WHU General

"Digitization Challenges Civil Society"

The third Digital Social Summit highlights new challenges for social projects

What kind of digitization do we want to live in? How can we achieve "good" digitization? And what is the role of civil society in this regard? These questions were the focus of three days of conferences and workshops at this year's Digital Social Summit, which took place virtually from March 29th to 31st. The event brought together over 1,300 participants in more than 40 presentations, workshops, and discussion panels. At the invitation of the ZEIT Foundation, the Summit took place on a digital web platform based in Hamburg where the central streaming, interview and recording studio was set up at Bucerius Law School, a partner university of WHU.

Countering the danger of increasing polarization

Prof. Dr. Michael Göring, Chairman of the Executive Board of the ZEIT Foundation, noted in his welcoming address that digitization is a "social gamechanger". In his view, this makes it all the more important to consider and discuss how we want to shape the digital transformation in forums such as the Digital Social Summit. The path to "good" digitization, he pleaded, is one we must take together. Amy Sample Ward, Executive Director of NTEN - The Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network, argued along the same lines in her keynote speech. "You shouldn't invest in technology; you should invest in people!" said Sample Ward. Often, there is an urge to simply look for the latest technology, rather than technology that will truly help employees. Technology should always help companies achieve their goals and values and integrate all stakeholders, not create different "user bubbles."

"Good" digitization must be barrier-free

Just how multi-layered the challenges are is clearly visible, for example, in regards to accessibility. Dario Madani, chairman of the self-help association PRO RETINA, has been campaigning for people with retinal degenerations for many years and is himself completely blind due to a disease. Internet pages and content on social media are still far too often inaccessible to people with any number of disabilities, he iterated. Madani therefore sees an increasing danger that blind and visually impaired people will be left behind by digitization if the requirements for accessibility are not consistently considered or the relevant investment funds are lacking.

The introduction of digital solutions is a change management process

The fact that digital transformation is above all a change management process which challenges managers was evident in the discussions in the workshops on the third day. Using the example of the introduction of IT systems in foundations, Patrizia Rezzoli, Beisheim Foundation Switzerland, and Jan Philipp Schewe, Baden-Württemberg Foundation, reported on their experiences working on such projects. According to Schewe, a central point is the mediation between users and systems. “Quick wins" are particularly valuable here, i.e., small iterative subprojects that can prepare the ground for change.

In addition to this workshop format, which was designed and moderated by Dr. Peter Kreutter, Director of the WHU Foundation, another WHU expert, Professor Christian Schlereth, presented his research findings and practical recommendations. Together with Beatrice Martin, he is currently researching the topic of social media fundraising.

The recording of this and other presentations at this year's Digital Social Summit can be viewed here.

The Digital Social Summit has been held once a year since 2019. The organizers of the summit are the Baden-Württemberg Foundation, betterplace academy, the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Housing, the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, the German Foundation for Commitment and Volunteering, the Robert Bosch Stiftung, ZiviZ im Stifterverband, the Stiftung Bürgermut, the WHU Foundation and the ZEIT Foundation.