The old model for achieving social change is broken, says Kyla Shawyer, CEO of the Resource Alliance, but out of the ashes comes a better way of doing things, driven by a new wave of social entrepreneurship that is challenging the old status quo.

No doubt these are challenging times for people and organisations working for social good around the world. Challenging not only because the issues we’re working to solve seem bigger and more dire than ever, but also because the nature of how we do what we do is changing rapidly.


For as long as we can remember, social change was all about money. The focus was on asking and receiving. On ‘simple’ fundraising. But while fundraising remains vital, we must recognise that our work is not merely about money. It’s about all forms of capital: human, financial, and intellectual. It’s about unlocking the potential of whatever it takes to create change.


In some respects, admittedly, we’re working from a broken model. What’s no longer working:


– Transactional fundraising based on shallow interactions

– Focusing on money as the sole driver of change

– Siloed thinking within organisations

– Competitive thinking within the non-profit community

– Maintaining the wall between social impact organisations and the corporate world


The good news is that from brokenness comes change – and an opportunity to put the pieces back together in a whole new way. Despite a wide range of differences regarding culture, politics, economics, etc., one thing we’re seeing almost universally is changemakers’ desire to break through the bureaucracy that so often stifles even the best-intentioned efforts.


There’s a new wave of social entrepreneurship where daring thinkers in every corner of the world are recognising that a fear-based, risk-averse culture, ironically, breeds the very things that it seeks to avoid: stagnancy and failure.


The new wave reaches out instead of looking in, eschews solo-ism and invites collaboration. It isn’t afraid of shifting power, of handing over the reins from the bureaucracy to the masses. And it embraces ‘failure’ because if you’re not failing at least some of the time, you’re not trying. Playing it safe is no longer acceptable.


There are new partnerships, new thinking, daring new approaches bubbling up around the world. Social entrepreneurs are changing the landscape. And thanks to intrepid intrapreneurs working on the inside, even the older, well established INGOs that may have seemed immovable in the past are challenging themselves in terms of structure and their ideas around outreach, engagement and collaboration.


At the heart of all this positive change in how we view our roles and accomplish our goals is a new way of thinking about who and what and why we are. We’ve never been an ‘industry’. Now we find ourselves maturing beyond even a ‘sector’ into a community – a vitally connected ecosystem that gives to and takes from itself in a healthful and organically supportive way.


Collaboration is no longer just a good idea. It’s sustenance, the very lifeblood of social change.


The call today in the social impact community clearly is for radical change. For radical collaboration and outreach. And for a radical release of fear.


Brokenness exists. But we’re evolving. It’s all coming together in a more vital and satisfying way. What’s not broken, however, what can never be broken, is the phenomenal and transformative spirit that defines our community. At the Resource Alliance, we see it every day, at every event we create, in every discussion we have with leaders, activists, visionaries and other changemakers around the world.


That spirit is what is raising us above the broken. It is what leads to new ideas, to new collaborations, to new ways of doing what we do.


About Kyla Shawyer
Kyla Shawyer is the CEO of the Resource Alliance. Along with about 100 other leaders in the social impact community, she will be speaking about collaboration and a radical release of fear, among other fresh ideas, at IFC 2018, taking place 16-19 October in the Netherlands.