Looking To 2020

November 1, 2010       Kate Rogers      

Aliens and flying cars might not be in the near future of nonprofits and service, but it is clear that changes are on the horizon.

Leaders from all areas of nonprofit management converged at the 2010 National Conference on Volunteering and Service in New York City to evaluate the way the past 10 years has shaped their areas of service, and what their organizations will look like in the year 2020.

Immigration reform has made significant strides during the decade, according to Nikki Cicerani, executive director of New York City-based Upwardly Global. From integration to business financing, trends are leaning in favor of immigration.

“Those (immigrant businesses) that have started to grow up are looking for mezzanine financing instead of start-up financing,” she said. “Over the last 10 years, corporations are increasingly aware of how they are seen in the social realm. They are trying to marry their bottom line focus on strategic volunteerism and skills-based volunteering.”

In looking ahead, Cicerani said she sees immigration coming full circle by the year 2030, with policies and social attitudes toward immigration continuing to reshape in its favor. Immigrants will be predominantly from Latin America and Asia, as opposed to Western Europe, Cicerani said.

“Government is playing a bigger role in trying to get corporations, community service organizations and municipalities to work in concert with each other to get immigrants to stay in the workforce,” she said. “Corporations may have to integrate the things they measure and the programs they have internally to track this.

In enforcing immigrant integration and acceptance, the U.S. can only benefit, she said. “The most exciting thing in 10 years could be the U.S. putting out a message that we are making this a nation-building priority, the way Canada has,” she said, “sending that message out in a way that we are not today.”

Richard Buery, CEO of the Children’s Aid Society in New York City, said during the past 10 years nonprofits have had to justify expenditures in the social sector more and more. On the flip side, innovation has been embraced more so than it had been in the past, leading to positive changes in social services.

“For folks who are trying to provide for something like a poor youth development program, it has become harder and harder to quantify the impact of those things,” Buery said, “especially in the way funders are looking for.”

As far as the future, Buery said he fears disconnect between communities will persist, and income inequality will only drive the wedge further.

“What does that mean for our social fabric, in whatever sector we are talking about?” he said. “I also fear the segmentation of media in 10 years from now. We don’t get our information from all of the same places, and intergenerational poverty will drive communities apart in more fundamental ways. This will continue to put pressure on the social fabric, and that makes it more difficult for us to act in our best interest as a society.”

For Peter Lehner, executive director of the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in New York City, the environment took a major hit during the decade, which worsened already existent issues.

“The laws of physics haven’t changed in the last 10 years, and the issue of climate change is really not uncertain, nor was it 10 years ago,” Lehner said. “We can’t underestimate the power of communication. It’s about trying to get leadership and movement and taking back the role of the government oversight.”

Lehner also said he fears the divide between politics and communities will continue to grow, as more special interest money is pumped into political campaigns and Washington, D.C.

Environmental issues will persist, he said, and he hopes things will not have to get to an all-time low for government to take action.

“The power of money in politics will lead to a strange disconnect in what the polls are saying and what we can get in Congress,” Lehner said. “It could continue to get worse until things get really bad, or we can re-channel it to get a functional government again.”

Environmental issues imply a more problematic social structure, he said, and the more the environment suffers, the worse things will be for society in general. Lehner said he predicts a surge in activism during the next 10 years, with people demanding action from the government instead of waiting for problems to clear up on their own.

“The worse environmental issues get, the more they will be linked to social issues. You can’t have social stability with poisoned air and limited access to clean drinking water,” he said. “This will drive the recognition that real changes are more systematic and the role of the individual and activism will become more important.”

Buery shared his optimism that different movements will become more cohesive to benefit the greater good. “My hope is that we are able to overcome those challenges by coming together in new political movements,” he said. “Ones that bring together movements that feel very dispersant now, like the children’s movement, the environment, gay rights — things that all seem very distant now.” NPT

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