Digital savvy – Development, time for ‘miniature’ and ‘on-demand’ beneficiary service – Series 1

Development organisations are not accustomed to the many industry-disruptions like their business peers. Yet, development organisations are waking up to the realisation that their industry is changing so fast, and that the ‘business as usual’ ‘we are here for a good cause’ and ‘our heart is in the right place’ approaches may no longer ensure long-term survival.

Strategic agility calls for rising above the rest

Strategic agility calls for rising above the rest

The development industry must rank high in leagues like: ’ease with which one can form a business as well as acquire startup capital’. I will not even try getting into discussing ‘if and how’ the industry players account to their shareholders (donors).

By the time, I finish writing this blog, hundreds of individuals and businesses will have conceived the idea to start a social development organisation or Charity as many want to refer to such organisations. Perhaps it is time to step back and ask: what does it take to start a Charity? From where I stand, mere proof that you are or plan to help ‘poor and desperate’ souls in this world. The game plan for a Charity startup is likely to read like: a group of like-minded and ‘kind’ people get together; identify a section of the population that is poor and needs help; do a needs-analysis on their behalf; present the needs to the affluent world/individuals in as ‘desperate’ a condition as you can via: a story, photo, or video – and bingo!, you are in business as a Charity. Please do not consider me anti-Charity, to the contrary, I am very pro-Charity. I know so very well that many people starting Charities have the right intention and genuinely want to help desperate people.

However, my concern is that the above ‘business-startup paradigm’, and one that Charities have embraced for the last 50 years plus, is a ‘bottleneck’ to the ‘change’ that we want registered at the Charity organisation. This ‘show a desperate face and run to the bank to check your balance at the end of the day’ has for long afforded Charities too soft a landing.

‘Business value’ and ‘successful value chains’ are achieved and sustained when market conditions push organisations to their limits. Let us take the example of a top athlete (that does not use P.E. drugs) – this athlete will compete with and beat the very best: as a result of long hours training, punishment to their body, exploration of options to make them the very best, and almost zero tolerance for error. The opposite is true of the manner in which we ‘form and run’ Charities. From where I stand, It is so simple to create a Charity organisation, access capital for its business, and even more worrying claim instant success. The latter is not surprising in an industry that is without ‘generally accepted practice standards’ or a defined approach to standards auditing and reporting.

How I wish that the development professional in me did not have to write this, but for the benefit of the industry, I am obliged to do so: many development industry players lack rigour in their work and despite their very good intentions, do not always impact and change for the better, the fortunes of the poor and desperate.

What causes this development industry lack of rigour?

There is a lot written about the complacency or lack of effectiveness of the development industry sector and this particular blog will not belabor the obvious. However, the development industry market, as I have written on many occasions, is a fallacy and a primary cause of the complacency we see in the industry today.

Development professionals including myself, refer to ‘market/s’ in our various discussion. What is interesting though is that we do not relate to the ‘market’ in the context of the development ’service offer’ and ‘demand and supply’ dynamic thereof, but in the soft-context of ‘economic development’ programming. How ironical that development helps the poor to access markets for the goods and services they have to offer from their micro-enterprise work, yet in developments’ internal workings, market/s hardly exist.

One of the answers to addressing the complacency and resulting ineffectiveness in the development industry sector lies in creating a ‘proper market’. A market in which demand and supply are seamlessly determined, serviced, monitored and not ‘created’/negotiated’ via complex project proposals and donor networks.

The ‘on-demand’ and increasingly miniature development beneficiary service:

I believe that the digital age, the power of the Internet, and the speed at which individuals and companies are inventing ‘ value-creating’ tools on the internet, will force change on a slumbering development industry sector. From a development industry perspective, the power of the Internet combined with the Mobile-Phone is steadily shifting the power dynamic away from the Charity organisation International or native, to the poor people they serve.

I suspect that many of the Charity Organisations are not aware of the above industry shift and the implications it has on their work. The focus of the International Charity Organisation continues to be: changing its modus operandi to a lean and relevant entity, but sadly, all from a Northern-capital operations lens; while its native-peer is busy rolling out the architecture that will see it inherit the work of the International Charity. The latter focus renders both types of Charity blind to what is happening in their ‘local’ eco-system. Development Industry-disrupting change shall happen around the manner in which Charities interface with the poor and the causes and effects thereof. Smart Charities should think about and model a new organisational architecture that will absorb the resulting turbulence

Emerging technologies are poised to personalise the consumer experience radically – in real time and almost everywhere. It is not too early to prepare

I am a big believer and ‘pusher’ of Charity organisations embracing risk, and specifically explore the potential of the Internet and change the manner in which they do business. I am not even sure Charity organisations have a choice, but to comply or die.

There are limitless options for Charity Organisation innovation:

  • Use the mobile phone to provide better service provision to beneficiaries i.e. instead of ‘teaching’ beneficiaries under trees, use their mobile phones as a learning tool
  • Research beneficiary needs via simple phone based surveys
  • Target miniature programme interventions to beneficiaries based on unique need as opposed to the current one size fits all
  • Use the power of social media sharing to change the way we deliver ‘peer to peer’ support and learning
  • Change the manner in which project design is currently done – RFA’s – Submit proposals – Win and implement five-year proposals – sadly, this design model assumes that ‘needs analysis’ and ‘accompanying solutions’ are static – yet with a global fast moving world, even the world of the ‘poor beneficiaries’ is becoming fast moving and long-term and static interventions are quickly turning into a waste of tax payers money

This blog is the first in a series of four that explore:

  1. The case for changing the manner in which development is done i.e. becoming digital-age relevant
  2. What it takes for Charity Organisations to acquire competencies required to tap into the potential the digital age brings to their front-doors
  3. A model for relevant, precise, and targeted development services to the poor
  4. Using the digital-age to make development effective and more accountable

See you next week for blog 2 in the series



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  1. Is your organisation digital-savvy? – Series 2 | Gabazira's blog

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