I have been fortunate enough to spar with GAME Denmark (NGO focusing on street sports and developing young leaders in the less advantaged neighbourhoods), and unsurprisingly discovered that even non-profit organisations face constraints. Like any other organisation they have to maximise the output “per scarce unit”.
GAME Denmark uses design thinking and agile development to come up with their unique designs for street sports centres in close collaboration with their future users, and this has become one of their core strengths.
This is a core strength that is highly sort after in the corporate world as innovation and “digital” is high on the agenda, and those mythologies have in general proven to be fastest to market. So right now, thousands of companies are trying to instil these new mindsets in the organisation. This typically means sending the executives to Singularity University, holding town halls, (over)loading the intranet or maybe even starting your own design lab to illustrate the great new ways.
Hopefully all with some impact, however, in my book nothing hammers points home like being at the at the sharp end of things. Where real customers pay real money, where there is a P&L at stake, or where users vote with their feet. If GAME Denmark doesn’t get it right, you may have built it, but they just didn’t come…and GAME won’t develop any young leaders and role models in that neighbourhood.
When you look at it from a corporate point of view, there is obviously a huge value in “simply doing the right thing” and working with NGOs, engaging with local communities, getting employees engaged and motivated. However, there could be additional benefits if you applied similar principles to selecting partners as the NGOs do.
From an NGO point of view, the ideal partner has a skillset that is complimentary to your own – it isn’t just about financial backing. So for GAME Denmark this means they are not looking for design companies, but e.g. sports equipment providers or logistics companies.
From a corporate point of view, you could find an NGO with a skillset that matches the challenges you are currently facing. So in this specific case, it may be difficult to convince the organisation to take the risk of testing “design thinking” on existing customers – but with GAME Denmark you have real “customers” and a proven track record with design thinking – not just “scenarios”, “personas” or even a design lab in Silicon Valley…although I wouldn’t mind one of those myself 🙂
Obviously not all NGOs know design thinking or agile development, but you can always learn something about selling! Consider this: If you are an NGO and all you have is a “good cause” and you are asking for money…just imagine the skillset it has required to outcompete all the other good causes out there 😉