Intermediaries in an entirely new ecosystem of supply and demand

I have been having one of those ongoing conversations with Atallah Kuttab, the founder of Saaned, an organization devoted to growing philanthropy in the Middle East. In addition to being a charming person, I find him to be an outstanding thinker in the area of philanthropy, fundraising and, most importantly, new models of creating social impact.

Ata and I have, in our own ways, been pushing the non-profit/NGO sector to take advantage of the information and communications revolution to reframe how we define our role in society. To realize that we do ourselves a disservice by describing what we do through the methods and models we have available to us at any given moment in time. To embrace the fact that the rules we have been working under for decades are changing, and the new rules will not be rules at all. To understand the kind of thinking that we all must adopt as two centuries of “industrial-revolution-style” specialization is being replaced (rapidly) by a new kind of systemic way to view any problem.

So that we are no longer “shackled” by past conventions, and no longer bound by the limitations of tools and tactics that have become so common, but less relevant than they once were.

As we were picking up our ongoing conversation on this new era, Ata made a comment that, to me, felt profound. It felt as though he saw through the “fog” of our current circumstance, and provided a vision of how we must see ourselves going forward. Specifically, he said:

We must begin to see ourselves as intermediaries in an entirely new ecosystem of supply and demand.

To me this was a beautiful summation of the new world in which we find ourselves.

A world in which a rural Filipino farmer living 100 km from the nearest town, now has the ability to transform her work, her life and the security of her family through a smartphone. A world in which a prospective donor has immediate access to anything that has ever been said about our organization, and the ability to bypass our work entirely to give directly to a small organization in sub-Saharan Africa. A world in which people can form and mobilise values-based communities without regard to the false restraints of geographic borders and political systems.

There will be a day — not too far over the horizon — in which we will find the idea of “non” profit and “for” profit as meaningless categorizations. There will be a time — quickly approaching — where terms like “non” governmental and “social responsibility” will seem simple minded.

We are most qualified to play the role of intermediary.  The question is what must we begin to do today to play that role — not just be prepared, but to lead?

[Editor’s note: This post is part of a series leading up to two Resource Alliance events — IFC Asia, The Resource Alliance’s premier event in the Asia Pacific region, taking place 26-28 June in Bangkok; and IFC 2017, taking place 17-20 October in the Netherlands.]