September 26, 2016

Technology and Venture Philanthropy – Opportunity or Risk?


Innovation and Technology are rarely priorities for the social sector. They are too often perceived as threats and costs rather than opportunities for better outreach and/or better efficiency.

Why investing in digital is crucial for the social sector

Even if digital has a promise to deliver lots of social impact at scale, with unrivalled reach through online products and services, unique abilities to automate activities that don’t need to be done by people, and augment those that do through insight and intelligence.

If there’s anyone who understands the potential of digital it is the private sector. This is what Venture Philanthropy can learn from the private sector or how they can work with them:

  • Contrary to the private sector, the social sector currently lacks players that invest in (social) technology, expertise and therefore the available solutions. At present, we are missing a huge opportunity.
  • It is not feasible to assume we can just tackle this gap incrementally, one organisation at a time – social sector organisations do not have the right business models to attract the investment required.– So we need to be smart in our approach, thinking about how to broker new, or different, skills and solutions from where they exist to where they are needed, and working in partnership, rather than trying to tackle the technology challenge in isolation
  • Specialist digital “social” funds provide one possible answer, pooling financial resources in different areas e.g. Education or Access to Jobs, and applying them across the field, not organisation by organisation. Such funds could then work with the private sector to bring in the right skills and solutions to tackle problems and opportunities at the sector level, resulting in shared solutions and shared capability across multiple organisations.

Some expect governments to step in as a promoter of innovation and technology though they have typically not been able to do so successfully with Public Administration – and explaining the significant delays in innovation and technology adoption. Others may think (big tech) corporates will play that role forgetting how conflicted they may be in any solution they promote—wanting to offer their products and services rather than the most appropriate in each situation.

So there is a real opportunity for the Civil Society and its representatives to step in and to propose alternative models that work. Like with so many other Venture Philanthropy topics!

New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) is working to develop these models in the UK and beyond, and is keen to work with partners: funders and investors with a strategic interest in building the field, groups of social organisations that are open to collaborative approaches, and tech companies who want to maximise their social impact. Above all, to partner with digital VC funds which have much of the expertise, though not the market knowledge of the social sector.

For over 20 years, Fondation Demeter has been sponsoring (through a mix of funding and in-kind support) the development of innovative tools for social good in areas such as: Access to Finance, Fair Trade, Women Empowerment or At-Risk Youth.

Interested to learn more? Tris Lumley (New Philanthropy Capital) and Pascal Vinarnic (Fondation Demeter) welcome you to their workshop on 4 November 2016 at the EVPA Conference 2016 in Paris to further discuss those topics.

Kindly supported by

European Commission

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