Emerging nonprofit leaders from 10 global organizations rattled off a long list of social sector challenges May 2, 2011, on the opening day of the first-ever American Express Leadership Academy at Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Arizona.
Talent retention, fund-raising, increased competition, pressure to scale up quickly and the speed of change in the post-recession economy all keep social sector leaders awake at night. But Thunderbird Professor Michael Finney, Ph.D., identified a different issue as the most significant social sector trend in 2011.
“Sector boundaries are blurring,” he told the group of 28 high-potential leaders from nine countries. “Many people believe social enterprises are going to be more sustainable because they are using the business model to operate.”
Finney and Thunderbird Professor Mary Teagarden, Ph.D., serve as academic directors for the weeklong program, which brings a mix of social sector managers to campus for executive education.
Organizations represented in the inaugural academy include Action Against Hunger, Clinton Global Initiative, Endeavor, FARM-Africa, Global Giving Foundation, International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies, Save the Children, UNICEF, Un Techo para mi Pais and Women for Women International.
Each team arrived on campus with a specific organizational challenge that will solidify into a tangible project by the end of the week. Thunderbird professors will follow up with program participants after three, six and 12 months to support implementation of the action plans.
American Express CEO Ken Chenault and other corporate leaders have participated with Thunderbird faculty in the design and delivery of the program, an expansion of an American Express initiative that started at Thunderbird in 2009.
“Thunderbird and American Express have collaborated on this five-day intensive learning experience to help bridge the leadership gap that exists within the social sector,” said Thunderbird Associate Vice President Joy Lubeck, the program director within Thunderbird Corporate Learning.
American Express runs a simultaneous academy at its New York headquarters for an additional 50 emerging social sector leaders.
Finney reviewed several trends changing the social sector landscape, including demographic shifts, technological advances, the development of informal affiliations, and increased civic engagement. But he said the blurring of boundaries between the business, social and public sectors will have the greatest impact in the near future on efforts to fight hunger, disease, gender inequality and other global problems.
Commercial enterprises increasingly pay attention to social issues, and many businesses operate their own nonprofit foundations under the corporate umbrella. Other hybrid organizations blend commercial models with social missions.
Teagarden said social sector organizations no longer have a monopoly on doing good, and they must take steps to protect their brands while they develop innovative new approaches to delivering their products and services.
“In the last generation, business has figured out the need for corporate social responsibility,” Teagarden said.