The World of Tomorrow: Independent Sector's Threads

The World of Tomorrow: Independent Sector's Threads

The other day I was reading about a social sector initiative that aims to accomplish its goal of solving an intractable social problem by 2020. I immediately thought to myself, “Sure, anything’s possible in the distant future!” Then I realized that 2020 is actually not so distant. In fact, I probably have canned foods in my cabinet that expire around that time.

Aside from forgetting what year it is, when it comes to the future we often assume, like I did, that anything is possible. And we take for granted that it will be accomplished in some mysterious way that we don’t understand now but surely will by the time we’re using our Apple watches to remote start our hovercrafts (which everyone has, because poverty has been eradicated!)

It’s somewhat understandable that we often take this approach; many of us are so busy working to eradicate poverty and any number of injustices in our day-to-day work that we don’t often have the time to lift our heads up and think about what our work will look like in 2040 and what will happen between now and then.




One organization that is doing that thinking is Independent Sector, a network for nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. Recently they’ve been convening a series of events across the country to start a dialogue about the challenges and opportunities that will define the social sector and our work in the next twenty years.

They’re calling these conversations Threads, and chances are that one of these events is coming soon to a town near you. I recently had the opportunity to attend their Threads event in New York where we had the opportunity to provide feedback on their work and discuss how we see the sector and the context we work in changing over the next two decades.
With the input of their members and other stakeholders, IS has identified nine trends that will affect the social sector in profound ways. They are:

  1. Disruption from inequality and environmental degradation
  2. Greater ethnic diversity and new generations of leadership
  3. Technology transforming learning, gathering, and associations
  4. Swarms of individuals connecting with institutions
  5. Business becoming increasingly engaged in social and environmental issues
  6. New models for social welfare and social change
  7. Uncertainty: Will there be a resurgence of the public’s voice in policymaking?
  8. Uncertainty: Will the primary focus for policy development be at the local or national level?
  9. Uncertainty: How will government balance competing priorities and revenue pressures?

To learn more about how they see these forces playing out, you’ll have to check out their reports and resources that explore these trends further. I recommend spending some time thinking about where you’ve observed these forces and how you see them affecting your work.

Have you noticed leaderful movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter swarming institutions and applying pressure for social change? Did you know that many young people believe that businesses are more effective at making social change than nonprofit organizations are? Where have you seen young leaders stepping up and bringing new models of leadership to the sector?



We at YNPN would love to hear your thoughts about the future of the sector, and we know our friends at IS would as well. Tweet at @ynpn & @IndSector and tell us what you think about these trends and the future of the sector.

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