A blog – and a book – about “Disruption and Innovation in the Civil Society Sector”, why is this an important issue? To date, disruption has not happened in our sector. Yes, we know about disruption in the commercial world: book shops, newspapers, manufacturers of photographic films and analogue cameras, retail stores and travel shops are all examples we have heard of. But who can report about a case of disruption among civil society organisations (CSOs)?
So far, CSOs have not had to struggle with disruption. On the contrary, if we look at our sector over the last 10 or 20 years we will find impressive growth and expansion at the global level. A comparison of the incomes of a number of major international CSOs in 1999 with the funds they raised in 2011/12 shows an average growth of 323%.
Disruption hasn’t happened yet and innovation is certainly not one of the hallmarks of our sector: our missions are set in stone, our programmes have not changed significantly over a long time and while our fundraising has become more effective not too many examples of innovation can be found. So, why do we want to discuss two topics which, at a first glance, do not look very relevant for our sector?
The answer lies outside the sector. We can detect a significant number of developments which will not leave CSOs unaffected: ageing of supporters, climate change, digitisation of communication, global power shifts, planetary boundaries, growing inequalities, shrinking space for civil society action and many more. The world around us is going through fundamental changes and it very much looks like “business as usual” will no longer secure CSOs’ relevance and success. Disruption has arrived at our doorstep.
Over the last few years the International Civil Society Centre has conducted projects on disruptive change, placing the issue of disruption on our sector’s agenda. We found that the best way to navigate disruption was to embrace change and drive innovation. However, our sector has a long way to go before we will be known for our savviness in driving innovation. Often colleagues complain about the conservatism of their organisations. The mission hasn’t been reviewed for decades; the governance structures are sacrosanct; not wanting to touch the organisation’s ethical foundations is often used to defend maintaining outdated approaches in management and strategy. No, we really cannot say that the major CSOs are innovative. But that has to change:
disruption has arrived at our doorstep and only those who are willing and able to innovate will survive and thrive.
On this website we will look into a broad range of aspects of disruption and innovation in our sector. I would like to welcome you on this journey and hope for your active companionship. Your readership and your contributions to the discussions will influence the course of our reflections and – hopefully – the course of your and other CSOs.