01 — The world is changing. The social impact sector must too.
We are living through a paradigm shift into the information era. Technology — specifically the internet — has fundamentally changed our culture and society at large.
Today, we find ourselves in a rapidly evolving world shaped by the benefits and unintended consequences of technological innovation and global connectivity.
No aspect of society is untouched by this transformation, from how we connect and communicate with friends and family, to how we shop for goods and services, consume entertainment, meet potential partners, and perform our daily work.
Through this shift, the information era also democratizes knowledge, distributing control from information monopolies to the individual. It’s easier to create a platform, publish ideas, and reach other people across the globe more quickly and efficiently than ever before.
What a powerful opportunity for those of us working to create positive social change: fighting for the underserved and underrepresented, creating more equitable structures for our citizens, protecting and preserving our environment, educating our children, and striving to create a world that works better for more of us.
But the information era is a double-edged sword.
As knowledge becomes more freely distributed and accessible, attention grows more scarce and difficult to capture and maintain.
Ideas and opinions spread through algorithm-powered digital platforms analyze your behavior and social connections, learn your beliefs and biases, and feed you a carefully curated onslaught of news, opinions, truths, and falsehoods that shape your perception of reality — all irresistibly delivered through palm-sized digital devices.
And despite the promise of democratized information, those in power can still buy more influence and spread ideas and misinformation constructed to shape opinion, affect policy, and further divide us across issues and identities.
The internet isn’t going away. And new media channels — social platforms, email inboxes, websites, and digital experiences — will only grow in adoption and influence. Thus, as a social impact leader, it is your duty and your mandate to embrace and leverage our digital-first culture as a force for good or be outplayed by those using it for other purposes.
To do this, you must learn to think and act like a digital media company rather than a pre-information-era charity.
Once embraced, thinking like a digital media company can help you:
- •build brand awareness
- •organize a coalition of deeply impassioned supporters
- •lead the conversation around the issues you care about most
A digital-first model also allows you to:
- •build organizational capacity
- •break the starvation cycle
- •create a sustainable revenue stream
This approach is not just for the global, advocacy-focused nonprofit. It is also for the social enterprise, the philanthropist, the impact investment firm, and the scrappy nonprofit doing good behind the scenes. In each of these cases, creating change requires spreading an idea about the future and convincing more of the right people that your vision is possible.
What follows is a manifesto for the social impact leader who is ready to embrace this paradigm shift. Those of us who are fighting to help create a better future — and who are bold enough to actually do it.
Many will read these principles and cast them aside as optimistic, naive, or impractical. This path is not for them. It is for future-thinking leaders who see the opportunity for a once-in-a-generation transformation, get inspired, and know it must be done. Here’s to hoping you are one of them.