Charities are not 'future-literate', futurologist tells NCVO conference

Mark Stevenson says technological changes and democratisation will transform the world in the near future, but charities are too set in their ways to make best use of the opportunity

Mark Stevenson (Photo: NCVO/Rebecca Fennell)
Mark Stevenson (Photo: NCVO/Rebecca Fennell)

Too many charities are "archaic" and need to think more boldly if they are to capitalise on significant changes happening in society, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ annual conference has heard.

Mark Stevenson, a futurologist, told the conference yesterday that technological changes and increased democratisation of government and the private sector would transform how the world worked in the next 30 years.

But he said charities risked missing out on an opportunity to achieve real change by being too set in their ways and unwilling to evolve.

"In my experience, charities are barely in this conversation," he said. "They are some of the least future-literate organisations I have ever met.

"My worry is that a charity that isn’t future-literate is irrelevant at best and a weapon in defence of the status quo at worst."

Stevenson added that there was a conservative culture in the charity sector that needed to be addressed if charities were to adapt to changes happening in society and politics.

"Large organisations find it harder and harder to deal with ever faster change," he said. "In my experience, large swathes of the charity sector are archaic in practice and almost pride themselves on it.

"The work they do is often reactive not transformative."

Stevenson predicted that the existing system of how society worked would be transformed by "bottom-up teamwork" and charities, by their nature, understood this better than other sectors.

This, he said, meant there was an opportunity for charities to play a central role in transforming society.

"You are perfectly placed to take this revolution by the horns and change society if you are prepared to be bold," Stevenson said.

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