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More reflections on WEF: 4 Key trends impacting nonprofits

To repeat from my previous post on WEF, I view these as a confirmation of, and a call-to-action for, NetHope to continue its hallmark cross-sector collaboration and focus on applying the power of technology to the problems and potential of humanity.

February 6, 2020

Above: NetHope CEO Lauren Woodman with Tae Yoo, SVP of Corporate Affairs at Cisco, and Alan Donald, CFO at Mercy Corps during the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Editor’s Note: For the past six years, Lauren Woodman, NetHope CEO, has represented NetHope at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting as a civil society delegate. This is the second of two posts detailing Lauren’s observations at WEF—from the big picture to nonprofit trends.

Read Part 1 of the series

By Lauren Woodman, CEO, NetHope

In addition to gaining big picture insights from the 2020 World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, I was able to represent NetHope and to collect some nonprofit-specific insights I’d like to share with our NetHope members and the broader NetHope community.

Representing NetHope

First the accolades: It was an honor to accept the “Wave Makers” award from HCL Technologies on behalf of NetHope and our members. This tribute, which honors “organizations committed to social goodwill and uplifting the world, one ripple at a time” was a wonderful recognition of our collective impact. Seven other worthy nonprofits also received this award.  

Additionally, I tried to channel your collective insights as a moderator/presenter/speaker at six WEF sessions and as a member of the Board of Steward, Digital Economy, and Global IoT Council. When presenting I shared the stage with remarkable representatives from business, government, nonprofits, and philanthropy. The titles of the sessions are compelling and speak to the many issues we all face: Philanthropy: Catalyzing Systems, Shaping the Future of the Digital Economy (webcast,) Platform for Purpose, Investing in the Digital Future of Nonprofits, Human Rights in Technology Design, and Frontier Technologies for Sustainable Development.

4 Nonprofit Trends to Track

Here are some of the trends that caught my attention at the Forum. The implications of these insights are both encouraging and concerning: they outline not only the challenges we face, but also the opportunity NetHope has to create a roadmap for change, improvement, and transformation.

  1. The Shift to Stakeholder Capitalism offers an opportunity to partner with business for mutual benefit. The visible, public commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals by the private sector is encouraging—we’re all pursuing the same goals today. Achieving greater impact with private sector support could be significant, as nonprofits are a natural avenue to positive societal impact. On the downside, concerns about economic growth may limit available resources. Perhaps more worrisome, there are concerns that the inherent inefficiencies and sluggishness of the nonprofit sector make us unattractive partners. This is the sixth time I have attended WEF and this year, more than ever private sector company CEOs indicated they feel the need to “go it alone” because of concerns about working with traditional nonprofit partners. While this is most certainly naïve on some level, it’s the increasing narrative around “nonprofits are just not moving fast enough” that caught my attention.
  • Good Technology Governance must reflect the concerns and opportunities of every community, not just the private sector. The red-hot questions of ethics and human rights in tech are complex and nuanced—but without perspectives from civil society, these efforts will not reflect the needs and concerns of the entire global community. Without doing so, distrust will continue to increase. And without trust, we risk doing unintentional harm as we try to do good.
  • Ethics in Technology is a Leadership Opportunity for Nonprofits. Edelman believes trust is based on both ethics and competence. Among institutions, only NGOs are seen as ethical; but we are not seen as competent. Conversely, business is seen as competent but not ethical. NGOs that improve competence—whether directly or through partnership—could carve out a leadership role and be a foil against potential business efforts to pursue societal good unilaterally.
  • Nonprofits will be Asked About Sustainability Efforts. While many organizations have already developed a comprehensive approach, how we reduce energy usage (especially with diesel and generators) will be important data points in how nonprofits are perceived as ethical leaders in the future (or not if we fail to act).

In the coming months, we’ll see continued efforts in the key issues highlighted during the Annual Meeting, both through the work of the Forum and—perhaps more importantly—among the businesses and stakeholders in attendance. To the extent that we are engaged, we’ll keep you posted. And if I can offer any more insight or details that might be relevant to your organization, please do not hesitate to reach out.

To repeat from my previous post on WEF, I view these as a confirmation of, and a call-to-action for, NetHope to continue its hallmark cross-sector collaboration and focus on applying the power of technology to the problems and potential of humanity.

Favorite quotes of the week

  • Thomas Friedman, Foreign Affairs Columnist for the New York Times: “Everything that can be done, will be done. It will be either be done by you, or to you. It will be done by a competitor or a bad guy. And they are both early adopters.” 
  • Stephanie Buscemi, Chief Marketing Officer, Salesforce: “You are what you tolerate.” She was speaking in reference to the persistent underrepresentation of women in key corporate and leadership roles, and at WEF in particular.
  • Marc Benioff, CEO, Salesforce: “Capitalism, as we have known it, is dead.” Salesforce has been a leader in driving this perception to stakeholder capitalism inside the Forum, especially in response to concerns generated by 4IR technologies.
  • Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft: “We need global norms to ensure trust in technology.” Microsoft, more than any other tech company, has been out front in asking for regulation to balance the potential for good and the risk of harm in the greater use of tech.
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