Guest blog from John Dunford, Campaigns Lead, The Developer Society
For changemakers this isn’t simply about upskilling internally, the real issue is how their ability to deliver on their mission is undermined by not being able to take advantage of the latest technology. If you were trying to reach a mass audience in the 15th century and not using the printing press then you just weren’t doing it right. The same goes for many charities today. We have the technology to work in a smarter way to tackle the biggest problems out there, but charities don’t know how to access it.
Tech companies have a mirror challenge
Bizarrely, the tech industry has its own mirror image of this challenge. There is an idealism and a belief in the ability of technology to change the world. It runs through all the best tech companies but their lack of issue expertise and understanding of change stops them making a difference.
Both charities and tech companies are problem solvers by definition and both groups have the knowledge and experience the other needs to tackle the world’s biggest problems in smart, innovative ways. So you’d think deep relationships between charities and tech companies abound, right?
Coming from different worlds
When there is so much to gain from charity and tech collaborations, why are these partnerships not more straightforward and common? The answer lies in the fact that — while there might be shared big picture goals — the two groups are rooted in fundamentally different ways of working.
Traditionally charities and NGOs’ are funded by non-commercial income sources. Their working cultures are usually based around collaboration, consultation, and a ‘first do no harm’ approach to improving lives. Whereas a typical tech company usually comes from a commercial culture where their skills are monetised and their approach is ‘disruptive’. This culture values fast-paced, competitive change.
Of course this isn’t the exact case for every charity or tech company but these are the origins of their original working cultures, even if they consciously deviate from them.
Speaking different languages
This all means that if you want to collaborate, you need to really unpack the differences in approach and language. This takes time and effort and like any good relationship you have to understand where both sides are coming from before you can go anywhere together.
So why bother? What’s in it for me?
With such different worldviews between charities and tech companies, are the barriers to collaboration simply too high?
There are challenges to overcome but when you make it work, the rewards for charities can be huge:
- You get access to a whole range of skills to deliver on your work.
- Your work gets exposed to people who think differently and can offer new ways to tackle your biggest challenges.
- Your have the chance to transform your organisation through exposure to new ways of working.
- You can experiment with cutting edge technology (like how the WFP is using blockchain) without having to make big capital investments.
So if the benefits are clear and the will is there, the question really is how can you make this collaboration work?
How to make charity tech partnerships work
If you want to bring in some external tech expertise, there are some straightforward things you can do right now to develop a tech partnership:
- Reach out to organisations you’d like to connect with. Particularly look for groups who have experience working with out nonprofits or who share your ethos.
- Make sure you understand each other’s motivations. This means:
- Talk openly about the challenges you’re facing
- Listen to them, then make a clear offer: what will they gain (be it experience, exposure or other) from this partnership?
- Discuss ways of working early on. Find out what they expect from you.
- Look a gift horse in the mouth! If their offer seems to good to be true, question it and consider everything you need to invest from time to reputation.
- Invest in understanding early. Tools like the CAST Conversation Menu are excellent ways to cover a lot of ground early on.
- Spend time together. Try to meet up, work from the same space and take time to develop a deep and trusting relationship.
Working together, working smarter
Charities and tech companies often share a sincere normative goal to make the world a better place. There are serious barriers to collaboration but don’t despair. If you invest your time wisely upfront and work to build a shared understanding then there’s massive potential for your partnership to leverage each other’s expertise and make positive change in the world.