Bringing Adaptive Capacity “to Life” in Calgary

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by Sarah Rosenthal, CCVO Visiting Fellow

This is the third in a series of posts that recorded my work with CCVO over three months as I undertook research to define Adaptive Capacity for CCVO and the nonprofit sector.

As my time at CCVO ends, I want to thank CCVO and all the people I have worked with in the last weeks for the support and welcoming work environment. I was given the opportunity to gain deep insights into the nonprofit sector in Calgary and Canada, and make suggestions on how to continue work on the important topic of adaptive capacity.

My objective was to bring CCVO’s previous research on adaptive capacity “to life”. In doing so, I wanted to better define this term which applied specifically to the nonprofit sector. I also worked on finding a more practical, applied approach and ways to integrate it into programs at CCVO. Examples from all over the world, as well as established theoretical frameworks, helped me to understand how nonprofits can improve their adaptive capacity.

Through my research, I determined the definition of adaptive capacity to be “the ability of an organization or system to proactively prepare for change.” For nonprofit organizations, being adaptive means to adjust the way they meet their missions while unpredictable changes occur around them. Being adaptive is about managing by not preventing or avoiding change, but by generating a wide set of options to respond to this change.

This definition of adaptive capacity is chiefly about managing the future by being proactive. As the status quo is not an option with the political, economical, social and technological changes occurring around us, being adaptive means an organization must be open to finding new ways in which to meet their mission. Possible ways to do so can include different types of collaboration, new funding models, different leadership styles, digital innovations, and intrapreneurship. I found many great examples of adaptive capacity from around the world where organizations developed new ways to tackle challenges.

In Dayton, Ohio, for example, three arts organizations merged and created one organization that is stronger both financially and programmatically. The RESOLVE campaign in Calgary can be seen as a local example of adaptive capacity where nine organizations partnered to work with government, business, and community leaders to create greater efficiencies to provide affordable and supported housing for vulnerable and homeless Calgarians. These, as well as many other examples, show how nonprofit leaders can make proactive decisions to create more sustainable organizations and strengthen the sector – even when these decisions can be difficult.

CCVO believes that organizations in the sector can benefit from these experiences and examples of adaptive capacity. I am convinced that everyone in the sector can learn from both the success stories and the lessons of mistakes we don’t want to replicate. I am very much looking forward to seeing the next steps in the evolution of adaptive capacity in Calgary.

While I am moving on from CCVO, my time in Calgary has not come to an end. Over the next year, I will be working with three other organizations in the city. All of these organizations focus on improving intersectoral relations between the nonprofit and business sectors.

So far, I can just say thank you for having me and I would love to stay connected with many of you while I am in Calgary. If interested, you can find me on LinkedIn.

Thank you and all the best,