Growth mindset. Lean operations. Engaging stakeholders early with compelling storytelling. These basics from the startup world absolutely translate to non-profit startups, and hopefully encourage entrepreneurs to use their skills and passion to get involved in the causes they care about. At the same time, working on social justice causes affecting marginalized or vulnerable populations means devoting extra attention to ethical design and implementation.
“In social justice, we need to make sure that we are marrying the smart solution with the ethical solution.”
At the “Tech for Good: Lessons of a Startup Nonprofit” Headline Event at Denver Startup Week, Marianna Kosharovsky, founder and executive director of ALIGHT, led with this call to action. ALIGHT, an anti-human trafficking non-profit, provided a case study of what it looks like to harness the benefits of technology to find creative solutions for social justice needs. ALIGHT, which stands for Alliance to Lead Impact in Global Human Trafficking, uses a Lyft-like app called 4Bells to connect human trafficking survivors with legal needs to pro bono attorneys.
There are many similarities between non-profits and for-profit startups according to Marianna and her fellow speakers Lucy Stribley, ALIGHT board member and Vice President at the technology startup Flyreel, and Rob Lantz, attorney in the ALIGHT network and partner at the law firm Coan, Payton & Payne. And both can learn from the other.
Here are some tips for applying startup principles and adding ethical considerations when developing your roadmap:
Have growth mindset: Building and scaling is essential for startups. For startup non-profits, the market research and validation stages are especially critical and can get complicated. Skipping the research and collaboration part can lead to creating a solution that harms the intended beneficiary, or duplicates critical efforts currently underway by other actors in the community. Particularly for users or ultimate beneficiaries from populations that are already marginalized or hard to access for design input, such as victims of gender-based violence, prisoners, and children, issues such as safety, confidentiality, and privacy must be top of mind. Co-designing solutions becomes incredibly important. For example, ALIGHT continues to work with survivor leaders to obtain their input and guidance on our processes. Early on, to address potential safety and confidentiality issues, ALIGHT made the strategic decision that partner organizations [service providers] should post requests for legal assistance rather than the survivors themselves.
Be lean: Young nonprofits need to save money and limit overhead everywhere they can. Recruiting volunteer talent and taking advantage of resources through Google for Nonprofits and TechSoup are incredibly helpful. In fact, Denver Startup Week is one of the best resources to learn and connect.
Build compelling storytelling and bring in stakeholders early: A focused message can help recruit critical supporters. As stakeholders of ALIGHT, Lucy and Rob expressed that it was the mission that drew them in, and relentless networking is needed.
Non-profits working with vulnerable populations are keenly aware that they must be particularly careful with how to focus and tell their stories. Because of the trauma human trafficking survivors have walked through and the need to respect a survivor’s privacy – including the use of their names and images – ALIGHT focuses on creative ways to show the impact of our work.
No matter what organization you are starting, be sure to stay lean, bring the right stakeholders in early, and focus and tell your compelling story.
For those ready to make a difference in their community – now is the time! Check out some resources on ethical design around gender-based violence and use of victims’ images here: https://bit.ly/2DF9OMZ.
Learn more about ALIGHT and how you can get involved:
Sign up for ALIGHT’s newsletter: https://bit.ly/2M22TR5