Creating Positive Change – Are Nonprofits Rising to the Challenge?

By Neva Lazarova

When I think of the concept of ‘school’, I often remember Pink Floyd’s song “Another Brick in the Wall”; the lyrics “We don’t need no education” and “We don’t need no thought control” stand out in my mind.  I have always been concerned that education could, to a large extent, destroy individuality and open-mindedness.  Yet, I chose to experience the life of a university student, but I always selected programs that gave me as much freedom as possible to pursue my own interests and avoid conventionality.  The Management of Technology and Innovation (MTI) program at Ryerson University did not disappoint!  As some of the other bloggers have mentioned already, the Major Research Paper (MRP) at Ryerson is a unique opportunity to synthesize the factual information received in class and apply it to the analysis of a subject chosen by each student.  In other words, the student’s imagination is the only limitation.    

I investigated the international nonprofit sector and tried to find out if nonprofits have the potential to remake the world or if humanitarianism is simply an idealistic outlaw in a predominantly corporate world.  I wanted to understand the level of difficulty involving rewiring one’s ways of thinking and making high-impact changes concerning functions that are not considered to have any potential monetary benefits.  Hence, I focused my research on trying to find out if nonprofits are succeeding in creating change and how far-reaching are their messages?

As a professional working within the health and pharmaceutical industries, I wanted to learn more about nonprofits working towards solving global health problems.  In my mind, the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were the obvious choices.  Independently as well as together, they are working toward solving imminent problems affecting people’s health and well-being.  Their main focus is to ensure that there is constant attentiveness to the needs of the underprivileged, poor, and/or victimized people and communities around the world.

In my research I was looking the ‘good, the bad and the ugly’ within the three organizations.  Well, leaving no stone unturned is what research is all about, after all.  I found the good, and I found the bad; the good news is that the ugly did not become obvious to me.  Overall, the collected data confirmed that WHO, IPPF, and ICRC have been successful in creating global awareness concerning health-related issues as well as providing solutions and services to struggling people, communities and nations.  These accomplishments are hard to undermine, and it was a pleasure reading and writing about their triumphs.  As part of evaluating the legitimacy of these organizations, I wanted to assess their drawbacks as well.  My findings indicated that there is a strong corporate culture, which creates an inherent paradox between the humanitarian and the give-and-take approach characteristic of the for-profit world.  Bureaucracy and consideration of political agendas seem to be slowing down progress, creating significant delays in solving imminent health problems.  I was also unpleasantly surprised to find out of the suspected alliances among pharmaceutical corporations, physicians, marketing companies, and nonprofits in “selling sickness” through silent support of drug marketing approaches.  The lack of synchronized efforts among nonprofits toward achieving common goals is another obstacle on the road towards eradicating deadly diseases and improving the quality of life around the globe.  Having said all this, I would like to point out that there remain plenty of holes unfilled on the chosen subject matter, which doesn’t undermine my contributions but shows the complexity of the research.  Creating awareness of the things that need improvement could pressure decision-makers to initiate change and start to modernize the archaic international nonprofit organizational structures.  In addition, improving the communication and practical collaboration among the mentioned organizations would be essential for the successful accomplishment of the strategic goals common to WHO, IPF, and ICRC.  This might be what is needed for maximizing the impact of projects initiated and executed by the three organizations.    

So, will my research have any impact? Maybe!  Did I learn a lot in the process of gathering and analyzing relevant data? Yes!  I got to apply skills and techniques, which I learned during the MBA program, and was able to tear to pieces the information available on a subject of my choice.  A great experience! 

Finally, I will fully admit that at the time of writing my MRP I could not wait to be done with my MBA degree.  Well, now that I am done, I can also admit that I miss Ryerson.  It was great to be a part of Ted Rogers School of Management, and I hope to stay in touch!   

Neva is an alumna of the Ryerson MBA program, and graduated in Oct 2012

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