Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What does it mean to be a nonprofit in a declining empire? Part 2

In my last post, I made some sweeping statements about what it means to be a nonprofit organization within a declining empire. So what might it look like if nonprofits were taking "proactive and transformative steps from domination systems to partnership systems"?

1. We might start building alternative forms of community and ways of meeting needs that will survive after the "phantom wealth economy" economy collapses, after oil is not affordable, and after the effects of climate change have increased. These initiatives might rely less on government or foundation funding. These ways of working might organize volunteers and communities for mutual support,relying less on professionals providing services to clients and more on participants serving each other. Local barter networks, like Hour Dollars, are one encouraging example of this to me.

2. Initiatives might be very locally-based, but also globally interconnected.
I imagine small, local, and decentralized work that is also highly networked. Local Community Supported Agriculture farms and the networks that tie them together are one form of this. Through the Internet, sites like Caring Bridge help develop and strengthen very personal networks, so people can support each other. How can these type of networks, that have small, local bases, and that are also globally connected develop to meet many needs?

3. New cross-sector collaborations will be developed. The resources and strategies from nonprofit, business, government, education, and other sectors will all be needed in this shift from domination systems to partnership systems. The capacity for this cross-sector collaboration can be built in any type of work. At the nonprofit/foundation conference that I went to recently, I was happy to hear Steve Gunderson's call for increased public/philanthropic/private partnerships. The urban/suburban and nonprofit/government partnerships at the Peace Foundation in Minneapolis is an encouraging local example to me.

4. New forms of organizational structures and management are developing, that reflect adaptive and decentralized collaboration. The book, the Starfish and the Spider, talks about many "leaderless" companies, that are not based on central control and hierarchy, but on wide-spread collaboration. Wikipedia, for example, has millions of volunteers writing and editing encyclopedias. How might this broad, "open source" type of collaboration apply to other types of businesses?

5. We might start sharing more of what we have and learning to live on less. We have enough food and shelter for everyone. We just need to get better at sharing it. I'm encouraged by groups that distribute the excesses of society, for the benefit of those who are in need. In the Twin Cities, Sisters' Camelot shares organic produce for free.

6. We might cultivate purpose and meaning from things other than material and career acquisition. For example, MetLife Insurance's Mature Market Institute studies and education emphasize the importance of having purpose in one's life as an essential part of satisfaction as we age.

7. We might fit more naturally into ecosystems we are a part of and learn from processes in nature. In addition to reducing the environmental impact of our organizations, we might learn from the biomimicry that many science organizations are learning from. For instance, this group is learning from termites about how to heat and cool homes.

8. And, some of us are called to help the current domination systems crumble. There are many innovations being developed in nonviolent action, to withdraw support from broken banking systems, corrupt governments, harmful environmental practices, and much more.
Most of us in the nonprofit sector aren't ready for this active, large-scale confrontation. However, we can still build alternative ways of meeting needs and being community for each other--developing now what will work after domination systems fade or fall away.

The nonprofit field has a reputation of being a couple decades behind for-profit management in cutting edge developments, but nonprofit management has the ability to lead the way through the shift from domination systems to partnership systems that we are in the midst of.


Liz Opp said...

Thanks for adding more specifics here, Michael.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

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Michael Bischoff said...

Since I wrote this post, I've come across several resources I've found helpful in approaching major economic/environmental/international transitions. Here are some of them:

From Thin Air to Solid Ground: Learning to Trust God’s Guidance, a talk by a Quaker friend, Pat McBee, about finding spiritual grounding as we face the rapid changes of global warming.

Dmitry Orlov: Social Collapse Best Practices, fascinating scenarios and advice, based on the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Transition US. I've been encouraged as I learn about the Transition Town movement in England, the US, and even here in MN. Many communities are preparing in practical ways for life after peak oil and unsustainable economies.