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How We’re Thinking About the Future of Work—Yours and Ours

People in an Office - Charles Forerunner

There isn’t an organization or individual in the world today that looks toward the future of work without a mix of excitement and apprehension. As a result of rapid globalization, advances in technology, and the continuing aftershocks of the Great Recession, entire industries are changing at an unbelievable, ever-accelerating pace—and along with them, the idea of what it means to work and make a living.

This has some profound implications for how philanthropy works, as well. I’ll share two.

It’s changing how we advance inclusive economies. One of The Rockefeller Foundation’s dual goals is to advance more inclusive economies, where prosperity is more broadly shared and there are more opportunities for more people. Changes in the definition of work (for example, some forecast that 40 percent of the workforce in the United States—nearly 60 million workers—will be freelance by 2020) will first affect those with the highest barriers to opportunity. Therefore, we have taken action—first by studying and understanding the changing landscape of work and employment, then by bringing together leaders from the public, private, and philanthropic sectors to ensure that the poor aren’t left behind. Philanthropy has great convening power and the resources to motivate others to act.

“What if we think of technology as more than a job destroyer? What about its potential as a job creator?”

At the center of this change: technology. It’s true that a new robot with artificial intelligence can do the same work as a semi-skilled factory worker for the equivalent of about $4 per hour. But what if we think of technology as more than a job destroyer? What about its potential as a job creator? Tools like Airbnb, Task Rabbit, Kiva, and Coursera, point toward new ways of accessing work, income-generating activities, and skills-training through technology. But there’s more to be done to ensure that the jobs created by technology are indeed good jobs—and that businesses can harness the improvements that technology brings, without compromising humanity. For example, the algorithms used to create work schedules have saved many companies money, but at the expense of workers’ ability to plan for childcare, education, or other needs. A slight change in the algorithm could mean schedules are released to workers two weeks in advance. We believe the human—and potentially performance—benefits gained by these tweaks would outweigh the labor-cost downsides. Philanthropy can help make these changes a reality.

These are interesting trends that will change the way foundations do our jobs—and who we hire for them. Which brings me to a second implication:

Tomorrow’s grantmaker is skilled in influence. Traditional grantmaking, in which a certain amount of money is invested for a direct impact on the ground, is no longer sufficient in solving problems, or building inclusive economies. Rather, it must go hand in hand with strategically-deployed influence, allowing foundations to both magnify the impact of their grants and use other assets (such as the expertise of staff) to advance programmatic goals.

This requires a different set of skills than we’ve hired for in the past. No, this doesn’t mean that our HR department is counting your Twitter followers or ‘Likes’ on Facebook. Influence is not reach alone. Rather, it’s an understanding of how to reach target audiences with the right messages, generate belief among those audiences, and finally change behavior to accomplish the initiative’s ultimate impact goals.

Consider what it will take to address the youth employment crisis in the United State: a mix of both programmatic work to ensure young people are trained and ready to take the jobs of the future, but also significant behavior change among employers to adopt new ways to fill entry-level positions and expand employment opportunities for disadvantaged young workers, and policy changes that come from government actions as well. This requires influence strategies to prove the business case—as I’ve discussed in past posts—and it’s a great example of how we’re moving beyond traditional intervention models.

These are just two of the ways that philanthropy must change how we work. Follow along with us as we continue to identify best practices for influence, what it means for building resilience and advancing inclusive economies, and leave a note telling me how you’re using influence to mitigate the downsides of this cataclysmic shift in the nature of work.


A version of this post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.

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