Can the Social Impact Sector Commit to Self-Criticism?

Can the Social Impact Sector Commit to Self-Criticism?

Over the past few decades, there have been volumes written and spoken on questionable ethics, “creative” accounting practices, concentrations of power and influence, restrictive drip funding, and dependency traps in the world of social impact — from international development to grantmaking, but what have we learned?

Has the world of social impact become more self-critical, shaped by feedback, and recalibrated by updating beliefs and practices?

From my vantage, I would say that we’re not there yet, but we need to be — and there are hopeful signs and signals.

With Anand Giridharadas’ new book, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World and his recent panel appearance on The Agenda as well as Canadaland’s investigative reporting into one of Canada’s most coveted social impact brands, WE, it looks like we may be at the beginning of a new wave of looking in the mirror.

Great progress and strides have been made around the world in social impact, but organizations are not without their flaws. The recent critical coverage reminds us that social impact organizations around the world can be short-sighted, biased, and get trapped in their own overconfident echo chambers.

Put otherwise: Our passion is a virtue, but it is also creating massive blind spots.

In order for the future to be inspiring and impactful, social impact organizations must strike a balance between solidarity and self-criticism in our daily lives.

Too much self-criticism, and we may not catalyze passionate movements where rubber hits the road. Too much solidarity, and we may fall into a variety of traps like self-preservation or amplifying confirmatory thought.

In order to better ourselves, we need other people to illuminate our blind spots.

From October 16th to 18th in Toronto, a number of private foundations, family offices, corporate foundations, among other grantmakers, are convening for the 7th biennial Philanthropic Foundations Canada conference. I have attended this gathering in the past and it is a good cross-section of grantmakers and philanthropic actors from across the country.

This year, the conference is exploring connection, creativity, and social change, bringing together communities of shared goals and practices to learn together.

In light of this gathering, there are a handful of questions on my mind for the future of doing good:

  • What is our responsibility to one another to move beyond a confirmatory style of solidarity to a style where we help each other spot our own biases?
  • What does it mean to be open to new ideas or information that doesn’t fit what we already believe?
  • How can our organizations be more rigorous in our self-analysis?
  • How do we better position our organizations for self-reflection and applying criticism constructively?
  • How can we resist the temptation of being nice to ourselves?

Canada is filled with extraordinary people who are pushing the boundaries of what they see and what they know. The world is looking to Canada to be pace-setters in social impact; to lead the way in contributing significant advancements to areas such as gender equality, climate change, decolonization, and mental health.

If we, as impact-focused individuals, can find ways to become more comfortable balancing our solidarity with self-criticism, then we can start building habits that uncover our blind spots, examine and update our beliefs, and mobilize our best intentions toward a future everyone deserves.

Source : Medium

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