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  • Writer's pictureBetty Ferreira

Disrupting "Good"

Nonprofit Driven 2019 Speak Recap.

In October I spoke to social purpose organizations at the Ontario Non-Profit Network (ONN) Non-profit Driven 2019 conference about how the broadscale disruption that is affecting every sector and every industry is also affecting the non-profit and charitable sector.

The objectives of the speak entitled Disrupting “Good” was to bring awareness to the great shifts required in the way social purpose organizations deliver programs and services given the exponential pace of technology advancements and that while this represents a great shift in how organizations provide services, a foresight mindset is likely to be the greatest shift required of all.

Following that speak I have received many emails thanking me for bringing this topic of disruption forward and using a positive framing of the disruption. I am happy to hear from participants that my speak has stimulated conversation back at the office, as it was intended to do exactly that.

As promised, please find a summary of the key takeaways of that speak below as well as an exercise to help you continue and extend the conversation from the ONN Non-profit Driven conference to your meeting rooms and board tables.

Why is there such great disruption?

The pace of technology is advancing, for the first time in a long time, at an exponential versus incremental pace. Across the first, second, and third industrial revolutions, the technological advancements were significant, but the pace of change was incremental.

The invention of the printing press in the 1400s was significant, as was the telescope in the 1500s, the steam engine in 1750, the telegraph, lightbulb and telephone in the 1800s, and the first man on the moon in the 1960s and the personal computer in the 1990s. Each industrial revolution has ushered in significant advancements in technology and has made significant contributions to the health and wellbeing of people. The difference now, though, is that the pace of technological advancements is now no longer incremental it is exponential and this is causing disruption across all industries and sectors, and the social purpose sector is not immune.

The fast pace of technology advancements such as artificial intelligence and more precisely machine learning, as well as 3D printing, augmented and virtual reality, digitally mapping the human genome, social robots, blockchain, cryptocurrencies, facial recognition, voice recognition…are revolutionizing how we go about just about everything.

Just take a look at some of the industries that have been completely disrupted due to technology. Skype has disrupted long-distance calling, iTunes has disrupted the music industry, the iPhone has dematerialized a number of physical products we used to own like answering machines (remember them??), records, boom boxes, photo albums, and so much more.

While the smart phone has disrupted many products and industries, it too will likely be disrupted by augmented and virtual reality, voice activated intelligent conversation and by our thirst to learn more, do more and be more. So why can’t we expect that this new era will revolutionize the way we go about doing “good”?

The 6Ds of Disruption provide a good framing to understand the steps and impact of the exponential pace of technology. Digitization, the conversion of information into a digital format is revolutionizing the creation and acquisition of knowledge and the dematerialization of physical products has also led to a demonetization or the reduction of the cost of a product or eliminated the cost entirely.

When you buy an iPhone you get a photo and video camera, GPS unit, note book, photo album, answering machine, music player, and so much more. Once data and products become digitized they enter into a period of deceptive growth prior to becoming a way of life and disrupting old methods, products and services.

When products and services become digitized, dematerialized and demonetized they often become democratized. This essentially means that these items or the information they provide become increasingly accessible by more people.

Information can be provided on mobile apps instead of on wilting brochure racks inside offices limited to hours between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm from Monday to Friday. And, not just any information, but information that has been powered by artificial intelligence (AI) which can personalize the information you require – for you but also apply algorithms to help understand your particular situation, forecast future scenarios and prescribe solutions that fit for your situation.

The combined effect of the digitization, dematerialization, dematerialization, demonetization, democratization is propelling the massive scope of disruption we are seeing in the world today in every industry and every sector.

Social purpose organizations are using technology to disrupt how they have tradi

tionally gone about doing “good”. These are some of the examples I shared at the ONN Non-profit Driven conference in October 2019:

  • Kids Help Phone is using AI-powered chatbots to help youth in distress

  • The province of Alberta in partnership with Settlement Calgary has produced an app called Welcome Alberta Newcomer Assistance Services for new immigrants and refugees that provides convenience and access to information about jobs, where to find a pharmacy, doctor’s office and grocery store, and so much more

  • Montreal’s Justice-bot is using a chatbot to help landlords and tenants process their claims and provide them a completely automated and easy way to provide their information in an app and learn about the probability that their case will win

  • Domestic violence apps are facilitating quick administration of restraining orders

  • Virtual reality is being used in fundraising,

  • Augmented reality is being used in education and training and changing how doctors receive information about patients and increase the efficacy and efficiency of their visits with patients. Example: CloudDx

  • Blockchain is being used to track the identities and health records of homeless people in Austin, Texas

  • Cryptocurrencies are being donated to charities and non-profit organizations

  • Facial recognition is being used to assess pain in dementia patients; diagnosing anxiety, heart rate and stress management and in people and inherited diseases in children.

This list summarizes some of the innovations captured in the October 2019 speak at the ONN Non-Profit Driven 2019 conference. Innovations leveraging artificial intelligence and other forms of technology continue to evolve and I continue to watch this space and include examples to tech innovations in the social purpose sector in my future speaks.

If you are interested in booking me to speak at your upcoming conference, contact me here.

What is the foresight mindset?

While the exponential pace of technology represents a shift in how programs and services in social purpose organizations are delivered, the greatest shift this new era offers us is one of a ‘future now’ foresight mindset.

Our methods of strategic planning and project management have been largely incremental, sequential, short-term and they have been based on an understanding that the pace of change was incremental. Now, however, organizations are driven to excel in this period by adapting new intelligence and technologies, new mindsets and business models and in a way that recognizes the need to think long-term, and offer new strategies that operate simultaneously and in parallel to their traditional lines.

The foresight mindset is appropriate for this new era as it focuses on framing the current state situation or opportunity by taking into consideration the current and historical context as well incorporate long-range external analysis of the driving forces of change. In this way it opens the planning process up to understanding the broader forces of change, exponential as they are, and shifts strategies to not only reflect this pace of change but to embody it.

What are some of the foresight competencies?

· Creative Thinking is the ability to generate innovative and creative solutions by reframing problems, using information from wide-ranging possibilities, using information generated from foresight thinking to develop unique approaches and solutions.

· Framing is the capacity to scope the topic and understand it within its own current and historical context and system and the ability to define the specific issue and their current conditions.

· Scanning is the capacity to scan the horizon to understand the signals and trends that represent driving forces of change (political, economic, social, technological, environmental, legal) and to help identify possible, plausible and probable scenarios of the future, discussed in further detail below.

For example, what are the new forms of cryptocurrencies and how can social impact organizations use them to generate revenue? What are chatbots and how are they being used to help people with depression? How is the delivery of specific programs being changed by technology?

· Futuring is the capacity to identify baseline and alternative futures in using both qualitative and quantitative means. The process to develop scenarios relies on the ability to converge on the most probably scenario but also includes the ability to allow diverging perspectives in order to generate alternative futures without bias, restrictions or limitations.

There are various iterations of scenarios and one of the most common set of scenarios are: possible (any and all scenarios); plausible (scenarios that could happen), probable (scenario that is likely to happen), and preferred (the scenario the organization prefers).

· Backcasting is the capacity to develop a work-back plan that connects the current state of the organization to its preferred future state.

· Quantitative Fluency is the ability to translate a problem or issue described qualitatively by using mathematical reasoning including financial, economic, using statistical forecasting of current and alternate future scenarios, and in risk assessments.

For example, quantitative analyses can be used to determine the financial resilience of current and future state scenarios, the potential evidence-based socioeconomic impact of a product, program or service’, and/or identify any historical, present or future trends that are financial, technological or impact-oriented.

· Storytelling or Visioning is the ability to descriptively summarize the preferred future scenarios in a way that is memorable, meaningful and relevant. This includes sensemaking of the past, present and future scenarios as well as the ability to set specific goals and targets to achieve the preferred future scenario.

What is the exercise and call to action?

There’s no doubt that the world is shifting to a fourth industrial revolution which is based on artificial intelligence, exponential technologies, new business models and mindsets.

You have the opportunity now to leverage disruption through a future now foresight mindset to shift your thinking now, to shift your conversations on strategy, operations and programs now so that you can begin to disrupt your organizations, for the better, for good and hopefully for exponential impact as well.

I encourage you to conduct the exercise below with your staff team and board of directors so that you can think about how technology is and will disrupt your organization and use a foresight mindset as your guide.

Keep me posted on your strategies that use technology to further impact and advance the mission of the organization you work or volunteer for!


  1. Frame the opportunity: which programs or services can be transformed by using technology to provide personalization, access to information and convenience to your clients/service-recipients?

  2. Have we spent enough time assessing how the programs we offer can be modified and enhanced through technology?

  3. What are some of the signals or trends of change for organizations like ours around the world? What are signals and trends in the way organizations are delivering programs? Conducting strategic planning? Strengthening technology competencies among the board of directors and staff?

  4. What are the driving forces of change that will affect the organization? (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental, Legal)

  5. What is the baseline future of the organization if technology is not incorporated?

  6. What are some potential alternative futures for the services offered by the organization?

Onward and upward!


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