The Digitization of Civil Society

At the Digital Social Summit, the first digital summit of the third sector, on 21 and 22 February in Berlin, more than 400 civil society actors from all over Germany discussed the opportunities and challenges of digital change. Central demand: The third sector should be more closely involved in political decisions on shaping digital change. The WHU Foundation is one of the co-initiators of the Digital Summit, which will take place every year in the future.

Keynote speaker Lucy Bernholz, Stanford University Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society / copyright: Henning Schacht

Civil society must play a more important role in shaping digital change. This also includes greater involvement in the advisory structures of the federal and state governments that prepare political decisions on digitization. This was one of the demands of the first Digital Social Summit, which took place on 21 and 22 February in the Kalkscheune in Berlin. More than 400 participants from associations, citizens' initiatives, foundations, and associations discussed how civil society organizations could take advantage of the opportunities offered by digital change. In various panels focusing on topics such as "digitizing organizations" or "reigniting commitment," there was an opportunity to share experiences and find ways of working together.

The keynote speaker was Lucy Bernholz from the Stanford University Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society. In her keynote, she spoke about the responsibility and role of digital civil society. It must remain independent and autonomous and strengthen its expertise, for example in the sovereign handling of data. For this to succeed, Bernholz continued, it was essential to improve the conditions for the acquisition of digital and other relevant competencies in the future. The study "Digitization in Non-Profit Organizations," co-authored by WHU, comes to similar conclusions.

The initiators of the Digital Summit aimed at putting the digitization of civil society on the agenda and at creating a space for the urgently needed exchange. "We are firmly convinced that digitization is having a massive impact and changing not only the economy but also the non-profit sector. To be able to use the opportunities systematically, managers, employees, and volunteers need to rethink their approach, as well as to provide appropriate training and further education", Dr. Peter Kreutter, Director of the WHU Foundation and one of the co-initiators of the Digital Social Summit, is convinced. Together with the DSA-DeutscheStiftungsAkademie, WHU has been offering a "Management Program for Non-Profit Executives" since 2018, which deals specifically with future-relevant strategic issues for non-profit organizations.

Other members of the "Digital Social Summit" initiative group alongside WHU were ZiviZ im Stifterverband, betterplace lab, the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Heimat und Bau, the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, Robert Bosch Stiftung and Stiftung Bürgermut.

The date for the 2nd Digital Social Summit 2020 will be announced this summer.

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