Embracing Risk in the Shift from “Program Thinking” to “Social Change Thinking”


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These are a few paragraphs from the article Embracing Risk in the Shift from “Program Thinking” to “Social Change Thinking” published in Non-Profit Quarterly on July 30, 2012. Please read the entire article: comments are most welcome!

I was intrigued by the opportunity to write about the topic of “risk” in the nonprofit sector. After some 20 years in the sector as a lead staff member at LiveWorkPlay, as a volunteer with other nonprofit organizations on the ground or around the board table, and perhaps most importantly, thanks to countless formal and informal conversations with peers and community members, I believe the importance of risk-taking in nonprofit organizations is being critically undervalued.

Of course, taking risks and making successful shifts is at once an exciting and humbling experience—exciting because it can be scary and humbling because, in essence, it means we weren’t doing our best prior to the change.

In the broad field that is “human services,” we often forget that “life is not a program.” I’m not sure who said that first, but we say it a lot at LiveWorkPlay. It really annoys sector peers who find comfort in a programmatic view of service delivery, which is always a great indication that we are on to something.

A car that has four wheels is not cause for celebration, but a car that reduces fuel consumption by 40 percent is something to get excited about. Likewise, we should not get excited about a program that serves 100, 1,000, or 10,000 people; we should be celebrating an increase in employment, a decrease in homelessness, or prevention and reduction of disease—real changes that we can measure in the lives of individuals and that forever change our communities.

Financial and resource scarcity in the nonprofit sector is real, and we need to encourage risk-taking to find our way through. For even the largest of charitable organizations, financial pressures are threatening the status quo and motivating a response. Change is coming. Some organizations will invest in fighting it. Some will invest in leading it.

These are a few paragraphs from the article Embracing Risk in the Shift from “Program Thinking” to “Social Change Thinking” published in Non-Profit Quarterly on July 30, 2012. Please read the entire article: comments are most welcome!

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About Keenan Wellar

I'm a citizen of Ottawa (Ontario, Canada) and co-leader of local social change charitable organization LiveWorkPlay.ca which supports a good life for people with intellectual disabilities. I'm a very active user of social media. Find me on Facebook http://fb.me/kwellar on Twitter @SocialKeenan on LinkedIn http://tiny.cc/keenanw. I also manage organizational accounts http://fb.me/liveworkplayfans and @LiveWorkPlay. I make a lot of connections locally and worldwide with people who share my belief in inclusive communities, but I also talk sports, food, and travel, and there are few topics that offend me, so please don't be shy.
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3 Responses to Embracing Risk in the Shift from “Program Thinking” to “Social Change Thinking”

  1. The link to the entire article isn’t working.

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