential of humanitarian technology for delivering aid more quickly and transparently, according to real-time data on need. While at the second-level, smaller organisations remain disconnected from this discussion and locked into current models of operating, because their budgets are principally made-up of restricted funds from donors that require output delivery on existing programmes.
Moreover, trends in philanthropy are starting to play an increasing role in shaping how charities cope with these industry shifts. Impact investment, social finance, the impending move away from the traditional grants-based system to one based on demonstrable social return for investment, has great potential for opening up a new generation of philanthropists, seeking to source and support deep societal transformation.
However, there is a real risk that many small-medium charities simply won’t have the financial flexibility to reassess what they are doing and how they are doing it, to be able to keep up with the changes expected of them by the 21st century philanthropist.
The Rainmaker Foundation, an organisation originally set up to inspire generosity among those in the business world and connect them to charities supported by our programmes, has seen tremendous change over the last year. With a Chairman that has exited several businesses and a CEO transitioning from the tech startup ecosystem, asking the hard questions was inevitable. How can we become more efficient and transparent? How can we achieve greater impact? What is our highest point of contribution for the sector? Was it to continue to open up channels of philanthropy, or was it time to start challenging the status quo?
Along the way we opened up a new dream for ourselves. To create a safe space for small charities with big potential to learn, experience and experiment with disruptive thinking and innovation, to help them navigate these impending transitions.
This led to some deep and proactive changes. We’ve begun to transition to a 100% impact model in order to establish a Rainmaker Innovation Fund to provide finance for our Accelerator charities to pilot new ideas. Secondly, we formed new partnerships to create a startup style ecosystem around the third sector, to give charities access to the same vital tools, resources and mentorship available in the commercial world, to help them thrive. We’ve even started developing our own tech platforms to fill some of the gaps in the sector and productise elements of our work to fund core costs.
In other words, we’ve peeked our heads above the parapet, seen a wave of change coming and done our best to shift our way of working to help level-the-playing-field for small charities not to be carried under by the current.
From 19–22 April, we’ll be taking part in the New Economy & Social Innovation Forum, which is bringing together change agents from across the business and civil society spheres in Malaga, to lay the foundations for a new global manifesto for a dynamic, fair and sustainable economic model for the 21st century.
Technology may hold the power to reshape the way our world operates, but it’s the voice of the social sector that can guide it towards a new economic narrative, to close the gulf between purpose and profit, and set in motion a new era of conscious business.
With charities and traditional industries being disrupted in equal measure, we have a unique opportunity to work together to find a mutual language for navigating this new paradigm, to bring us closer to an economy and society centred around the common good.
Early bird tickets are available until 28th February and we hope to see you there!
Charlotte Newman is COO of the Rainmaker Foundation, www.rainmakerfoundation.org