Review of “The Solution Revolution”

book_coverMy review of Bill Eggers’ and Paul Macmillan’s new book, “The Solution Revolution: How Business, Government, and Social Enterprises Are Teaming Up to Solve Society’s Toughest Problems” is now available through George Washington University’s student-run policy journal.  Check it out.

The book delves into a phenomenon I often discuss on this blog and elsewhere–the trend towards social consciousness and social impact. Eggers and Macmillan, both from Deloitte, name this trend the “Solution Economy,” but others have deemed it the “Impact Economy,” the “Social Economy,” or more recently, the “Purpose Economy.” Whatever you call it, Eggers and Macmillan provide a useful framework to consider how different organizational actors work together to solve social problems.

Please read the full review and let me know what you think. But the bottom line is that the “Solution Revolution” is a necessary book combining disparate schools of thought on how to solve social problems. They gloss over a lot, but their simplification makes the concepts more accessible. Their explicit focus on cross-sector collaboration is a unique addition to other literature discussing our global focus on social impact.

Again, you can read the review in PDF form here. You can also check out the full site on the book.


Re-Thinking Sector Stereotypes

I wrote another piece for the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog about the need to re-think our stereotypical views of each sector. Our preconceived notions of the sectors hinder collaboration and limit the full potential of society to produce social outcomes. I use my work with UnSectored to show that we have some pretty backwards views of what the sectors can accomplish, but some are bucking stereotypes and using sector frameworks in new ways.

Check out the post here.

Things I Don’t Want to Hear Anymore

hand-stopThings I don’t want to hear anymore:

  1. We can do well by doing good.
  2. Society doesn’t need another nonprofit, or social enterprise. Instead of creating something, help out with what others are already doing.
  3. The strengths of each sector combined together can do more than each on its own.
  4. The world needs leaders with experience in all sectors to solve its most intractable problems.

Haven’t we internalized these things already? Sometimes, I think we waste our time repeating the same axioms to the same groups of people. Can’t we accept as given, move on, and figure out how to best implement these lessons?

Maybe not…

photo credit: James Emery

The Digital Civil Society

connectionIf you haven’t yet read the recent reports from Stanford’s Digital Civil Society Lab, do it. Now.  Then come back and read this–or don’t. This post is way less important than those reports.

They came out of the research done by Lucy Bernholz and Rob Reich through their #ReCodeGood series, which explored the ramifications of the “open data” movement on nonprofits and civil society. Their new Digital Civil Society Lab continues the research on how to use innovative technology to improve transparency and effectiveness in the nonprofit/social sector. (Examples of activity in this burgeoning field, include: Markets for Good, which explores how data can contribute to a more connected social sector; a recent partnership between GuideStar and the Foundation Center to improve nonprofit data collection; and an open online course on better philanthropic practices.)

The Digital Civil Society Lab reports cover topics on policy, the social economy, and the blurring of sectors between nonprofits and for-profits. In their report on the changing nonprofit policy landscape, they conclude by stating:

The framework for nonprofit institutions that emerged and thrived in twentieth century America focused on the resources of that age—money and time. The global digital infrastructure of the twenty-first century has brought forward digital data as a new type of resource. The economics of this resource—how it is used, shared, stored, and kept secure—are different in fundamental ways than its analog predecessors

This sums up the challenge for the social sector of our time: How do we better use the new resources presented to us?

However–this conclusion relies on one fundamental assumption: That our digital activity is a resource, similar to money or time. I do not disagree with this assumption–the rise of Facebook and Google as business giants clearly show digital interaction can be capitalized–but there is another way to look at our digital lives: As a process, not a resource.

Digital interaction has fundamentally changed the way we behave. It has broken down time and space barriers between individuals and organizations like no other technology (telephone, television) has done before. This restructuring of the way we interact makes it easier for us to be collaborative within our organizations and between our organizations. For example, Markets for Good, mentioned above, not only uses digital resources (demographic information, feedback on nonprofit programs) to increase the responsiveness of nonprofits to their beneficiaries, it also would not exist without the digital process that makes those resources possible. It is a collaboration between three different organizations–something that would have been very difficult at its current scale a few decades ago. I’ve talked with people involved and they are amazed at how much they rely on the barrier-eliminating tools we know and love–email, Skype, Twitter, etc.

The organization I am privileged enough to run, UnSectored, also wouldn’t exist without the digital processes of our time. We are a team of four working part time, and our primary communication interface is email and text, and the primary way we interact with our community is Twitter and Facebook and our blog. We literally could not have existed before the social media explosion of the last few years.

You draw different conclusions once you view our new digital activity as fundamentally a process, not a resource. The folks over at the Digital Civil Society Lab ask the question “Do outcomes matter more than the organizational structure through which they are achieved?” in their report on the blurring of lines between sectors. They conclude that yes, we need a clear division between the responsibilities of the public sector, nonprofit sector, and private sector,  since we rely on complex and sometimes contradictory social values when working on social causes.

However, when examining the fundamental digital process available to all organizations today, rather than the resource product, you see that the question of boundaries/outcomes is less relevant than the question of leveraging what we have today to produce more effective, collaborative organizations. (Which I believe will be inherently more socially focused.) This conclusion is not incompatible with the Digital Civil Society Lab’s, but a different take on the same observed phenomenon.

I have not seen much study of the impacts of collaborative digital processes on organizations (both internally or externally). We must research these developing organizational structures to reach the full potential of our new social economy.

Photo credit: TempusVolat

Nonprofits, B corporations, government, and more!

lightblubsDepending on where you work, you may notice something interesting about the social sector these days: It isn’t full of just nonprofits anymore.

The social-good sector is expanding. In addition to nonprofits, many businesses, social enterprises, and government agencies are leveraging social innovation and cross-sector collaboration to tackle some of our most pressing problems.

For social change, this growth presents an opportunity to leverage the strengths of each sector. Nonprofits can serve populations others can’t and be more aware of community needs, where as businesses can quickly adapt to shifting demands. Government brings massive amounts of resources to any project and can help things scale. No single sector can accomplish sustainable change on its own and working together, organizations from all sectors can achieve way more than they could alone.

For job seekers, this growth presents an increase in opportunities to create change, but also a new set of questions and challenges. Here are some tips on how to navigate the new social-change landscape.

Go beyond passion

According to a Net Impact study (pdf), social impact is becoming a prime motivator for employees, particularly students about to enter the workforce, so odds are your competition will be just as passionate as you are. Having generic motivations for giving back will not get you far in an interview process. Instead, learn the specifics of the organization as an effective change agent, how it’s making an impact, and why. Focus on getting your hands dirty as often as you can through volunteering and internships at mission-driven organizations so you better understand how organizations are working in this new ecosystem. Think about what talents and skills you bring to help the organization move forward. Bringing this knowledge out in the interview process will put you far ahead of your competition.

Understand other sectors

While the reality is that the sectors have always worked together, in these times of scarcity, if you want to accomplish large-scale change you need to reach outside your organization to work with others. More and more, social-impact organizations need people who understand other sectors and leverage what is going on outside their organization to supplement internal programs and activities.

This doesn’t mean you need a career in banking before pursuing your social-impact career. Understanding the language of different sectors and paying attention what’s happening outside your own areas of interest can go a long way in connecting with others. To start, subscribe to some of the websites that talk about trends and opportunities in each sector. You can find a few by searching through categories on and reading cross-sector websites like Stanford Social Innovation Review and Aspen Institute. When crafting your resume and cover letter for potential jobs, let your knowledge of the position shine by using the right language.

Be nice

Ok, so this is just good life advice. But it’s even more important when creating social impact today. Working well with others, both internally and externally, is a must in our more collaborative society. Organizations need connectors and facilitators, and doing this effectively can be more challenging than you think. Cultivating facilitation and networking skills will serve you well throughout your career, no matter where you end up.

The sooner we can embrace this shift toward working together, the sooner we can accomplish big things.

A version of this post appeared on Idealist Careers.

Photo credit: Peshkova, Shutterstock