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NetHope Global Summit 2018: People, Collaboration, Trust

By November 14, 2018

Photo credit: NetHope

One of the leading social impact tech conferences is the NetHope Global Summit. NetHope today represents nearly 60 diverse international NGOs working on some of the world’s toughest challenges, and their annual Global Summit has become a who’s who of tech for social impact, particularly in the humanitarian and global development space. I’ve attended three of the past four years. This year, several of us were fortunate to represent the community to listen, learn, share, and, most of all, develop stronger bonds with the NetHope community.

This year’s sold-out event, the 24th Summit, attracted more than 500 colleagues, partners, and friends from across the global nonprofit, tech, and philanthropy sectors. The Summit was held at the regal Royal Dublin Society in Dublin, Ireland, a truly awesome host location. NetHope’s events and membership teams consistently curate compelling programming, and this year was no different.

We enjoyed an inspiring welcome session featuring the CEOs of three Irish charities – Siobhan Walsh of GOAL, Caoimhe De Barra from Trocaire, and Dominic MacSorley from Concern Worldwide – echoing this year’s theme Digital Transformation: It’s in Our DNA! Indeed, digital transformation is top-of-mind for leadership across all industries, as Deloitte, the World Economic Forum, and Gartner have highlighted. The Summit focused on three critical building blocks of successful digital transformation – people (skills), collaboration, and trust – all of which can be further amplified by the right technology systems and solutions.

People First, Then Process and Technology

Digital transformation is frequently discussed in terms of technology, process, and people. The Summit suggests it is high time that we reverse that order to put people first. New research catalyzed by the Center for the Digital Nonprofit was front and center. Their new white paper, The Digital Nonprofit Skills (DNS) Assessment, presented the results from a survey of several hundred leaders of global nonprofits from nearly 50 NGOs.

Results demonstrate that nonprofit humanitarian and global development organizations face significant organizational and individual competency challenges.

  • Less than a third agree or strongly agree they had the digital responsibility skills to protect beneficiaries against the risks, biases, and limitations of data and digital tools;
  • More than half feel empowered to nurture highly adaptive and collaborative teams that feel empowered to change direction quickly as new digital possibilities become available; and
  • One-third agree their organization fosters a culture of entrepreneurial spirit, one that accepts higher levels of risk-tolerance and potential failure.

In short, the report provides compelling support that meaningful and sustainable tech capacity-building initiatives are necessary for the sector.

NetHope roundtables
Photo credit: NetHope

Collaboration, Collaboration, Collaboration

“Better together” is really at the heart of the NetHope value proposition. NetHope members have been working together alongside willing partners for more than a decade to try to help one another solve challenges. And that aspect of the consortium’s operating model was on full display at the summit, starting first and foremost among NetHope membership.

Working groups and chapters are the primary vehicles that connect NetHope’s members throughout the year. Working groups are organized around five themes – Data Protection and Information Security, Humanitarian and Disaster Response, Connectivity and Infrastructure, Data Management and CRM, and Enterprise Architecture. NetHope Chapters currently include Asia Pacific, Latin America, Africa, Europe, North America, and Middle East/North Africa. The Summit is an important time for these groups to meet, share ideas, listen, and sharpen their agendas for the upcoming year.

Members also collaborate directly via countless keynote and breakout sessions centered around the members’ challenges and best practices regarding the effective use of tech and other key issues facing the community ranging from GDPR to collective impact, AI and Blockchain.

Philanthropic supporters and corporate partners shared in the “in it together” spirit as well.

Highlights for me included engagements with the Patterson Foundation, a longtime NetHope supporter with a remarkable track record of supporting collaboration, as well as CDW’s annual partner dinner, organized by community legend Paul Moon. was honored and humbled to be included among this year’s esteemed group.

Finally, the release of the forenamed Digital Nonprofit Skills research served as a powerful example of collaboration among corporate social impact initiatives. Nine #ImpactCloud members – Box, Docusign, Okta, Oracle NetSuite,, Splunk, Tableau, Twilio, and Workplace by Facebook – jointly supported The Digital Nonprofit Skills (DNS) Assessment white paper.

#ImpactCloud is a coalition of impact-oriented technology companies working together to help accelerate digital transformation and impact for humanitarian and disaster relief organizations. This was the first joint #ImpactCloud collaborative research project, and it was an attempt to model the very behavior increasingly being asked of nonprofit organizations. Erin Baudo Felter, head of Okta for Social Good, summed it up best when she said “…collaboration is real and powerful and leads to important things.”

Nethope crowd
Photo credit: NetHope

It All Starts With Trust

We like to say that digital transformation starts with impact, but the number one value driving digital transformation is trust. Relationships form the building blocks for social change and undergirding every relationship is trust. Big change that requires us to embrace new models and new partnerships only happens when trust is present. Events like the NetHope Global Summit are important because they help facilitate trust. And it is fair to say that trust is in relative short supply in the world today.

Trust is enhanced by showing up to work alongside your community. It is enhanced by engaging in difficult conversations. It is also strengthened by telling friends in a constructive way when you disagree.

Trust is advanced through transparency, by acting consistently and establishing clarity of purpose via accountability. Trust is enhanced when a community celebrates the unselfish activities of others, like the NetHope community’s recognition of long-time Board Member Radha Basu and CDW’s Paul Moon.

And trust gets stronger when we listen to one another and when we model the mentality and behavior of service to the community. We strengthen trust by building a beloved community, a world at peace with itself; or, as Bryan Breckenridge of suggested, when we “elevate community above competition” and “optimize for trust and love.”

NetHope with Brian Komar
Speaking at the conference. Photo credit: NetHope

Two Personal Highlights

My first personal highlight was speaking in an after-hours session about Social Change as a Platform alongside friend and social innovation-guru Michael Duggan, the now CIO at Oxfam International. We discussed how the core assets needed today to advance social change – ideas, individuals, and institutions – continue to be the primary ingredients. What is changing, however, is the way these assets are assembled to deliver maximum social impact. Aligned action is an increasingly important strategy for us to advance together if our goal is to exponentially reduce suffering in the world. I was heartened by the response to our discussion and am excited to help drive that work forward with this community.

My second personal highlight was meeting and dining alongside Ed Happ, the founder of NetHope. Ed is a giant in the space who is now doing incredible work at the University of Michigan as an Executive Fellow at the University of Michigan’s School of Information. It was his paper written nearly 20 years ago that helped form the basis for NetHope. In Wiring the Virtual Village, the then-CIO of Save the Children laid out the hypotheses that international NGOs could solve connection problems more effectively and efficiently by working together rather than reinventing the wheel as individual NGOs.

This simple, yet profound idea – that we are stronger when we work together to achieve social change – has been at the center of my worldview. Meeting Ed reminded me of my mentor Arnold Aronson, a co-founder of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the largest and broadest civil and human rights coalition in the world. I had the great fortune of working there for more than 10 years and as Arnie used to say to me then, “The struggle of civil rights cannot be won by any one group acting by or for itself alone, but only through a coalition of groups that share a common commitment to equal justice and equal opportunity for everyone.” Spending time with Ed brought me back to those days. Thanks Ed for the great memory!

NetHope’s entire leadership team, headed by Lauren Woodman, Laura, Frank, Jim, Jean-Louis and many others, deserve our heartfelt appreciation for their tireless efforts to help change the world through the power of technology and collaboration. Most of all, the NGO members of the NetHope community deserve gratitude for their leadership in supporting this consortium. True, authentic community spirit is all too rare these days, so when it exists, it is important for all of us to call it out, to help nurture it, to ensure we all can help deliver a more impactful future for those we seek to empower. Until next year.

For more on nonprofit technology trends, download a copy of the Nonprofit Trends Report from and Salesforce Research here.


Nonprofit Trends Report

About the Author
Brian KomarBrian Komar is Vice President, Global Impact Engagement at, where he led the nonprofit social enterprise’s impact measurement and collective impact partnerships. His career at Salesforce spans over 7 years, with previous roles in marketing and industry solutions. Based in the Washington, D.C. area, he is a digital transformation, strategy and marketing/engagement expert with experience in leadership roles in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. He has spent 25 years leading nonprofits, businesses and philanthropic institutions through the three cycles of digital transformation – channels, integrated data and business model design. Follow him on Twitter: @bkomar