When it comes to technology, the social sector is not often thought to be at the cutting edge. The phrase “latest tech innovations,” in the minds of many, summons images of new iPhones or personal assistant robots, not food waste-minimizing software or apps that increase voter turnout.
It’s true that for-profit businesses typically have more resources, tools, and incentives to innovate. A new report from the Social Investment Consultancy, however, confirms that the social sector is ready to embrace technology solutions. All it needs are the right tools and resources to get started.
The report, which gathered input from 35 organisations, explains that innovative technologies are both desired and urgently needed by the social sector. While charities and non-profits have been “generally slow to adopt technology” aside from simple tools that facilitate fundraising (e.g., social media), they recognise that it provides an excellent opportunity to increase their impact. Furthermore, as demands on social enterprises grow and funding dwindles, it is critical that they seek out more efficient, effective approaches. Innovation is not a luxury – it's a necessity.
What, then, is stopping the social sector from harnessing the power of technology for good? Previous studies often concluded that it comes down to funders’ reluctance to invest in innovative – yet unproven – programmes. It’s true: the risk-averse public sector, in particular, provides grantees little room for experimentation. Yet almost none of the organisations surveyed by the Consultancy rated limited funding as their primary barrier to innovation. Instead, lack of time and guidance came out on top.
This surprising result suggests that charities are quite a bit closer to adopting new technologies than popular belief would acknowledge. Given a quick, simple way to introduce relevant innovations into their programmes, many organisations would jump at the opportunity. And with the support of an experienced mentor, social sector leaders could gain the confidence to pave their own paths to innovation.
That’s why the Social Investment Consultancy is launching Ideas4Good, an online platform that will support charities with idea generation and stimulate collaborative innovation.
The project will provide organisations of all sizes with simple tools for developing new income strategies and programme designs. Through a user-generated content model, the platform will also promote open dialogue and collaboration among diverse organisations.
In this way, Ideas4Good hopes to “democratise innovation in the third sector” through widely-accessible tools and support.
Non-profits and charities won’t adopt transformative technologies overnight. Yet the research of the Social Investment Consultancy demonstrates that they are much closer than many would think. Accessible, comprehensive resources and support – which the Ideas4Good platform is set to provide – could launch a wave of technology-driven charity innovations.
The talent, resources, and motivation are there: we just need the spark to set them in motion.
Originally published November 14, 2017