Major disruption has been taking place all over the world. Some kinds of changes that have happened, particularly the technological ones, have been unimaginable beforehand. Writing for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Burkhard Gnarig and Linda Heyer (2014) provide the example of the change that occurred when people moved from using analogue to digital cameras and how that change has destroyed well established businesses. One example given is Kodak, that prided itself on its film and this was one of its main revenue sources. The company was obviously hit very hard. Gnarig and Heyer question whether this kind of disruption could also happen with international civil society organisations, and come to the conclusion that yes, this is indeed possible and these organisations need to change their business models.
What are International Civil Society Organizations
By international civil society organisations (ICSO), Gnarig and Heyer mean entities such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace and Oxfam. It is suggested that there are big changes that could impact the work that these organisations do. These changes are threefold according to Gnarig and Heyer. The first is explained to be planetary disruption. It is proposed by Gnarig and Heyer that these organisations need to change what they are trying to achieve with this, because our lifestyles are destroying the planet and because as they put it:
“The window of relatively cheap mitigation and painless adaptation is closing.”
This means that rather than addressing the symptoms of this problem, these organisations need to start looking at the causes and tackling those. The second point is that political disruption is occurring as well. Gnarig and Heyer point out that in a range of different provinces, countries and regions there is interference with and violence against civil society activists. It is suggested that these different organisations need to work together to overcome these problems, but that they do not have a history of cooperating with one another, which is to their detriment. Technological disruption is the third area of challenge, and with this it is explained that the help that people need is changing. People can find donors for causes on internet platforms, argue Gnarig and Heyer. This leads to challenges for the business model of such organisations.
New business models for international civil society organizations
Gnarig and Heyer explain that there is an ICSO business model that can work for these types of organisations, which was developed by the International Civil Society Centre. This model is focused around three main points. The first is a clear mission and social purpose which provides structure for the way actions will be carried out as well as for income generation. The second is action, which are the activities that help the entity to reach its mission and offer a solid grounding for income generation. The third is income, which means finding the income to fund the organisation, and that this must be achieved with the organisation’s mission and values in mind.
According to Gnarig and Heyer, three major strands of action need to take place that would help these types of organisations to better navigate the different types of disruption that they face. It is proposed that the first of these is diversification, since over-reliance on one business model is too high risk in the current world order. The second is adaptation, since ICSOs need to keep on top of the developments that are coming up and understand how these will affect them. This needs to be an ongoing task so that changes can be better foreseen, and adaptation can take place quicker than it does currently. The third is innovating. Gnarig and Heyer point out that taking an innovative approach will help these organisations to come up with new ways of working that will help them to be able to survive.
There is much work to be done, regarding being ready for disruption and addressing it before it even happens. Gnarig and Heyer explain that this will require these types of organisations (ICSOs) being more entrepreneurial and less introspective. They need workforces that are talented and flexible and able to drive change. It is also explained that these workforces need to be able to celebrate successes and learn from failures so that they can move forward more successfully. A final recommendation for navigating innovation is building networks and alliances with each other and with others to help them to be able to deal with the challenges ahead.
Paula Newton is a business writer, editor and management consultant with extensive experience writing and consulting for both start-ups and long established companies. She has ten years management and leadership experience gained at BSkyB in London and Viva Travel Guides in Quito, Ecuador, giving her a depth of insight into innovation in international business. With an MBA from the University of Hull and many years of experience running her own business consultancy, Paula’s background allows her to connect with a diverse range of clients, including cutting edge technology and web-based start-ups but also multinationals in need of assistance. Paula has played a defining role in shaping organizational strategy for a wide range of different organizations, including for-profit, NGOs and charities. Paula has also served on the Board of Directors for the South American Explorers Club in Quito, Ecuador.