Friday, January 1, 2010

The Year Ahead

It's New Year's Day and time to forecast which trends are most likely to shape the cause-wired landscape this year. More than ever, it seems, online activists are divided over how they think the Web will empower them in new ways to make change in the world.

To be sure, 2010 will be another tough year economically for many start-ups and social advocacy groups. At the very least, proving social impact will matter more than ever. But these same rising pressures to make measureable change also will lead to innovative new forms of online collaboration and consolidation. Low-cost social media will be used ever-more widely and creatively by social enterprises and advocacy groups to aggregate new levels of clout, funding, innovation and community support.

In short? Collaboration and consolidation are this year's mega-trends. Here are some of the ways these trends will show up in the weeks and months ahead. (And this list is just for starters. Have your say at the end of this post.)

* Divisions between traditional "giving" sectors will continue to fade. More organizations, companies and consumers will seek to achieve a branded, demonstrable impact on social problem-solving with the dollars, time and ideas they spend or contribute. Look for social entrepreneurs to collaborate on new ways to prove, measure, and scale their social impact across time, place, sectors and ideologies. The recent launch of the Global Impact Investing Network, for example, will push the cuase of social investing by bringing together global philanthropists, ethical banks and social entrepreneurs and enterprises to apply the microfinance model to health care an other services needed by those living in poverty around the world. Look, too, for more offline conferences that celebrate collaboration among activists across sectors for social change. Example: The two-year-old CUSP conference in Chicago, which features social innovators who are reshaping society by design, regardless of whether they are from the corporate, education, religious, nonprofit, entertainment, or technology sectors. Look for more such efforts to scale cross-sector social innovation for greater impact.

* New ways to measure impact will emerge. Mobile and location-awareness technology -- because it will enable people to get closer to measuring their personal impact on the world in real-time -- will continue to radicalize the social enterprise space and the giving experience (watch for Foursquare, Google Latitude, Loopt, FireEagle and other such geo-location "games" to become more socially conscious this year), reshaping how and what people donate. Giving money will become less important than giving voice, giving time, giving influence, and giving work. Look for social networks to create new ways to reward those who demonstrate the most activity around socially-conscious activities.

* Micro-activism will proliferate. Expect to see new start-ups modeled after The Extraordinaries, an online micro-volunteering enterprise that enables people to give short bits of their time via their mobile phones from anywhere at any time. Also look for more micro-gift enterprises to emerge, such as, which allows causes or individuals in need to receive a portion of what they need or want from many people rather than get gifts or input they can't use (such as wool blankets for weather-disaster victims in tropical climates). Additionally, look for more micro-funding groups like World Nomads, which through its Footprints program funds large-scale international development projects through micro-donations. Expect, too, the rise of micro-seed funding and 1-to-1 financing of social entrepreneurs. Additionally, get ready to see new types of micro-work enterprises to stem from SamaSource, which uses the Web to outsource digital work for larger companies to educated people living in poverty in developing nations. The micro-craze will also lead to more innovative uses of social media platforms like Twitter and Ning by social enterprises to crowdsource micro-services and influence that scales.

* More small causes will be aggregated to achieve greater impact. Consider the innovative umbrella group, Wildlife Direct, a Kenya-based nonprofit enterprise that aggregates autonomous wildlife conservation activists under a single umbrella and gives each exposure to individual donors. Says Paula Kahumbu, a 2009 PopTech fellow and Wildlife Direct's executive director: "Underfunding is conservation's biggest threat. By giving each of the wildlife activists a blog, we enable individual donors from around the world to communicate directly with the people they are funding." [Think meets The Huffington Post meets wildlife conservation.] The goal, says Kahumbu, is to create a single platform for the many smaller groups working to save wildlife in Africa. "We have much to share with each other -- each activist or group of activists is working on a different animal or aspect of the problem. We are stronger working together than we are alone." Additionally, the newly-launched Social Entrepreneur open API, which is a search engine for finding social entrepreneurs, is an effort to provide an exchange and transfer of information so as to avoid duplication in the "do-good" sector. One site to keep watching in 2010 is, as well as the Compathos Foundation, which connects volunteers and financial resources with nonprofits through digital storytelling.

* Co-working goes mainstream. Until recently, co-working spaces -- which Wikipedia defines as "the social gathering of a group of people, who are still working independently, but who share values and who are interested in the synergy that can happen from working with talented people in the same space" -- were concentrated most heavily in San Francisco and New York. In the past, co-working has mostly been a way for newbie start-up founders to share space and expenses. 2010 will likely see the expansion and formalization of these types of spaces both geographically and intellectually, as more will become incubators for start-up funding and volunteer support. Example: The Unreasonable Institute, a new nonprofit, has announced it will bring 25 global social entrepreneurs to Boulder, Colo., this summer for 10 weeks to co-train, co-work, and explore seed funding collaborations. Look for more such social enterprise colonies and retreats to pop up this year, based on the 20th century model of artist's colonies and writer's workshops.

* Online swarms gain clout. The combination of mobile phone, geo-location, and real-time organizing technologies and platforms will embolden "flash cause and consumer mobs" to exert their influence in new and expanded ways. Globally, mobile data traffic is set to double every year through 2013, increasing 66-fold between 2008 and 2013. Look for more nonprofits to "hire" members of online social networks who have the most online and mobile followers to help them raise funds and awareness on-demand; look for a continued rise in new consumer-complaint platforms such as Quiet Riots, a UK start-up that offers disgruntled consumers a way to crowdsource their complaints and give companies a way to address them. Look, too, for more companies and nonprofits to be held more publicly accountable for their actions. Case in point: JPMorgan Chase's recent online contest snafu.

What are some of your predictions for the year ahead? Go ahead, it's your turn. Tell us what you think -- and what we missed.

- By Marcia Stepanek

(This post first appeared on Justmeans and is being reposted here with permission)

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Anonymous Changents said...


I really enjoyed your post which is packed with great information and insights. If I were to add a trend, I'd say that the movement toward Conscious Capitalism will fundamentally change the way corporations that possess a deep sense of social purpose connect with consumers around shared values. As good corporate citizens increasingly understand the bottom line impact of being truly responsible companies, their ability to involve consumers in social and environmental issues may accelerate the pace of change faster than non-profits have been able to do in generations.

I'd also add that the personification of the solution that social entrepreneurs represent and their exciting stories will become a greater part of mainstream media.


Deron Triff

January 3, 2010 at 9:49 AM  
Anonymous amanuel said...

Enjoyed your piece, Marcia. Thanks.

I'm wondering if this is also the year where we will see more emphasis in the nonprofit world where the issue of next generation of young leaders becomes more pronounced - opening the sector to a lot of introspection about what it means to have overlapping generations in the workplace...a segment of which thinks and operates differently through the use of social media.

amanuel melles
director, capacity building
united way toronto

Creative Institute for Toronto Young Leaders (CITY Leaders)

January 4, 2010 at 2:19 PM  
Blogger Marcia Stepanek said...

Amanuel - You raise a good point. There is still a big leadership gap in the nonprofit sector and high turnover, due mostly to the economy but also exacerbated by a "glass ceiling" that is generational, chiefly at traditional organizations. Social media strategies, pushed via the marketing arms of these organizations during tough times, is proving to be the "way in" for many younger leaders.


January 5, 2010 at 7:56 AM  
Blogger Marcia Stepanek said...

Deron - Yes! Agreed that "conscious capitalism" is proving, already, to be a powerful force, whether it's using conferences such as the Clinton Global Initiative this past fall to focus new levels of concentrated attention on issues such as food security and the plight of women and girls in developing countries) -- or amassing new levels of resources around social problem-solving.

Look for more companies to team up around single-issue campaigns this year.

And yes, I agree with you about stories. Stories about cause activism -- in the hands of people with resources to tell them well -- will continue to reshape how we look at issues and seek solutions.

I do think, however, that one of the biggest contributions the corporate sector could make would be to help the cause community find new ways to measure effectiveness. I know there has been quite a bit of debate over the definition of social impact -- and how to measure it, but until there is a more common understanding of which approaches work and which do not, many efforts will struggle to scale and achieve widespread credibility.

What do you think?


January 5, 2010 at 8:14 AM  

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