Bring on 2019: Our predictions for the for-purpose sector

With the first month of 2019 done and dusted, we’ve put our heads together to predict what the rest of the year might have in store for organisations looking to drive positive social and environmental change. In line with this, we mapped the key opportunities, risks and general trends that are worth keeping an eye on during 2019 and beyond. Our observations are diverse, encompassing broad political and policy changes as well as insights that have emerged through our own work, research and relationships.

Elections ahoy and their implications

With the Victorian election wrapped, it’s now time to turn our gaze to both the New South Wales and national elections. Our view is that the New South Wales election is too close to call at this point in time. If Labor wins, the sector would be wise to ask itself how to seize the opportunity of having more of a voice.  If the Liberals stay in power, Social Impact Bonds will likely continue in their current arrangement which begs the question of how for-purpose organisations capitalise on that opportunity. Government advocacy funding, on the other hand, is likely to drop under Liberal leadership so those who are dependent on this might consider reviewing their approach to financial sustainability. When it comes to the federal election, the polls indicate that Labor has a comfortable lead, suggesting greater investment into the ACNC could be just around the corner. If Labor takes the helm nationally or in New South Wales, we predict they will look to their counterparts in Victoria for inspiration and direction. (Heads up that Sparkie Neil Pharaoh will be sharing more insights on this topic in a blog that’s coming soon.)

Increasing importance of the SDGs

Even if you’ve been living under a rock, you probably still know about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – 17 global goals set by the United Nations in 2015, which guide a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. The SDGs provide an incredible, universal framework that is relevant to all stakeholders – individuals, communities, organisations and government. The SDGs can be incorporated into a number of organisational activities and approaches, either for upfront decision-making and strategic planning or as a review and evaluation tool. Saying that, it’s not necessarily easy to blend an organisation’s existing approach with the SDGs and the term ‘rainbow-washing’ has been coined for those who (ab)use the colourful SDGs mosaic or rainbow wheel in a shallow, meaningless way to enhance their brand. Regardless, we are seeing more and more organisations embedding the SDGs into their work (e.g. strategic planning, impact assessment), and we predict this will continue and become increasingly sophisticated over the coming years.

Impact areas getting particular attention

Mental health and aged care will be in the limelight due to Victorian and national commissions respectively. With the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), 2018 has been a big year for the 2.1 million Australians living with disability and the disability sector. As the rollout, response and adaptation continues across 2019, we expect disability to continue to be a major talking point, especially in government and amongst charitable agencies. In addition, Australia’s SDG report card has highlighted that we are falling behind in a plethora of environmental realms including clean energy, climate action, life below water and life on land. We forecast the conversation about the environment and sustainability to be another driving force for action in 2019.

The trifecta of strategy, capability and capital

We’ve identified three major levers for change – strategy, capability and capital. Social innovation and impact has its best chance of success when these three are aligned. So, solving the challenges facing the world today will require all parts of society to come together with the strategy, capability and capital to deliver more and better services, richer and more impactful coalitions and transformation of our social systems.

The opportunities and risks of technology

Digital solutions are oft touted as a silver bullet. Although we strongly agree that technology can create opportunities to amplify social impact, there is a capability, partnership and investment deficit hindering the sector from capitalising on it at scale. This is not something new but we think it’s worth calling out again… and working to change for the better! For those leveraging technology to support programs and services, for stakeholder engagement, operational efficiency, fundraising, marketing and other reasons, it will continue to be critical to keep cyber security and privacy concerns on the radar. We really hope for-purpose organisations will look at Facebook’s rollercoaster of a 2018, learn from its use and misuse of information, and endeavour not to replicate it.

The question of deep or broad

Across our work in 2018, a question we have asked our clients over and over again is, “how deep will you go?” What we mean by this is whether an organisation will focus on a narrower beneficiary cohort, geography, impact area(s) and/or altitude of activity. Although some recognise the need to operate in a broad playing field, the trend with many of our clients from last year was to move towards a tighter focus so as to deepen and grow their impact. In our experience, holistic and impactful outcomes can result from either casting a wider net or taking the deep and narrow approach –  it’s just key to be intentional in the chosen path.

Continued growth of ethical business

Consumer awareness and expectations are shifting markedly, as they have done over recent years. One example is the ban on single use plastic bags, which several Australian states have implemented whilst others are planning to do so. Arguably driven by the private sector responding to mounting public pressure, this change saw an 80% reduction in plastic bag consumption in just three months. More broadly, we see customers increasingly demanding and businesses providing ethical products and services. The definition of ‘ethical’ varies from person to person; some focus on human rights whilst others look to animal welfare, health and wellbeing, environmental considerations or a combination of the above. In line with this, there are a couple of other points to flag: the Australian Modern Slavery Act (that we wrote about in a June blog), which took effect as of 1st January; and the growing, global B Corp movement, of which we are proud to be a part.

New power models 1,2

Another important change, and one which holds particular relevance for many for-purpose entities, is the shift from old to new power. Old power refers to traditional concepts of authority and leadership, in which power is held and guarded tightly by a small number of leaders or experts in hierarchical structures. New power, on the other hand, is open and peer-driven. It is about mobilisation and mass participation. In trying to enact attitudinal, behavioural and cultural change, some are adopting a new power paradigm. As authors Heimans and Timms state, “New power models are enabled by peer coordination and the agency of the crowd—without participation, they are just empty vessels…. new power taps into people’s growing capacity—and desire—to participate in ways that go beyond consumption.” The ‘me too’ movement is one example of many, indicating that new power is definitely something to keep a beady eye on!

We don’t have a crystal ball but these are our thoughts based on what we know from working in this space. If you have any thoughts on our 2019 predictions, whether that’s being in cahoots or wildly disagreeing, we’d love to hear from you. We’re also happy to answer questions you have on our new strategy, which is due for public release shortly! You can get in touch by emailing info@sparkstrategy.com.au or calling 03 8804 1731.


References

  1. https://thisisnewpower.com/the-idea/
  2. https://hbr.org/2014/12/understanding-new-power

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