Changing the world in a world of change

While there are many causes striving to meet all kinds of needs, the Resource Alliance is dedicated to meeting the needs of social causes and the people who work with them. DTV’s Derek Humphries spoke to Resource Alliance CEO Kyla Shawyer about the changing world of social good.

DH: Just to set some context for readers who don’t know the Resource Alliance, how would you sum up the organisation?

KS: We’re here to support changemakers, fundraisers, people who want to make the world a better place. Fundamentally we do that by connecting people so that they can share their learning and create new ways to make an impact.

Historically we’ve done that through flagship events: IFC in the Netherlands, IFC Asia in Bangkok and gatherings in India, South Africa and elsewhere. Today and moving forward, it’s not just about events but about a 24/7 conversation via digital channels, events, and any media necessary! We’re powered by a massive array of worldwide volunteers, and by thought leaders and practitioners who generously share their skills and insight for the greater good.

DH: I know you must meet thousands of changemakers worldwide. Would you say they face common issues?

KS: Of course there are regional variations in terms of culture, political context, rate of economic development, humanitarian and environmental crises, and so on. But there seems to be a universal thirst for better, faster change. For new thinkers and social good entrepreneurs there is frustration that they are stifled by bureaucracy, often thwarted by a no-risk culture that fears change and cannot countenance the failure.

We are all working in the same profoundly disrupted world; in many places an increasingly polarised world where people are more and more keen to find a sense of purpose, an outlet for their values. That’s great news for good causes if they can truly align their organisational values with those of people who want to turn their own personal values into action.

DH: There’s been much doom and gloom in the world of fundraising, and talk of a model that is broken, so it’s good to hear your optimism!

KS: Isn’t it the Chinese character for the word crisis that is made up of the two characters for threat and opportunity? I prefer to see the opportunity.

I do recognise what you mean when you talk of a broken fundraising model. But fundraising also has many beacons of brilliance that we should not overlook. The broken part is fundraising that is transactional and shallow-touch. But there is plenty of truly values-driven, deep-engagement fundraising that is working for organisations.

While fundraising remains vital, today more than ever we must recognise that creating change is not merely about money. It’s about all forms of capital: human, financial, and intellectual. It’s about unlocking the potential of whatever it takes to create change. Giving money is just one way we measure that.

DH: What gives you real hope that we may be heading in the right direction?

KS: People! Without a doubt people. I’m lucky enough to meet extraordinary people who are doing amazing work, often unsung, unnoticed, all over the world. I was recently in Bangkok for our IFC Asia event. We had a dozen people from Nepal, bursary-funded attendees from Bhutan, Australia and elsewhere, tech industry leaders sharing their insights, and every one of them with important knowledge to share and with much more they want to learn. It’s such an enriching and generous community.

Then there’s new ideas. Take something like Jeremy Heimans’ thinking, articulated in his book New Power. There’s rich thinking there in terms of how we understand old power and new power models, and how we decide which to use or whether to blend them.

I’m also encouraged by what I’ve seen through initiatives such as our Leadership Forum,. Here we aim to create space not just to share great ideas, but to convene people who will generate new breakthrough thinking. That non-competitive, truly collaborative space is a rare thing and we need to create more of it.

I’d say my hope also comes from the huge generosity our community has in sharing its know-how. It’s an open source mindset. At the Resource Alliance it’s been part of our DNA for nearly 40 years, and today we can use technology to share know-how and engage people in debate like never before.

DH: When you look at something like IFC Asia, what learnings do you take from it for yourself?

KS: I took a great lesson from Katy Grennier who spoke in the closing keynote session. She vividly brought to life the need for radical collaboration. We can all speak the jargon of 360-degree stakeholder consultation, but Katy breathes real life into this. She talks about the broken system, or systems, that we all blame for the world’s ills. What we need to do is

acknowledge that we are the system. To change the system, we need to challenge ourselves to listen differently, to engage with different people and to take radical responsibility for our own actions.

We all want to see change, and that means that we ourselves must be willing to change. That’s not always easy, but it’s vital.

DH: Disruption, radical collaboration…what do these things mean for your own organisation?

KS: In terms of events, it means ensuring that we constantly bring in fresh viewpoints, and that also means being more diverse and inclusive. That’s not a mere good intention, it’s something we vigorously pursue through robust KPIs. For example, at IFC this year we will have 62% female speakers. Nevertheless, we’re far from perfect. For example, our board has reasonable diversity in terms of nationality, but still has a male gender bias which we are proactively tackling. None of these things change unless you change them.

As for disruption, as an organisation and across all forms of social good work, we can’t afford to just ‘keep up’, we need to lead. And in doing so, our approach to leadership, the models we use, and how we put those models into practice must go beyond ‘fundraising’.

DH: Where you look across the sector, where do you see the most exciting changes taking place?

§ I’d first of all challenge the idea of a sector. What we see instead today is more of an ever-changing ecosystem of individuals, organisations, and movements. It’s highly fluid and rapidly changing. That can be unsettling given the human need for certainty and security. But it’s thrilling in terms of our ability to mobilise and engage large groups of people swiftly.

I’m hugely impressed by the social entrepreneurial start-ups that we see springing up worldwide, although there seems a particular energy across Asia. And I love the way some big, established INGOs are challenging themselves around how they are structured and truly embracing strategies of engagement. Then there’s the huge activity around crowd-funding, from individual campaigns that start small and suddenly accelerate to $20million, to the numerous individual crowdfunders inspired by simple, unfiltered storytelling such as those of Humans of New York.

Meanwhile, pretty much everywhere there are devoted intrapreneurs, changing established organisations from within. These people rarely get the same recognition as high-profile entrepreneurs, but their work can be every bit as effective.

And of course, even as we speak, there will be new initiatives taking off that we know nothing about yet. In all parts of the world we see initially loose ecosystems of changemakers morphing and uniting rapidly to find unexpected power through common cause. It’s a dynamic and invigorating time to be a changemaker.

‘This is article is from an interview that first appeared in Fundraising & Philanthropy magazine.