Thanks to Emily O’Connor, (CSSH, May 2017), for allowing us to share this excerpt from her reflection on the nonprofit sector, philanthropy, and social change. Emily was part of the 2015 Northeastern Students4Giving cohort that used the mapping platform Kumu to visualize the relationships between various actors in the social change ecosystem. They chose “Policy and Advocacy to Support Under-Represented Populations” as their funding priority.
By Emily O’Connor, CSSH 2017
Coming from a background where I have worked for both traditional nonprofits and innovative social enterprises, I walked into Rebecca Riccio’s Strategic Philanthropy and Nonprofit Management class eager to learn to better understand how effective philanthropic endeavors develop and operate. With growing wealth disparities across the world, intensifying racism and violence, and widespread injustice, philanthropy can be a powerful tool when used thoughtfully to address these issues. Nonprofits, however, are often accused of mismanaging funds, providing poor quality services, and being dysfunctional. Having experienced the dysfunction of nonprofits firsthand, I oftentimes questioned their relevance and wondered if they were merely an old-fashioned, ineffective way of throwing money at problems. However, my appreciation for nonprofits is beginning to be renewed as Rebecca’s class broadens my understanding.
As an international affairs major I often hear the argument that policy and political solutions are the most important ways to address the many problems we are faced with in the world today. On the other end of the spectrum, as a social entrepreneurship minor, I am told that for-profit and traditional business methods which utilize the market create the most sustainable solutions to social issues. Being fed these seemingly conflicting perspectives, it can be difficult to discern which methods are truly the most effective in which areas. One of our earliest lectures, which reviewed the various levers involved in causing and solving social issues, helped me appreciate the nuances of the dynamics of social impact work. It takes multi-sector efforts in policy, market solutions, and nonprofit work to push all the levers to thoroughly address issues such as homelessness, unemployment, human rights abuses, and inequality.