2016 nonprofit predictions, the Eeyore version

Eeyore's in the Alps, Chamonix, France
Image credit: Sheri

This post was inspired by Joanne Cave’s and Lee Rose/Claude Lauziere’s recent pieces on predictions for the Canadian nonprofit sector in 2016.

Consider mine the Eeyore version. You know, one that’s a little bit of a bummer. 

Here are my predictions/wishes for the Canadian nonprofit and charitable sector in 2016.

1. Death of “social innovation.” Please.

Especially as a catchphrase. Or at least this is my solemn wish.

Social innovation is a new-ish word for a thing that has been happening since the beginning of charity. People and organizations finding different, improved, transformational ways to benefit their communities. Piloting, experimenting, trying new things. This is all good. But it’s not new.

I previously found it hard to articulate one of my discomforts with the focus on social innovation, but I recently identified it while reading a lovely 2013 Salon article on why innovation (currently) has nothing do do with being creative. It’s that in today’s world, in order for something to be considered “innovative,” it has to be acknowledge by the institutionalized “innovation class.” For social innovation in Canada, that would be orgs like SiG or CSI or MaRS or McConnell etc. As Thomas Frank writes:

Innovation, that is, exists only when the correctly credentialed hivemind agrees that it does. … What determines “creativity,” in other words, is the very faction it’s supposedly rebelling against: established expertise.

There are so many issues with social innovation as a thing right now.

  1. More and more organizations are feeling forced to label their work “social innovation” to fit funding opportunities. When really funders should be focussed largely on what works, not only what’s new.
  2. Most of the people talking about social innovation are mostly doing that – talking. The ones that are doing social innovation use the word because it’s “in group” language, not because of its inherent value for our communities (admission: I use the word too).
  3. The new and trendy and “innovative” which attracts people, attention, and funding rarely does the deep, sustainable work that our communities and the vulnerable people in them desperately need.

Instead, I dearly hope that organizations will work to improve upon knowing what works well, and trying new ways when things don’t.

2. People and organizations with lots of money will continue talking about the opportunity for social finance to unleash capital for social good. Skeptics will question the ethics of commoditizing disadvantage. Nonprofits will question the relevance of social finance to their work. They will all be correct.

I don’t think social finance is the be-all-end-all to funding interventions, but I do think we need to experiment with new funding models, and this is one set of approaches.

I question whether risk is distributed well (especially in the case of social impact bonds) and whether big business would be better to spend their money ensuring they don’t, um I don’t know, exploit the poor or the environment through unchecked negative externalities.

And most nonprofits are absent from the conversation. As they should be. Because either they don’t measure their impact to the level necessary for social finance, or their work doesn’t fit the social finance model (e.g. social impact bonds currently focus on employment, literacy, recidivism, and other short- to medium-term outcomes).

3. Nonprofit leaders of large nonprofits who suffer from data and tech illiteracy will unwittingly hurt their causes.

Not internalizing the importance of integrated use of data and technology will mean missed opportunities. And because it’s hard to know when something isn’t there (as opposed to spotting obvious issues like funding gaps or broken equipment), it will be easy for organizations to continue to ignore opportunities like shared platforms, data standards, automation, and other uses of tech and data that streamline our work and provide opportunities for collaboration and advocacy. You know, mission-related work.

4. Nonprofit leaders will wax on about the salary inequities within and outside the sector and then continue to pay shitty wages and use contract employment.

To be fair, they often do so because of the uncertainty of their funding environment.

But many pay little because they can get away with it. Not in a mwa-ha-ha evil way, but because it’s been done before, money is tight, and the job market continues to allow it.

5. No (large) nonprofit or charity will recruit unpaid interns for more than 15 hours per week.

Recruiting for unpaid internships over and above about 12 to 15 hours per week mean only the most privileged will benefit from these experiences, as the rest of job seekers are working and/or going to school full time. Public awareness about the exploitative nature of internships has increased over the past year in particular, and I hope that nonprofits (and not just businesses) have heard the message. Just because we are charities, doesn’t mean that full-time volunteer roles are ethical.

6. Increasing voice of Gen X and Y leadership.

Baby boomers continue to hold the traditional “leadership” roles in the sector. However, Gen X and Y will continue to move up in traditional organizations AND lead newer, non-traditional initiatives, and these new initiatives will hold greater space in the traditional national conversations hosted by organizations like Imagine Canada, Volunteer Canada, Community Foundations of Canada, etc.

These new initiaitves are already holding their own conversations, learning from each other, and networking (and not just with other nonprofits). They don’t need traditional organizations to gain leadership legitimacy, but they can and do play nice when the potential power of new forms of structure and strategy are more and more respected, admired, and coveted by the old guard.

7. Southern Ontario will continue to get most of the attention, support, funding for sector-level work.

I’m always amazed (or…annoyed) that people in Ontario can call their initiatives “national” as long as they invite/email people from outside southern Ontario, but the same initiative out of Halifax or Saskatoon or Vancouver wouldn’t be given the same benefit of the doubt (or benefit of funding/sponsorship). This means many of the important conversations about the future of the nonprofit sector are happening among a narrow set of people, and that’s not OK for our diverse organizations and missions.

8. Rise of the quiet changemaker.

Well, this prediction is just selfish. It’s my own initiative and one that I hope will raise the voices and potential of the more quiet and introverted people making the world a better place. Read more here.

What are your predictions for the nonprofit sector in 2016? Can you out-grump me?

Not your average public speaking advice for introverts

Image credit: Paul Hudson

One of the themes I’ve heard from my interviews with quiet changemakers over the past two years is related to public speaking, so a while back I put out a question to the Quiet Changemaker community via email (sign up at trinaisakson.com) and Facebook.

How do you approach public speaking that might be unique/helpful to quiet changemakers? What helps you speak in public successfully? How do you know when your talk/presentation has gone well? When do you feel good about speaking in public?

The insights are not the usual public speaking advice. Some of it conflicts, but all of it is interesting.

It’s important to note that being quiet does not mean a hatred/fear of public speaking. I know people who are quiet who are great at and enjoy speaking in public, and more extroverted folk who are the opposite. However, there are tactics for public speaking that are unique to the more introverted among us.

What are the themes that quiet changemakers can learn from?

Know if public speaking is for you.

It’s not for everyone. You might love it. You might see it as a learning opportunity, as Sandra shared via email:

As an introvert who doesn’t enjoy public speaking, I don’t actively seek out these types of opportunities, BUT if I am asked to speak, I never say no as it is a chance to challenge myself, grow, and get feedback from others.

Or you might see it as a unnecessary task that you can delegate to others who may be better at this form of communication. Only you know if it’s an activity that is meant for you.

Treat public speaking as a performance.

This theme cropped up very clearly when interviewing quiet changemakers. We see public speaking as a performance. We go onstage and are “on”, give a talk, then are “off”. We’re a little bit outside ourselves when we talk, as though we are seeing ourselves giving a dramatic monologue rather than focusing on the audience. As per usual, we’re more inner-focused.

In line with this thinking, I took a workshop a few years ago (targeted to university instructors) on body, space and voice. It was led by two education professionals, one of whom is also an actor. We practiced using our voice and body in ways that might feel too BIG or unnatural, as though we’re taking up too much space, but in reality look quite natural from the audience. It was a fantastic experience to be able to play with gestures and tone.

Create a public speaking persona.

One quiet changemaker shared that when he speaks in public, he uses a persona that is an exaggerated version of himself. It’s a bit more dramatic, sillier, grander, even stranger than his daily self. For him, this is a form of protection. If people give him negative feedback, he knows it’s directed to this persona, and not his true self.

Speak who you are.

Conflicting with the previous advice, on the opposite end of authenticity, Tony suggested the importance “of being authentic and true to yourself.” He shared his version of a Parker Palmer quote “The best teachers teach who they are,” which probably comes from the true Parker Palmer quote “You are who you teach.” Or not.

Either way, public speaking comes in many forms and purposes, and it’s important to know what purpose your talk has, and what comes most naturally for you.

Are you an inspirational storyteller? (I’m know I’m not….those talks totally turn me off. Bleh. ) Are you an influencer? Are you an educator?

I’m definitely the last one, and am upfront about it when I speak. A keynote I did last year on leadership and volunteer engagement made sure to emphasize that my goal was not to make the audience feel warm fuzzies about the spirit of volunteerism, but instead was meant to provide a new perspective on volunteer engagement, with 3 actions to take the next day using this new lens.

Remember, people are forced to hear you. No interaction required.

Good public speakers know how to read an audience and adjust as necessary. I use this all the time in the classroom, whether to allow more time for an exercise that has people excited, or cut something short if energy is waning.

However, one of the reasons I enjoy public speaking (and other forms of performing in public, like dance) is that it’s not a two way conversation (no matter what the advice articles say). Most of the communication is from you to the audience. Public speaking is an opportunity to be alone, but in front of others.

Also…no interruptions! (Hopefully.) Mandy shared on Facebook that she feels better about public speaking more than group discussion because:

“I do not have to fight for a turn to speak. I will take this over being drowned out by loud group members any day!”

It’s a chance to talk about something you’re passionate about.

Quiet changemakers are often mistaken for extroverts because they can talk a lot, and excitedly, about things they are passionate about, and may even dominate a room (I know I can!)

Public speaking gives quiet changemakers a chance to speak about something they love, and usually people are in the audience because they are interested in that same topic. No need to exhaust yourself finding intellectual chemistry in a crowded room. Yuck!

Book quiet time afterwards, but not right away.

After a day of facilitation, I often go to bed WAAAY early. Public speaking can be fun and enjoyable and EXHAUSTING. Susan Cain has spoken of booking time for herself after her talk, about not taking too many questions or sticking around to schmooze.

I enjoy some Q&A after, as again it gives me an opportunity to chat more about something I’m interested in AND it gives me an opportunity to get feedback on my talk. Also, after a talk people know who you are and come to you, so you don’t have to look around awkwardly to find people to make chit chat with.

How do you approach public speaking that might be unique/helpful to quiet changemakers? What helps you speak in public successfully? How do you know when your talk/presentation has gone well? When do you feel good about speaking in public?

06 Brand communications with David Grad

In this episode I chat with David Grad, Emmy-winning producer and brand consultant, about brand communications, how to break down what exactly “brand” is, and what questions to ask when you’re planning to communicate your brand strategically.

Links for today’s episode:

Month 2 in Myanmar

Time is passing quickly, this post is a few weeks overdue! Here are some things that have filled my time.

My final week in Yangon

On my last Friday, I went out on the town, first for some roller coasters. People’s Park is the 3rd ride park I’ve been to that was developed by a socialist/communist dictatorship government (the first were in Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan). Maybe this is an experience I need to collect, like I collect haircuts and salons when I travel. I went with Erica, a new friend I met in my Myanmar language class. The rides look so simple and stupid, and then you get on and THEY ARE SO SCARY but also make you giggle too. After sunset we also enjoyed fantastic views of Shwedagon.


Leaving the house in Yangon
[Sunset at People’s Park]

Leaving the house in Yangon
[Shwedagon by night]

Later we joined Ivan, also from Myanmar class, at Seven Joint. A Jamaican bar, in Myanmar, with live music featuring the songs of Train, Pharell, and Bryan Adams. Let’s just say it was trippy.

I also went on a free walking tour of downtown Yangon, explored a few other areas of the city, and finally visited Shwedagon, possibly the main site to see in Yangon, and for good reason. Stunning. Peaceful. And free, fast wifi.

[Prettiest old building in downtown Yangon]

[Exploring neighbourhoods of Yangon]

[Waiting for the local train]




Moving to Mawlamyine

This was the town I expected to be living in all along, but it made sense for me to spend my first bit of time in Yangon. Mawlamyine is the 4th largest city in Myanmar, but really it’s just a big town. No high rises, few apartment buildings. Lots of homes over stores, old houses. Interesting colonial architecture tucked in narrow alleys. A river front. Pagodas. MOTORCYCLES (there are none in most of Yangon…they are illegal on the road) and therefore fewer cars, which I love. Only a few traffic lights (I think I’ve seen 2). So much quieter.

I live with a roommate (another Cuso volunteer from Edmonton, placed with a different organization) in a two bedroom, one story small house in a little village outside of town, near the university. Think dirt roads, dogs, goats, the odd cow, burning piles of leaves, small market, university students living together and singing karaoke.

[The house]

We’re slowly setting up house, figuring out our routines. Our water comes from a well on our lot, and all fixtures are gravity fed. We shower by pouring water from a small bucket over our heads. I usually treat myself and boil a bit of water to add to the large bucket, just to take a bit of the cold edge off. Lots of mosquitos, even with screens. About 8 different tile patterns used throughout the house on different floors and walls makes for visual interest. Very variable power supply (power goes off from 5 min to 36 hours at a time, the voltage changing dramatically over time) which makes for interesting fan air flow.

Still going to work

Still doing the same sort of work (though now I’m beginning to do more hands-on work –  training community researchers and collecting data through interviews and focus group discussions). However, my days look much different. Let’s compare the two.

Yangon: 30min-1hr commute in heavy traffic on a 6 lane roadway by bus. Office with about 15 staff on the 3rd floor of an office building. Neat little neighbourhood on the way. A few other foreigners at the office. A great restaurant where I can get yummy veggie dishes with rice if I didn’t bring a lunch.

Leaving the house in Yangon
[Waiting for the bus]

Leaving the house in Yangon
[My favourite corner on the walk to work]

Leaving the house in Yangon
[Shared lunch]

Leaving the house in Yangon
[View from the stairwell]

Mawlamyine: <5min walk to work on mostly dirt roads. Office with 3 staff and 1-2 local volunteers. Office in an old house with beautiful wood floors and roof beams. No other foreigners at the office. Lunch options are fewer, but still yummy.

In addition to computer based work, I’ve also spent a bit more time in Mawlamyine helping my colleagues practice English, learn research methods, and have had a few meetings that really highlight the difference between civil society in big city Yangon, and civil society in more rural Myanmar.

[Walking to work]

[Walking to work]

[Our new office space on moving day (old office had flood problems)]

Connecting with the expat community in Mawlamyine

There seem to be about 20 foreigners living here, and I’ve met almost all of them. We have a Viber group (Viber is kind of like WhatsApp or Skype, a messaging/call app) to arrange plans, and we usually get together every Friday. It’s a very mixed group, with people from the US, UK, France, Switzerland, Japan, and more that I’m forgetting. Other times people based in Yangon come down for a few days of work and I’ve met a few of them as well. They’ve been very helpful in helping me learn about Mawlamyine (i.e. where to buy flour, cooking sauces, pasta, and other hard-to-find goods).

Celebrating the full moon in October AKA the Festival of Lights

On this holiday, people light candles in the evening (and line them up on their door steps, windows, fences, etc) and during the day time they take day trips. Amanda’s host organization invited us for a day tour, and about 8 of us spent the day visiting some of their friends, going to a temple on the ocean, visiting the busiest beach I’ve ever been on in my lifetime, checking out the Death Railway cemetery (appoximately 4000 Allied POWs died during the Japanese-led construction of this railway in southeast Asia. I’ve been to the other end, in Kanchanaburi, Thailand), and getting rained off the road.

[A friend’s home]

[Kyaikkami pagoda]

[Kyaikkami pagoda]

[Kyaikkami pagoda]

[Kyaikkami pagoda]

[Kyaikkami pagoda]

[Setse beach]

[Thambuziyat cemetary]

Later in the evening I checked out one of the temples back in Mawlamyine and admired everything by candle light.

[Kyaikthanlan pagoda]

[Kyaikthanlan pagoda]


Watching the election process unfold here has been fascinating. I’ve written a post comparing the election here with the election in Canada, and I’ll share it soon so you can get more insight than what western media is sharing.

Have you every considered visiting Myanmar/Burma?

12 things I’m thankful for in Myanmar

Big bottles of purified water

One of the scourges of international travellers everywhere is the plastic water bottle. Many people here (foreigners and locals alike) get refillable 20L dispensers delivered. Once you have the dispenser, they’re cheap to refill (50c in Yangon, 30c in Mawlamyine), and they not only deliver to your house, they bring them right to your kitchen.

Well-connected colleagues

When it comes to development work in Myanmar, it’s a small world. If I need a connection, someone likely has it. Most of the Myanmar staff have worked at other NGOs, and international folk are connected to the INGO Forum. Down in Mawlamyine I can count the foreigners on my fingers and toes, and my colleagues are connected to different CSO networks. It’s a small world.


[A gathering of new expat friends]

My friendly neighbourhood restaurant

Yangon: If I’m tired and hungry, I come here because I know I’ll get a good bowl of mohinga (a noodle soup with a fish broth plus some oversized celery-looking vegetable and bonuses of your choice). I get a hard boiled egg and a fried bean curd patty cut up into it. Other options are fish chunks or cut up chicken sausage. As you can see I’m not eating totally vegan here, as is often the case when I travel.

Mawlamyine: There are a few ones I frequent when I go to the market Saturday morning or during the week for lunch. If I can convince my colleagues to go to Victoria (or Witoyiya) restaurant I’m especially happy, but it take a motorcycle ride to get there. Victoria has lots of veggie options, including baked beans (beans!!). Last week I treated two of my colleagues – 8 different dishes, plus rice, and drinks was under $3. Total.


[Not my neighbourhood restaurant, but an example of a group lunch spread]

Friendly people

Thanks to lovely colleagues and connections, I’ve been able to experiences little parts of Myanmar I would never get to as a tourist. The random massage place with the blind masseuse. The mountaintop festival. The homemade dinners. Wonderful.


[With Mi Kun and friends on Bilugyn Island]


Yangon: In the living room, in my bed room, ventilating the bathroom and kitchen, and beside my office desk. When there’s no other way to get cool and move air around.

Mawlamyine: Not enough fans, but I damn sure appreciate what I have.

Peanut cakes

I don’t know what else to call them. The cost 2/30c or 4/50c. The first time I bought them I talked myself up into thinking they were going to taste savoury so that I wouldn’t be disappointed if they were.

But they were just slightly sweet! Like peanut butter cookies in pancake form.
Unfortunately, I haven’t yet found peanut cakes in Malamyine. There isn’t the same level of street food culture. My eyes are on the lookout for other fried treats though.

Bad internet connections

Truly. I’m someone that can easily get sucked into the rabbit hole of the internet, or who can get in the habit of checking various feeds over and over in a cycle. Especially if I don’t have something concrete I have to do (or sometime especially when I do).

Here, I’ve detoxed. I have a very slow connection at work (<50kb/second) and only have data on my phone otherwise (though it’s faster than my work connection). Mobile data is cheap (about $2.50 for 500MB of data) but sometime there isn’t a data hot spot, or something on my phone auto syncs on something unexpected and I blast through my limit. Anyways, I’d rather spend my time and my volunteer stipend on other stuff.

However, this means I’ve been really bad about sharing what I’m up to, and especially bad about sharing photos.

One aside on the topic of internet connections. Imagine if you can a country 5 years ago, cut off, without internet for most except the richest few, and a state controlled media with rampant censorship. SIM cards cost $5000. Fast forward five years and SIM cards are less than $2, mobile is cheap, smartphones can be had for cheap too, and independent media no longer have to get government approval before they publish. All in five years. It’s crazy. From zero to smartphone nation.


[Free (and fast!) wifi upon Shwedagon, Yangon]

Google maps + iPhone

Tip: before you travel to an international destination, get on your phone and zoom all around where you plan to go. When you’re in the new country, even if you don’t use wifi or data (i.e. you have no connection whatsoever), GPS will pinpoint your location and help you find where you are/where you’re going.

Living near bus routes

It’s something I love about where I live in Vancouver too.

Yangon: Depending on how much I feel like walking, I can take the 48, 50, 51, 124, 132, 176, 188, 231, I think. And probably more that I don’t know about.

Mawlamyine: The little bus truck #5 gets me downtown. Here I can walk to work, and take a motorcycle taxi if needed. I carry my motorcycle helmet with me most places, because you never know when you’re going to end up on a motorcycle.


[The number 5 “Bus Kaa”]

Coca Cola

I drink it when I travel. It soothes my stomach. It makes greasy or spicy food go down easier. It’s an after work treat. It’s available everywhere when you need it.

Mawlamyine: I also found Snickers here! I associate Snickers with a soothed stomach, after my issues in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. I need to find more sources for Snickers though, my roommate and I bought the store out.


[Bought out the store. On the lookout for more.]

Medical insurance (thanks Cuso International!)

Being able to get my stomach problems and my torn elbows taken care of without financial worries makes the decision to take care of myself easier. (PS I’m all better now).

A full night’s sleep

My first month in Myanmar, I don’t think I ever got more than 3 hours uninterrupted sleep (I know I don’t have anything on new parents/breastfeeding mamas, but still). And then something broke after I got over my cold, and one Friday, I slept for 9 hours. And then again Saturday night. And then 7 on Sunday night. It’s like I was different person. I think it was a cooler few days that did it, because when it got warm again I slept poorly again.

In Mawlamyine things have been OK so far, even with the heat and the mosquito nets. I’m cautiously optimistic, especially as the weather is supposed to cool down a bit soon (from highs of 36 to highs of 30 or even under!)

What makes living away from home easier for you?

05 Allison Jones on careers and leadership

In this episode of the Do Good Better Podcast I talk with Allison Jones, formerly of Idealist Careers at the time of the recording, but now with NTEN. We start off our conversation talking about career and labour market trends, but then get into the juicy topics of leadership, management, vulnerability, and learning.

Listen via the website, iTunes, or Stitcher.

Links from today’s episode

Note: I couldn’t find the article Allison mentioned re: 26 ways to be involved in social change without being on the streets, nor the 99U article on from manager to maker.

04 Michael Lenczner on open data strategies in the nonprofit sector

In this episode of the Do Good Better Podcast I talk about my new role in Myanmar (Burma), and share a conversation with Michael Lenczner of PoweredbyData on how nonprofit organizations can be thinking strategically about data at a sector level.

Resources mentioned in today’s episode: