As a consummate sci-fi fan, I have always been obsessed with the future.
FTL (Faster than light) travel?
Computer…73 bags of Cool Ranch Doritos.
I went to work with social impact organizations in part because they play such an important role in creating a better future. In my years of work in the social sector, I have found that we often fall prey to a common misconception about the future: we tend to believe it will operate by the same rules we have today and come by incremental gains. We think of seismic social and technological changes as unpredictable anomalies and create plans that assume we will continue to work in the same space with the same values and rules of engagement.
For better or worse, the future doesn’t work like that.
The future (like climate change or the epidemiology of a virus) follows an exponential growth curve, punctuated by spikes of game-changing advances. Change is accelerating more rapidly every year. If estimates stay on target, for example, we will be able to make mobile internet speeds 100x faster by moving to 5G in just under 10 years. That’s like a small Honda Civic coming to market a mere decade after the first horse was used to pull a cart. In the social sector, it’s then easy to see how in a decade, today’s social justice activist could easily be supplanted by tomorrow’s AI-assisted equity designer (Thanks, Antoinette Carroll).
This acceleration is not going ignored, especially by more well-heeled and innovative organizations. Companies like Amazon have purchased Whole Foods not only to gobble up our data, but to potentially reinvent urban farming. Organizations like Charity: Water have thrown out the typical nonprofit funding model. UNICEF has vaccine delivering drones.
These rule-breaking advances in models, technology, and strategies not only alter the playing field, but the roles of the social impact organizations that play on it. For-profits are now arguably just as good at delivering social impact (thank you, Certified B Corporations® like Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s), and the government, while slow, can still make broad, sweeping change (e.g., the Paris Agreement, my fellow Americans excluded).* How will nonprofit social impact organizations deliver value in this landscape without duplicating effort?
This means we have to talk about robots. It also means we have to think about AI and activism. And probably most importantly, it means we have to rethink how we structure our organizations without getting caught up in discussions about, say, effective evaluation processes for regranting strategies.
Drawing on a broader review of the landscape and combining them with research about social impact organizations, we’ve identified 20 trends that will help you understand and prepare for the next ten years. We also took a pass at prognosticating the role of the social impact organization in 2030. Here’s a sneak peek at what we’ve identified in three areas. We’ll flesh them out with additional detail later this fall.
If you want to talk about the future (and you don’t think it’s beyond the pale to discuss the impacts of genomic sequencing on animal protections), sign up here to participate in a conversation where we’ll detail our thinking and battle-test the concepts with members of the community. We want your feedback, expertise, and thoughts. We’ll reach out to you with a time and date for an online discussion in this fall.
Here’s to the future.