The ‘new power’ structure and what it means for the social sector - Generocity Philly

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May 6, 2016 8:15 am

The ‘new power’ structure and what it means for the social sector

The power for social change is in the hands of many, rather than few, as explained by #GivingTuesday founder Henry Timms.

Henry Timms on how today's world is like the game Minecraft.

(Photo by Julie Zeglen)

In the Information Age, who holds the power to initiate social change? Everyone.

Crowdfunding, for instance, allows many to contribute to creative and other projects they want to see come to fruition. Contrast this with old models of funding — a wealthy few investing in a product they expect will make themselves money in return. 

“These trends are more than changing technology, but about power shifting,” explained Henry Timms, the executive director of 92nd Street Y in New York City and founder of #GivingTuesday during the Lipman Family Prize award ceremony at University of Pennsylvania last week. “The shift is what we think about as old power to a world built on new power.”

In the old power world, Timms said, power was treated as currency, whereas in the new power world, power is a current — something flowing between masses of people. In the old power world, that power was held by few, whereas now it is made by many. In the old power world, institutions held the information and downloaded it for the benefit of the masses. Today, anyone can upload their own information.

Here’s a real-world example Timms gave about the effectiveness of the new crowdsourcing mentality: In 2011, ALS patients who were members of a health-focused online community called PatientsLikeMe took it upon themselves to test a medical study purporting that lithium could slow the progression of the disease. By individually taking off-brand lithium and reporting their results, they disproved the study.

Think of the world today like the video game Minecraft, Timms said. It’s collaborative. DIY is celebrated.

“A new generation expects participation on their terms,” he said. There are some social implications of this:

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  1. Mission trumps brand — “We need to increasingly think that our job is not simply what is it that we as an institution can represent and how we can make sure we get our share, but how we can tie this to something bigger than our institution.”
  2. Agency matters — “There are people out there … who want to participate in your mission on their terms. Increasingly, our job is to provide that space not to have all the answers, but to have precisely the right questions as institutions.”

It’s a lot of societal change to account for, and social institutions need to embrace the equity factor of it.

“We’re at a point amongst all of this disruption, there are some old gaps and there are some new gaps,” Timms said. “And in those gaps, the social sector fills that void, steps in to say, ‘Our job here is to make the world more just, more equal, more fair.’”

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