Thursday, July 28, 2011

Institutions by and for their users

On Thursday, New York City will host "The Nexus: Global Youth Summit on innovative Philanthropy and Social Entrepreneurship." The meeting was organized by a group called Search for Common Ground and the Young Donor Network.

The conference is partly a result of previous networking events led by the United Nations Programme on Youth of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the White House

The program options at the conference include topics such as Social Media for Social Good, Organizing Young Wealth & Influence in Your Country, and Youth Movements: Transformational Change. What's interesting about this is the real involvement of young(er) people - late teens to early 30s, in making it all happen. They are the speakers and organizers of the conference, not just the attendees. And that is a good thing. The technological tools, global assumptions, and involvement in social movements of this generation and the next will shape our world for the next 20-40 years.

Here's one simple example of what this means. The Search for Common Ground is, by design, a globally networked organization focused on conflict resolution and peace building. It has offices in several countries, programs and leadership councils around the globe, and shares its resources on the web. They provide training, television, print, radio and web programming, readily admit to failures and the need for "incremental transformation." They have a resource section with their program evaluations, guides to what they were looking to learn, and easy to navigate blurbs on each of the evaluations. It's neither a young organization (founded in 1982) nor is it led by youth - judging from the photos and bios of its board and senior management.

The Young Donor Network is a project of the Search for Common Ground and it appears to be trying hard to be "by and for it's core membership" - here's a link to a "donor lifecycle" chart they've got on their site - direct, easy to use, written in clear language - for young donors, by young donors.

What strikes me about this is the ready and clear statements about who the programs are run by and who the programs are for - whether we are talking about the Nexus conference, the Search for Common Ground (SFCG) or the Young Donor Network. All three are actively shaped by the very people they also aim to serve. All three involve "outsiders" - in the case of SFCG there are very direct statements about when "foreigners" are seen as helpful and when in country staff and partners are most important.

It is leadership of and by participants - networked across countries, online and offline, doers and donors, that is interesting to me in all of this. I'm thinking about this on an organizational and programmatic level and what it means for stakeholders. In the larger scheme of things - the issues scheme - we are all stakeholders in peace building and conflict transformation or climate change.

How do the choices we make organizationally reflect our view of who is a stakeholder in an issue? And how is this changing with technology? Tuesday's NYT raised this in an entirely different context - those who participated in online hack attacks who may or may not have seen themselves as protestors, activists, or lawbreakers. Who is "in" and who is a stakeholder - online and off - this has real implications for how we organize ourselves and shape our institutions (and our conferences).

Lots to think about here....your thoughts?

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