THE PATH TO FOURTH SECTOR WORKS: Innovation to Help You Multiply, Mobilize, and Maximize Your Impact
Best known for developing the Theory of General Relativity, Albert Einstein once stated that innovation is combinatorial. As he suggested, combinatorial is about being alert and awake to the world in order to collect cross-disciplinary building blocks such as observations of successes and promising practices, the research of others, sparks of inspiration, and other existing ideas — that ideally we then combine and recombine, to create something new.
It is from this messy and vast multi-sectoral pool of resources that the Campus for Communities of the Future continues to evolve to build unique, relevant, and practical training focused on supporting organizations, businesses, neighbourhoods, and communities building their leadership and organizational capacity for complexity and cross-sectoral collaboration. In large part, its been done by standing on the shoulders of some amazing change agents across the country.
As the Founder of what until now has been known as the Campus for Communities of the Future, it seems we spent many years searching for a place that was a fit for individuals and organizations who cared deeply about making a difference and were willing to embrace change to make it happen.
While its been hard work and a long and often lonely path, we're finally at a place where we can describe what we do as Fourth Sector Work.
THE CONTEXT FOR OUR REBRAND AS FOURTH SECTOR WORKS
In Canada, as well as in most other countries, our economy is comprised of three sectors: (1) the public or government sector, (2) the private or business sector, and (3) the social or nonprofit sector. Now understanding myself more clearly as a generalist, I ended up working with, and across, all three sectors as we sought solutions to complex issues in our communities.
As a result, the path that led first to the Campus for Communities and ultimately to Fourth Sector Works was not only a long and winding one, it was one where the required track was often laid as the train was rolling.
In large part this was having identified that complex community issues needed an innovative and new kind of leadership that would multiple, mobilize, and maximize impact. However, it was also the result of the push and pull between wanting to make a difference, and needing to be entrepreneurial in order to make it happen.
The challenges were also about the innovation required for a big dream that needed to incorporate elements that were relevant to all three sectors, each of which had a very different measuring stick for success.
Typically, the business sector is more apt to measure their success in terms of economic impact, whereas for nonprofits and governments, success is about being able to successfully address social issues and public good. In other words, we’ve often had to stack up money versus humanity and compassion because only a small percentage of the three traditional sectors were designed to integrate both the fundamentals of business with a social or environmental mission. Of course, we need both. And yet, it seems having three sectors has meant we’ve also separated the three wth a very clear dividing line.
For the Campus for Communities of the Future, this created the challenge of struggling for years to find an infrastructure that addressed the need for both economic impact and social innovation.
FOURTH SECTOR AS A SOLUTION
However, it’s exciting to know that there is an emerging new sector that serves as an umbrella for those of us doing this kind of work. Named the Fourth Sector (see this article by the World Eonomic Forum), it is emerging as one that combines the market-based approaches of the private sector with the social and environmental priorities of the government and non-profit sectors in order to address pressing, often complex challenges. Endeavors in this Fourth Sector come in a wide variety of models, including for-purpose businesses, social enterprises, co-operatives, benefit corporations, etc.
Truth be told, it was somewhat of an epiphany because the article didn’t negate the importance of the other three sectors or economies – meaning the public or government sector, the private or business sector, and the nonprofit or social sector. Instead, the World Economic Forum was saying we needed something more if we were to ensure a better future. They framed our emphasis on addressing wider impact with collaborative and cross sectoral work as having a name – that being Fourth Sector Work.
Now there’s a clear place for prioritizing ecosystems and holistic approaches that nurture the interconnected, collaborative initiatives that are essential for complex issues and challenges.
For us, well as many others, it means expertise in supporting competency in complexity will be more valued and ideally prioritized with time and resources allocated.
As the world continues to face greater challenges each day — from increasing gaps in inequality to pandemic health threats, to a global climate crisis — growing this emerging Fourth Sector of the economy with an eye on solving the challenges of both people and planet is gaining the traction that will result in the innovation and entrepreneurship that will be essential. The synergy of a Fourth Sector will make it possible to climb mountains together to find the solutions to urgent local and global challenges.