In previous Blogs I have written about the work of Saul Alinsky and how he influenced both Obama and Hilary Clinton on community activism. It's interesting that his early influences and experience have come from this tradition , unlike the upbringing or experience of so many politicians.
Much of the session was on the need for a more sustainable future for the planet and the need for countries to embark on radical programmes to reduce carbon emissions and waste. But it was Clinton who made the point that this is about partnership between public, private and third sectors and citizens; one of the core messages of the CGI.
But first off this morning it was a meeting of some of the NGO members attending- and interesting to see the diversity of organisations, though not surprisingly they were predominantly American! The session was run by Ashoka and Microsoft. Ashoka- and they have a great London organisation -were excellent , but the Microsoft guy lost my attention when he announced that NGOs should not be like businesses. A sloppy, knee-jerk and patronising thing to tell us. Of course we need to be "businesslike" in how we work and operate, not in the sense of corporate greed but in demanding professionalism and a desire to make a profit we reinvest in our business. Interestingly I was one of the few infrastructure bodies present and I made my pitch that funders (microsoft please note) often love a project, especially if its with the really poor, but have little interest in developing the leaders of those projects. To make the point that Obama made, if we want to develop civil society we need to develop its leaders so that aid leads to poverty being eliminated.
The evening rounded off with an " innovation dinner" hosted by Hewlitt Packard. A good dinner and lively presentations but I reacted badly to the message that innovation is simply about products and technology. So in best third sector tradition I insisted on making an unscritped speech on the power of " disruptive innovation " by the third sector. One of the things our sector is so good at is innovation in ideas and the way things are done. So the treatment of mental health or people with learning difficulties has been transformed, not by new technology, but by the campaigns and advocacy of many non profits who have shown there is a better way to work. I argued for the long tradition of our sector in campaigning for change- in attitudes and in culture. This is innovation. And as valid as new IT products. I believe in the value of partnership with the commercial sector, but there are times when our sector gets patronised and at those times I am not quiet.
Fascinating that I was talking to a number of people on my table who felt the same - in particular a fascinating journalist, Molly Bingham who has reported from war zones and who argues that the media has often been complicit in promoting a false narrative on war which has sold Government lines of propaganda. She has written on this and promises me the article; you will also have it when I get it too. My other dinner neighbour was a 24 year old entrepreneur who argues that we need more for profit answers to social problems and works for a Foundation that promotes venture capital answers to deprivation; probably something like Bridge ventures I guess?
But its this interchange that makes for such an interesting event. Not just the chance to listen to the giants of the political world but also the interchange of ideas and debate which is the core to peer to peer learning.