Nonprofit Tech Must Evolve Inclusively

September 4, 2014       Paul Clolery      

SAN FRANCISCO — The first question asked to a room of roughly 250 technologists in the nonprofit space was: What does inclusiveness look like in an implementation plan? Diversity, inclusion and equity must be “interwoven into everything you do.”

That’s according to Deena Pierott, founder of iUrban Teen Tech with operations in Los Angeles, Portland, Ore., and Seattle. She was the opening speaker at what can be described as a relatively unscripted Leading Change Summit, sponsored by NTEN, the Nonprofit Technology Network. Amy Sample Ward, NTEN’s executive director, called the event “flexible and not an alternative to NTC,” the organization’s annual conference.

This was slated as more of an ideas laboratory. “Next year it might be different based on reaction and suggestions” of the participants, she said. “It’s about activating ideas, whatever idea you want,” she said. “Thanks for playing.”

This is the first time NTEN has tried this summit. It was themed rather than tracked and registrants were strongly encouraged to participate.

The opening session was “Moving from Diversity to Inclusion: Changing Landscapes of Nonprofit Technology.” Deena Pierott, founder of iUrban Teen Tech with operations in Los Angeles, Portland, Ore., and Seattle explained to the overwhelmingly Caucasian audience that the technology “landscape doesn’t look diverse.” She urged the audience to be “change angels.” The change has to be explicit and implicit, she said.

To change the tenor, nonprofit technologists must understand the demographics of their service areas; examine the demographics of the organization; and, develop an atmosphere and structure to develop a successful pipeline of technologists.

She asked if digital communication was sent to everyone and if that method reaches all communities served by the nonprofits. “What happens when we leave others behind?,” she asked rhetorically. “It is ally versus savior, justice versus charity.”

Facilitator Lisa Heft then led the participants, arranged in groups of four, through exercises exploring community, creativity, technology, collaboration and sustainability. The group dynamic was to point out differences in ideas, excluding and accessing of collaboration.

The remaining conference is dedicated to impact leadership, digital strategy and the future of technology. An Ideas Accelerator after third and fourth days of the event will allow participants to find others with whom they might be able to collaborate on ideas developed at the summit.