Toward a New Normal -- Visions for Development Leaders

What legacy are we preparing to leave behind? All we have to do is to look into ourselves and utilize our education, our smarts and our beliefs to make a difference.
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Last week I was in N.Y. for the Clinton Global Initiative and this week I am in Washington, D.C. attending the Business Civic Leadership Center Global Corporate Citizenship Conference. There have been many conversations about global development -- from the status of the MDGs to the role of capitalism. I want to share my thoughts in an attempt to focus on the positive and the opportunities at hand.

First of all, with regard to community investment and development programs, one thing is very clear. We will never go back to normal as we have defined it in the past. The current economic and political environments are fundamentally shifting the dynamics of how we determine our future. And we must embrace that change.

I believe that this is the moment everyone in the development community -- is called upon to embrace change, chart a new path, and become more relevant to the communities they serve. I believe there are a number of common elements that can lead to positive change.

1. Be Innovative. You cannot continue doing business the old way. You need to look past the surface symptoms and identify systemic changes that need to be made. You have to look for new cutting edge solutions. Let us learn from social entrepreneurs, who are developing hybrid models to implement fundamental and long-lasting changes. Slow Money is an example of alternative financing mechanism where some organizations are designing new capital markets built not around extraction and consumption but around preservation and restoration of the economy.

2. Be Relevant. Be a part of solutions that address needs effectively and make sense. Help design and deliver new solutions in a manner relevant to your business, organization mission and community. The Council on Foundations and Business Civic Leadership Center on whose Boards I serve, are leading the way in creating an environment where our collective voices can be heard. TechSoup an organization based in San Francisco that serves the nonprofit community is engaging in this dialogue so that technology access is combined with human and organizational capacity support so that nonprofits and libraries are utilizing technology for greater scale and impact.

3. Be Visible. This is the time to be out and about. You must show that you are engaged and accessible, and that you are involved with people, issues and the community. Get out there and share best-practices with other organizations across sectors. Also, learn to be visible in new ways that weren't around even a few years ago. Utilize social media tools to involve a much larger audience around solutions. Kiva, for example, is sharing over 50 million dollars through individual contributors to micro-entrepreneurs around the world.

4. Be Transparent. We all need to be much more transparent in our decision making process. Newer organizations are positioning themselves in unique ways to serve the community and address development issues. We can all learn from each other. Utilize the web much more extensively to share your results and funding priorities. Technology can play a key role in transparency. Seattle Foundation just launched its new website which has garnered much interest around the use of technology to increase transparency.

5. Be Collaborative. We need to learn to work together and maximize limited resources, but at the same time be a careful that in the effort to drive collaboration and consensus, you do not promote inactivity. Be collaborative, but don't get stuck in indecision. This is the time to bring people together to solve big problems and work together toward solutions. Cross-sector collaboration is becoming more and more critical in effectively reaching the individuals and organizations that need our help the most. Take Microsoft's Elevate America as an example where we have worked in close partnership with private, public and community organizations to accelerate the workforce readiness of individuals across the United States.

6. Be Focused. It's easy in this type of economy to become absorbed in reductions and constraints. However, the most important task the development community can perform is to stay focused on end goals and look at ways you can scale the impact most effectively. Teach for America is using the economic downturn to scale up their recruitment efforts to get talented young people to go into the teaching carriers.

7. Be Risk-takers. We must be ready to take risks, and in some cases embrace failure, all the while remaining careful not to overextend. Build on solid foundations. This is one of the greatest contributions the private sector has to offer. This is the basic difference between philanthropy and venture capitalism - the freedom to take risks. We must seek innovative partnerships with social entrepreneurs and businesses to move into fields that traditional philanthropy cannot reach on its own. Pepsi Refresh is an initiative that was risky but has been very successful.

8. Be Geeky. Use technology to your advantage. Technology adoption is critical, and it is not just about efficiency, it is also about changing our approach and discovering innovation. Technology can play a key role in helping you reinvent yourselves for the next "normal." It is easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of technology solutions that are out there. But there are many great examples of organizations that are using technology very effectively. Year Up is a program that brings at-risk youth into the IT and IT-services industry under direct partnership with employers.

9. Be [the] Change. This economic downturn is hopefully nearing an end, but it will undoubtedly unleash lasting shifts in our thinking and our approach. Recessions of this magnitude don't just reduce economic output - they change it in ways that are unpredictable. To be successful, companies, teams, and individuals will need to adapt. I challenge each and every one of us to work on identifying and embracing the changes that are needed to survive and indeed thrive.

We have arrived at a point where we now have all of the resources needed to provide the basic needs for all humankind. There should be no food shortage, every child could be educated, health care should be available to all and shelter should not be an issue. Yet it is not so. What legacy are we preparing to leave behind? Today, right now, we can all commit to embracing change. All we have to do is to look into ourselves and utilize our education, our smarts and our beliefs to make a difference. Nothing else will do.

Bonus link:

Julie Lloyd also blogged about this talk in a post: Moving beyond Partnership for Partnership's sake.

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