We need to innovate if we are to maximize our impact

Caitlin Barrett, Love Mercy Foundation

19 Oct, 2015

I had the pleasure of attending my first ACFID conference in Sydney last week. After a massive effort, our organisation Love Mercy Foundation was officially accepted as a Code of Conduct signatory, putting us in the same league as the best governed not-for-profits in the country.

The theme of the conference was Innovation in Development, Innovation  - a buzzword that has been on the development scene increasingly over the last three years. It became immediately clear that rather than just the latest fad, innovation in development is a strategic pillar that will be crucial to the survival of organisations within the sector.

Keynote speaker James Whitehead, Global Innovation Advisor at Oxfam, lay the groundwork for the conference, suggesting that innovation is not an end in itself, but a means to an end, and a servant to our desired outcomes. If development organisations seek maximum impact, then innovation becomes a means to meet the unmet needs of people in the developing world.

The Hon Steven Ciobo echoed these sentiments explaining that innovation has to be about harnessing approaches which build the capacity of human ability. He reflected on the need for the sector to collaborate with new and unexpected partners including those within the corporate world, to engage in a capacity exchange and access new skill sets that may not have previously been accessed in the sector before. James Whitehead echoed this in his address, suggesting that NGOs now need to ‘collaborate with everyone: friends, enemies, likely and unlikely partners’ in order to maximise our impact. 

The interesting theme that emerged was the concept of ‘leapfrogging’. Thanks to an enlightening presentation on new world technologies by Future Crunch, it became clear that NGOs are not immune to the disruptive technologies that are growing exponentially globally. Entire sectors from banking and finance, traditional energy, manufacturing and health sciences are being turned on their heads by rapidly emerging technologies such as new solar panels, 3D printing, and nanotechnology. Organisations within our sector need to increase their appetite for risk to engage in this rapidly changing environment. Our leaders need to enable their teams to take bold new steps in programming and partnerships to leapfrog over outdated systems and procedures.

Resourcefulness drives us to seek new and innovative solutions to problems, which are at the same time age old, but rapidly changing.  The problems our sector seeks to address are complex, and the solutions can no longer be linear, but must become multidimensional.

Leaders of our organisations need to embark on a mindset shift to approach growth exponentially. No longer can the sector remain cut off from the business or corporate world, as the lines have become blurred with the emergence of social enterprise. Our organisations need to be recalibrated to face the decades before us and need to be rebuilt from the ground up in order to become agile, flexible and ready to face a new set of challenges.

Poverty needs to be everyone’s problem. It is up to our sector to make businesses, corporations, governments and the private sector adopt these problems too, and enable them to partner with us to innovate for the future. It is clear from the conference that we need to transform ourselves if we want to continue to transform the world. If we focus our thinking around the outcomes we are seeking, then all process, procedure, and existing partnerships should be up for grabs as we seek to innovate to maximise our impact. 

  • Caitlin Barrett, Love Mercy Foundation
    Caitlin Barrett, Love Mercy Foundation

    Caitlin Barrett is the founding CEO of Love Mercy Foundation. She is passionate about gender equality and leadership, as well as simple poverty reduction strategies. Amongst other projects, Caitlin has overseen an agricultural microloan program in northern Uganda. Caitlin is about to complete a Masters of International Development at UNSW, and lives in Sydney’s south with her young family. You can also follow her on Twitter.


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