By Rebecca Masisak
From June 16 to June 30, 2021, 60+ TechSoup Global Network partners gathered online, linking 650 participants from 63 countries to learn, share, and improve capacity to support nonprofits that improve lives around the world. As a first-time virtual event (which usually takes place every two years), it was by far the largest convening of the network in history. The TechSoup Global Network serves 1.3 million NGOs and is the largest civil society network in the world. The following is an excerpt of opening remarks from Rebecca Masisak, CEO of TechSoup, on the first day of the summit.
The last two years have brought into focus the interconnectedness of the world and the systemic challenges we face. And they’ve underscored the importance of the work we do together to build a dynamic bridge that leverages technology for innovation and connections in pursuit of a more equitable planet.
It has been difficult in many ways and for many people — especially for those on the edges of society: informal workers, people who are oppressed by their governments, those not part of the dominant systems — so many who relied on the frontline connections that local community organizations and caring community members provide.
The TechSoup Global Network reaches those frontlines with digital solutions and resources from hundreds of contributors such as tech companies and foundations. Collectively, this network has created and operates a trusted supply chain for vital infrastructure to power the organizations that are the community safety nets.
As the pandemic evolved, I found a growing number of reasons to be heartbroken and angry. It continues to feel overwhelming.
Even so, this unique time has taught us a lot.
To those of us pursuing social good, it is abundantly clear that our work matters more than ever. Faced with resource shortages and more than 50 percent increases in demand, leaders of food banks got creative and perseverance prevailed. Other nonprofits repurposed their facilities or programs to fill local gaps for food or COVID testing.
As the ultimate safety net, the leaders of civil society organizations and movements remain at the epicenter of local needs. The cooperation, innovation, and passion demonstrated brought me hope and inspiration. And reinforced the need for our programs.
We felt a responsibility to meet the needs of organizations on the frontlines so they could meet the needs of their communities. The TechSoup Global Network and its contributors saw monthly increases up to 10 times former volumes for hardware, mobile hotspots, and cloud software. TechSoup Courses went from 3,000 learners in 29 countries to 41,000 learners in 99 countries in a five-week period. TechSoup’s contributors rose to the challenges by creating digital tools or training to support remote situations and contributing to TechSoup’s COVID Recovery Fund of $1.9 million, which helped thousands of organizations modernize and stay secure. NGOsource, which helps U.S. grantmakers that give internationally streamline and save, saw a 60 percent increase in requests for equivalency determinations to support grantmaking from the U.S. to civil society organizations around the world. This includes one determination that was used by six funders to support CEPI, the global vaccine collaboration launched at the World Economic Forum.
Across the network, we met this volume of requests and innovated in real-time to address emergent needs. All the while, we ourselves needed to find new ways to be effective working from home. This network and our special form of collaboration proved remarkably resilient.
Digital was necessary for many organizations to continue serving their communities. And it was in demand. It enabled the necessary new ways of connecting and communicating — bringing emotional support, vital information, and resources — for service delivery. With funding from Okta, this network and other nonprofit partners fielded a survey of more than 11,000 nonprofits across 135 countries. Seventy-two percent indicated a need to rethink the delivery of their services due to the pandemic, although those who had a digital strategy in place felt a less negative impact. Across all organizations, the digital adoption most frequently reported was for communications and collaboration tools.
I was deeply impressed, but not surprised, by how NGOs around the world stepped up to meet the needs of their communities. These organizations did what they do 365 days a year: They addressed gaps in local services, they improved people’s lives, and they did so amid uncertainty for their sustainability at a critical time, often quietly, and usually without recognition.
Local stories illustrate that organizations showed extraordinary leadership. The San Francisco nonprofit Pomeroy Recreation and Rehabilitation Center provides direct services for individuals with disabilities. They went from a staff and community with little access to computers and few digital skills to online “classes” and a new collaboration to deliver online occupational therapy lessons for parents.
And in Poland, the Society for the Promotion of Physical Culture used remote working digital tools to move aikido trainings online, describing the results as keeping the human connection by creating the ability to see, participate, and belong.
It was clear to us that people needed advice, support, connection, and community.
This network added new ways for local community members to engage:
- TechSoup Italy’s Facebook Live “coffee chats” provided cohesion and information during the worst days.
- In two months, CDI Chile and WINGU in Argentina collaborated to move a major in-person event previously delayed due to civic unrest to a virtual format with attendees across five countries.
- Working with Funky Citizens in Romania, we adapted our Worker Connect app, designed by Caravan Studios, to protect the rights of migrant workers in the Gulf, to provide public healthcare staff a way to report anonymously on their working conditions.
- Japan NPO Center and Caravan Studios collaborated to train participants from across Japan in participatory design methodologies, online instead of in-person as they’d expected.
These 18 months showed, more than ever, that we needed to continue to develop an infrastructure to coordinate innovation that was flexible for an uncertain future.
Network innovation continued and accelerated:
- Dozens of partners and NGOs helped design the customer experience for our next-generation Marketplace and its first offer, a food security digital solution. They spent thousands of hours in remote collaboration supported by a range of tools helping us create, share, and store assets in the cloud.
- The network created a global infrastructure to support cloud licensing and services with regional support centers that has already reached 12,000 nonprofits.
- In Germany, Haus des Stiftens invested in a program with networkwide potential — a partner-for-good portal designed to enable NGO engagement through the network’s Marketplace APIs.
Sharing knowledge. New ways of working. Gaining skills. All these experiences brought us closer to the nonprofits that rely on us. We learned more about adopting digital tools ourselves and their potential for collaboration and innovation.
While digital can be an important enabler for human connections, it is the humans involved who will need to make it inclusive and safe.
I am honored to be one of the people committed to strengthening and deepening the reach of the TechSoup Global Network.
Going forward, we have the opportunity to build a digital infrastructure for a more just society. A strong digital foundation will raise the ability of community organizations to collaborate, to share data, and to innovate. TechSoup is committed to expanding access to its programs and fostering contributions from all corners of the globe to create the systemic change the world needs.
I am excited about where we will go over the next few years — and building relationships with people like you. We’ll broaden the roles of donors and nonprofits — each contributing, providing insights and connections — and opening our Marketplace to more movements and apps and individuals.
We can build on all we’ve done well, learn from what we could do better, and innovate boldly to deliver on our loftiest dreams: A connected experience of digital enablement and collaborations that bring unparalleled innovation at scale for the diverse and fragmented yet highly localized tapestry that is global civil society.
I am filled with gratitude for this community. I feel humbled to play a leadership role in this amazing ecosystem of leaders. You all demonstrate what’s possible with sustained attention to collaboration at scale.
The world is increasingly interconnected with complex global challenges, and it is only getting more difficult. How can we best build capacity for the millions of small, local, community-led efforts to be strong collaborators? Let’s use this moment to reflect on the important work ahead captured by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. We need to bring together partners from all sectors (government, businesses, NGOs) to address these challenges.
We need to leverage the power of connections and networks — from volunteers, to corporate support, to deep community knowledge. We need to bring in more people and solvers to the network. We want to invite you to join us.
Change will be a constant. Together, we strengthen the fabric of society’s safety net by making innovation possible where needs are the greatest, where it won’t always be easy or commercially viable.
We have the opportunity to Engage Community and Create Resilience — together. I genuinely look forward to working side by side with all of you for the next stage of the journey.
Your voice is important to help strengthen our community of changemakers and build more resilience. I will again ask my earlier question, this time to you. Please tell us, how can we, together, best build capacity for the millions of small, local, community-led efforts to be strong collaborators to improve lives around the world?
Join the conversation: share your ideas in the comments below, in TechSoup forums, or on social media. Or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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