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Karen's thoughts on the Social Economy

Top Trends for the Social Sector 2014

Thursday, 23rd January 2014

Many of the trends that were discussed last year (impact investing, impact measurements, collective impact, social enterprise) are ongoing and still developing in clarity and depth with the intermediary organisations necessary to make them mature, slowly emerging.

However, in dynamic organisations the trend is that the timing on what works and what doesn’t seems to be speeding up – with a focus on feedback “loops” and quick pivots to change direction when things aren’t tracking so well.

(How we did last year… See last year’s trends and predictions)

1. The Future of Reform

Uncertainty about where overall sector reform is headed with a new Government in Canberra and the resulting lack of confidence that engenders in the sector makes predictions for this coming year hard to make.

The Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times” rings true. As the sector adjusts to a Conservative Government philosophy and agenda in Canberra there will be many rumblings of discontent, activism will increase and new leaders will emerge to voice opinion.

The trend towards sector reform, based largely in the Productivity Commission Report recommendations of 2010, and the implementations commenced under Labor through the National Compact and the charity regulator, the ACNC, look likely to be reversed or abolished.

However, reduction of red tape and bureaucracy, the establishment of a business community partnership, and a Centre for Excellence are all stated objectives of the Coalition. Four months after taking power no detail has emerged as to what exactly this looks like as yet and little broad-based sector consultation has taken place. We know the ACNC is in the Government’s sight for dissolution but have no clarity about what’s to come.

2. Convergence of For Good and For Profit

Notions around the “Social Economy” will continue to develop. The what, who and how the Social Economy emerges as a concept that cuts across sectoral boundaries and provides a framework for participants to work together to address social issues.

A new book published in 2013 by William Eggers, the Solution Revolution, speaks to many of the same thoughts.

3. Impact Investing

Impact Investing will continue to emerge locally and globally as more intermediaries set up to promote awareness and educate the sector about capital and measure of outcomes.

Much is happening on the International front, most notably the establishment last year of the International Taskforce and Global Learning Exchange and Impact Investing Australia.

Impact Investing funding bodies such as SEFA, Foresters,  Impact Group and Social Ventures Australia, will continue to emerge.

Overall, money is there for investment, good investments are slower in coming. But this will change as word gets out and the finance committees of Not for Profit organisations get less risk averse in dealing with capital. There is still much to be done, however, in Sector education about how money (capital) can be used to leverage social Good Works. This will need to happen to generate more projects for funding.

There is some hope that the new Federal Government will consider a social finance bank in much the same way as the Cameron Government has done in the UK.

4. Social Enterprise

2012 was the year of the Co-Op and that, in conjunction with the newly formed Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals, has seen a rise in awareness of the Co-ops and Mutuals business model. A model that has been around since pre Industrial Europe.

What’s old is new again… Who would have thought that Australian Co-op and mutuals accounted for $17.8 billion in revenue and number 1600 across Australia with 79 per cent of Australians being a member? Examples of these are NRMA, Bank Mecu and health fund HCF.

As the worldwide trend of  looking for new models of ownership that deliver social return as well as financial return, these models of organisation are getting fresh attention, particularly as it’s claimed overall financial returns post GST have outstripped the market.

The survival of smaller social enterprises (of which there are claimed to be 20,000) supported by organisations such as Social Traders, Social Ventures Australia, the Hub and the School for Social Entrepreneurs will continue to be precarious as the disciplines around generating long-term financial sustainability whilst generating social returns continues to challenge.

Where 40 per cent of small businesses fail in the first five years, social enterprises have a doubly hard task to deliver social AND financial returns.

5. Corporate Social Responsibility and Shared Value

This past year was the year where Michael Porter’s model of Shared Value was explored in depth at conferences around Australia.

Large Corporates operating in Australia who have had experience in the CSR arena started to explore the notions of Shared Value and what it meant in the “doing” of their organisations.

Workplace giving is predicted to quadruple from $50 to $200 million per annum over the next few years as significant workplace giving technology platforms are launched. (See Charities Aid Foundation) In addition, the ongoing discussion about new company employees “opting out” rather than “opting in” to workplace giving may get greater traction at a national level.

Very noticeable in the CSR area is the developing commonality of language and understanding of issues between the Not for Profit and Corporate sectors – a result of  five to 10 years of staff shifting between the for profit and Not for Profit sectors leading to a deeper understanding of what value is driven by the corporate-community relationships.

6. Using Pictures to Convey the Issues.

As technology has made taking and receiving pictures easy and low cost, the visual mediums will be used more and more in communications in the sector. We have always known that “a picture tells a thousand words” and technology has made it a whole lot easier.

And its not just “selfies” or Snapchat.

The past year has seen a raft of new film production houses setting up to develop documentaries that deal with social issues. Documentary Australia Foundation has been facilitating philanthropic funding of films such as “I am a Girl” for a number of years but this year will see the launch in October of Good Pitch. Good Pitch is a process that connects social justice documentaries with “new allies to build a powerful community capable of making a sustainable difference”.

The outcome of this process is that the documentary message magnifies via an multi-partner outreach strategy –  so having seen a documentary that moves you, you know how you can ACT if you want to make a difference.

7. Measuring the Physical Effects of Doing Good.

Most would agree and accept that when we give, we feel good. When we volunteer or donate there is often a sense – surprising some new to it – that we end up getting more than we give especially if we are involved with the cause over a longer time. Giving, participating and connecting has a physical effect on our bodies. These have been well documented.

Last year, a survey of 4,500 American adults showed that:

  • 73 per cent agreed that “volunteering lowered my stress levels”.

  • 89 per cent reported that “volunteering has improved my sense of well-being”.

  • 92 per cent agreed that volunteering enriched their sense of purpose in life.

When people are kind, it lights up the primitive part of the brain that also lets them experience joy. This feeling of elation is sometimes described by psychologists as the “helper’s high”. More and more of this research will emerge as studies around the workings of the brain continue.

As the new frontiers of neuroscience continue to develop many of the core activities in our sector will be able to be measured – and able to be treasured –  in ways that will translate into clear monetary terms.

8. Philanthropy

Networked movements – leading from behind. We’ll see more of the “networked movements” – those Global (Global-Local) events that use technology connectors like, Google+ Hangouts, Twitter chats and webinars to connect across the country and states.

A couple of these happened across Australia this past year, picking up on overseas trends. The Changemakers Festival initiated by TACSI in SA generated 5000 people attending 155 Changemakers Events across Australia. All doing their own thing but aware of other events going on. Another example Giving Tuesday engaged over 2500 organisations across the USA on December 3 in its second year and launched on the same date in Australia last year with 332 member organisations signing up

2013 saw for the first time multiple high profile donors giving big big sums of money. The Forrests (65 million), the Tuckwells (50 million) and the Top 50 philanthropic Gifts of all time was launched showcasing 50 of Australia’s great philanthropists.

In addition young/Next Gen philanthropy was highlighted at the Inaugural Nexus Youth Summit. This trend is set continue with Philanthropy Australia developing Next Gen offerings and the Nexus summit happening again.

Philanthropy’s peak body Philanthropy Australia continued to develop its sustainability last year, developing an array of events and offerings for its members and the broader philanthropic community. This will continue in 2014 as they have one more year to follow their existing strategic plan. In addition, the search is on for a new Chair to take over from Bruce Bonyhady, whose role as Chair of the NDIS will now be taking up all his time.

Crowdfunding platforms (Pozible, Indiegogo, Kickstarter and Start some good) and Giving Apps (Shout, GiveEasy, Everyday Hero, Donate Planet etc), continue to emerge in numbers. There has to be a shake-out at some point!

9. Volunteering

The lack of a loud national voice for volunteering in 2013 was no surprise but was missed. Some 6.1 million Australian Volunteers kept on doing what volunteers do year after year.

This will change in 2014 for a couple of reasons.

Australia will be hosting the International Association of Volunteering Executives conference in November.

Volunteering Australia finally got itself a new CEO and more will be heard from these quarters as they reorganise the organisation to get a new constitution and board.

The state-based Volunteering bodies will continue to grow in strength as newer CEOs settle in.

10. Data

As the understanding of the use and abuse of data continues to make headlines around the world, Not for Profits who have been made aware of the power of data will be asking questions around the ethics of collation, usage and sharing.

Who owns the data and who do you trust to share your data with? The complex issues around data collation and usage continue.

The spinoffs from the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) data are unlikely to happen as the devolvement of the ACNC into a Centre of Excellence would at this stage be unlikely to include a consideration of Big Data, which was going to be one of the real ongoing benefits of the data collected by the Commission.

Data hackathons such as Random Hacks of Kindness which get techies to solve and understand social issues through crunching data will continue.

In the same way that commercial enterprises use data generated by search engines such as Google to target and track customers, new ways of targeting donors will emerge using the same methods.

Other people’s thoughts on trends:

Not for Profit Tech for Good

Lucy Bernholz 2014 Blueprint

And of course, please send me yours and others should you wish to add to the discussion.


Karen Mahlab AM is the Founder and CEO of Pro Bono Australia. In 2015 she was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for her contribution to the Not for Profit sector and philanthropic initiatives.
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