Why GivingTuesday is the Social Innovation Idea of the Year

Photographer: Steven Mantilla/Danville Register & Bee via AP Photo

A volunteer from the Salvation Army, a GivingTuesday partner, rings his bell while collecting donations in Danville, Va. Close

A volunteer from the Salvation Army, a GivingTuesday partner, rings his bell while... Read More

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Photographer: Steven Mantilla/Danville Register & Bee via AP Photo

A volunteer from the Salvation Army, a GivingTuesday partner, rings his bell while collecting donations in Danville, Va.

The most adaptive, agile companies and organizations are figuring out how to leverage what they do best to take advantage of global, seismic shifts in media, technology and society. Today’s newest and brightest example is a distributed philanthropic movement called GivingTuesday.

I’ve seen the underlying trend firsthand as an advisor to General Electric Co.’s Innovation Accelerator, an initiative led by GE’s Chief Marketing Officer Beth Comstock in which GE convenes partners in academia, venture capital, business entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, branding and social media. They're discussing megatrends, such as Big Data, the future of MRI imaging, or how to build out ecoimagination into to new sustainability partnerships across sectors. Obama Administration officials describe a similar transition, manifested in their recent decision to preserve the social media arm from the 2012 campaign, as well as the recent national “listening tour” with potential partners and collaborators led by White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park.

Increasingly, administration officials view the White House as a platform for convening power, rather than a monolith that hands down executive orders and speeches from upon high, including Jonathan Greenblatt, special assistant to the President and director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the Domestic Policy Council, and Alec Ross, senior advisor for innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

This is just the beginning. The era of the command-and-control organization is over, at least for now. Its replacement is still taking shape. Companies like Cisco Systems Inc., GE and Genentech Inc. and are out in front, trying to restructure their legacy hierarchies into more collaborative networked organizations. It’s a messy and inefficient process. Also, witness the U.S. Army’s attempts to modernize its archaic structure, which, as Thomas Ricks’ has documented in his latest book, The Generals, has not gone well. Change is indeed hard -- but critical to capitalize on pervasive change in technology and society.

New kinds of organizations are emerging where effective social entrepreneurship meets the networked effects of technology. My favorite case study of the moment is GivingTuesday, which describes itself as a “national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season.” What started just a few months ago as a small social media campaign has blossomed into a networked philanthropy that claims 2,000 partners across all 50 states. They include well-known social causes like Kiva and DonorsChoose.org; companies, such as JC Penney and Microsoft; small nonprofits and charities, such as the Case Foundation and the Otsego County (New York) United Way; and local governments, including Atlanta. (Disclosure: I’ve been advising and supporting the founding team personally for some time now; my company, the BLKSHP, is a partner organization.)

The idea is simple. Instead of starting the giving season with shopping on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, people are encouraged to start on GivingTuesday with philanthropy. Co-founder Henry Timms, deputy executive director of New York’s 92nd Street YMHA (92Y), contrasts Black Friday shopping and GivingTuesday philanthropy: “We have two days that are good for the economy. Here's a new day good for the soul."

American culture seems primed for this message, especially in the wake of superstorm Sandy. The way that GivingTuesday has proliferated has been quite remarkable to me. It came to life at the 92Y, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, and then spread quickly across real and virtual social networks, attracting more organizations and people into its sway. I’ve watched with great admiration and excitement as the idea has developed into a movement.

How did it happen? Distributed leadership. We’re living in a tribal society. The Web’s nimble, networked structure allows organizations to tap vast, hive-like relationship clusters. Once a novel idea emerges, like GivingTuesday, and large institutions identify them and sign on to it, as JPMorgan Chase & Co. or the Salvation Army has, then a constellation of smaller non-profits or charities will follow suit. Before you know it, a movement is born. This is not unlike the way traditional consumer behavior often unfolds, as early adopters scale up toward mainstream adoption.

The combination of technology savvy, such as Mashable’s and Facebook’s, and public-service organizations, like the 92Y and the U.N. Foundation, can open new pathways for civic activity, allowing like-minded business leaders, social entrepreneurs, activists, technologists, opinion-makers and bloggers to follow suit. GivingTuesday portends big things for the future of citizen-focused, empathic, bottom-up social change in the government sector and society at large.

The movement is reinventing how a simple, good idea can reshape networks online and off. The revolution will be improvised.

Peter Sims is founder & a ‘sir’ of the BLKSHP, cofounder of the social venture Fuse Corps, and his latest book is Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries.

Visit www.bloomberg.com/sustainability for the latest from Bloomberg News about energy, natural resources and global business.

 

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