Type keywords like Social Business, Grameen Bank etc.

Nonprofit Groups Urged to Rethink Global Activities

Nonprofit Groups Urged to Rethink Global Activities

Conference Notebook: Nonprofit Groups Urged to Rethink Global Activities

The Chronicle of Philanthropy
News Updates

The financial crisis presents new opportunities to rethink how nonprofit groups and other organizations operate around the world, said speakers at a forum here Friday attended by prominent philanthropists, politicians, clergy members, and business and nonprofit leaders.

The downturn has prompted many in the financial-services industry to rethink executive compensation, regulation, and the basic approach to providing services. In the nonprofit world, it has put a premium on collaboration as business, government, and nonprofit groups focus on new ways to promote sustainable development.

Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank, told the conference assembled by Georgetown University: “This is a big crisis, everybody is upset — but this is also a great opportunity to redesign, to reconceptualize everything so that we don’t have to go back to same old the normalcy which we are coming from.”

Mr. Yunus noted that the financial crisis had not touched microcredit institutions and the question was: why?

“Microfinance is very close to the real economy,” he said. “When we give a loan — $100, $200 — against it there are some chickens, some cows, some baskets. It’s not fantasy. That is the basic difference. We have to come back to the root of what this financial system is all about. This is an opportunity to redesign. And let’s aim at the financial institutions and make them grounded on the reality of the economy not on fantasy.”

He said financial institutions are “exclusive clubs for very privileged people” and that two-thirds of the world’s population were not eligible to do business with these institutions. The redesign, he said, should help them become more inclusive.

While most of the institutional victims of the financial crisis have been underperforming banks, many foundations and nonprofit groups have also suffered as their endowments plunged along with the stock market.

One benefit of this period, participants noted, is that it will force weaker institutions to merge with stronger competitors while the weakest will have to close their doors. Only the most adaptable institutions will survive.

“When you see the dinosaurs thrashing around and dying, that’s helpful,” said William Drayton, chair and executive of Ashoka, an American nonprofit group that supports social activists around the world.


Many of the speakers discussed the role that technology can play in philanthropy and global development, whether it was the power of new media, such as Twitter, or video game technology, to raise awareness about malaria, HIV/AIDS, and other threats.

The philanthropist Raymond Chambers, founding chair of The Millennium Promise Alliance and Malaria No More, was abuzz about the showdown between the actor Ashton Kutcher and CNN for the most people signed up to follow their Twitter messages.

On the day of the forum, Mr. Kutcher made headlines when he beat CNN to become the first Twitter user to have a million followers. He had challenged the broadcaster earlier in the week to see who could be the first to reach that target. Both sides agreed the winner would donate 10,000 mosquito nets for World Malaria Day, which will be marked on Saturday.

Just as the Internet revolutionized charitable giving by making it easier to donate online and get information about nonprofit groups and causes, the Twitter challenge showed the power of this new social networking technology, which reaches a broad audience, to raise awareness of malaria and promote philanthropy.

Karen Tandy, senior vice president of public affairs and communications at Motorola, also touched on Twitter, saying she used a blog to share corporate social responsibility stories but was already being asked why she was not also posting on Twitter. “I see the increasing interplay between corporate social responsibility – doing well by doing good – and the interconnection with communication,” she said.

Ms. Tandy noted that her blog was intended to bind people together through the stories about her business’s socially oriented activities, but with technology evolving so rapidly she would need to embrace this new media to stay connected.

In another example of the power of technology, Charles Dages, executive vice president of emerging technology for Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group, told the audience about a new video game created as part of a partnership with the U.S. government, through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and unveiled last year in Kenya. The game is intended to get young people involved in learning about AIDS and has been designed to help more people understand what kind of behavior puts them at risk of getting HIV, as well seeking to influence the attitudes and behavior of young people in Nairobi.

The examples of Twitter and the new video game showed how technology could be adapted to benefit e nonprofit world. But participants also called on nonprofit groups to invest in technology even if it risked raising their overhead costs — a sensitive issue for charities trying to prove that the are operating as efficiently as possible.

Bill Clinton closed the conference by urging participants to move quickly to help the world’s poor. “We can’t forget about our responsibilities to people who are less fortunate than we are, even if we are really strapped now,” Mr. Clinton said. “The financial crisis was the latest example of just how interdependent our world is …The world is suffering from a persistent set of problems: inequality, instability, and unsustainability.”

He said that during his time as president of the United States nearly every debate focused on two questions:

    * What are you going to do?
    * How much money are you going to spend on it?

He added that while those are important questions, the most important one isn’t asked: How do you propose to do it?

“I spend my whole life trying to answer the ‘how?’ question,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what you can’t do, it matters what you can do.”

Monday April 20, 2009 | Permalink

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