Who Will Win the Change the World Contest?

According to a recent The Chronicle of Philanthropy post, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes businesses are more likely to change the world than nonprofits because they lack resources.”  Now that’s a quite a challenge to the roughly 1,000,000 US nonprofits.

Is business properly motivated to change the world for the better? Do they have the right mindset? Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is gaining momentum, as evidenced by the first virtual CSR conference. (You can access reviews at Fabian Pattberg’s blog.) Taking a closer look at just one issue, sustainability, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic.  According to a U.N. Global Compact/Accenture study, “93% of CEOs believe that sustainability is critical to their success.” They believe “a tipping point, meshing sustainability with core business, might be possible within a decade.” Can we afford to wait 10 years?

Two business giants think philanthropy is a way to change the world: Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. They believe in it so strongly that they launched a campaign to motivate other US billionaires to follow their lead — and donate 50% their wealth to charity. Apparently it’s working, others have already signed on.  That’s certainly connecting smart people and money for change.

Author Nancy Lubin, goes so far as to say the nonprofit world can teach business a thing or two, not the other way around.  In her new book, Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business, she says nonprofits know how to do more with less, while keeping innovation, passion, and creativity high.  Some might argue with Lubin, saying nonprofits are part of the problem, because, like business, they are too invested in their current way of operating — they don’t change, innovate or make any real impact. Others might argue that charities simply don’t operate on the mega scale of business.

But there is a hybrid in the contest too, social enterprise.  It’s a blend of business and nonprofits that are out to change the world — it’s integral to their mission.  And it’s growing.  At this year’s SOCAP10 Conference more than a thousand of the world’s leading social investors, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and thought-leaders met to invigorate social change.  There are organizations, such as Ashoka and the Social Enterprise Alliance, that support social entrepreneurs, nationally and internationally.  The Hub provides creative meeting places and support, bringing people together with the intention to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues.  More companies are touting a “triple bottom line” approach: people, planet, and profits.

Government is a huge player too: city, state, and federal budgets fund billions of dollars toward major projects, many of which are operated by businesses and nonprofits. As an example, The Corporation for National and Community Service is a public/private partnership with a $1.4 billion budget to mobilize more than six million Americans to solve critical problems through national service.  That’s scalable. President Obama launched a $50 million Social Innovation Fund to support promising nonprofit organizations working in low-income communities and leverages private funding.  It’s not a lot of money, in the scheme of things, but it’s a mindset toward more innovation and tangible results.

All the while, millions of people like us are taking action in big and small ways. We affect business, nonprofit, social enterprise, and government through our votes and activism. We’re buying local food, biking to work, writing our senators, and voting for what matters to us with every purchase we make — and changing the world.  Many of us — 41 million people (19% of American adults) — fit a consumer segment called LOHAS, with a focus on health and fitness, the environment, personal development, sustainable living, and social justice.  We’re becoming more connected too, through communities that are committed to making positive change, such as:

  • Change.org informs people about important causes and encourages them to take action — “165,399 actions taken this week.”
  • Worldpulse fosters women’s leadership worldwide, “telling stories of women who had lost everything except their passion for a better future.”
  • Idealist.org promotes volunteerism and nonprofit careers.

So maybe there really is a trend — a contest to see who can save the world. Maybe business will see the huge market potential in CSR.  Maybe nonprofits will see how more results-oriented thinking will help them be more innovative and mission-driven. Maybe social enterprise will become the norm.  Maybe our local and federal government will fund more innovation.  Maybe more individuals will get involved, rather than assuming someone else will naturally do the right thing.

We need everyone testing, experimenting, analyzing, and improving if we’re going to make real progress. I’m hoping everyone will enter the contest.  What can you do?  I’d be interested to hear your stories about what’s actually working to change the world.  Couldn’t we all use a bit more inspiration.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Beth. Thanks for the mention and this great article.

    Some very good questions. Here is my experience so far with the whole virtual conferencing, webinars, video conferences, etc.

    So far I found it really empowering to be able to be at home or in the office and to network, share information and learn from presenters, colleagues and clients using modern tech.
    It all takes some time to get used to and the tech at your end and the other needs to be there but in the end everyone is just better of.

    Several years ago travelling ruled my life. To the airport, into the plane, out of the plane, check into the hotel,…….. So much wasted time.

    Now I have less then 1/4 the travel time and more time with the family and more time to be productive. Like answering to this post. 🙂

    My world has definitely changed already. I bet others have as well.

    All the best,

    • Thanks Fabian. I think sharing our knowledge is key to changing the world; and you certainly do that through your blog and tweets. It’s encouraging that CSR might become the norm!

      Virtual learning is becoming more common too, making it possible for more of us to keep learning, innovating, and improving. As you said, this not only helps with our productivity and quality of life — but our carbon footprint too! Then there are the hazards of eating on the run vs slow food; I know I certainly have a few meals I’d rather forget!

      Well, I’m still hoping for more innovation in all sectors; but I just read another article questioning the billions of dollars headed toward nonprofits. Here is one quote from a recent article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy…

      “So much of the giving wealthy donors and foundations now do is lackluster and does not involve risk taking or innovation. Nor does it seek to solve urgent public needs.”

      Here’s the link:

      Let’s hope all this questioning leads to positive results and real change vs motivation-killing criticism and excessive analysis.

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