As a global community, we agree we must do everything possible to end extreme poverty and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. But traditional overseas development assistance – while critically necessary – won’t get us there. In a strictly financial sense, the way we have done development in the past will fall short in funding the SDGs by an estimated $2.5 trillion. To disrupt power imbalances, to put communities at the center of what we do, and to address systemic causes to truly end poverty and marginalization, the international development sector must explore new solutions. It’s why Pact is transitioning from a traditional international development NGO into a fourth-sector organization best equipped to help all people own their future.
Pact’s new Transformation Lab is a critical part of this. Now more than a year old, the Transformation Lab was created to commercialize transformative ideas for exponential impact, and to serve as an accelerator for a sustainable future and inclusive economy. The Lab includes four key units: Powered by Pact, focused on understanding the problems and needs of those we serve, relying heavily on data analytics, real-time insights, intellectual property generation and business development; Innovation, an existing Pact team that will be bolstered by the Lab’s capabilities; Designed by Pact, a unit that scales working concepts into new programs, products, services and platforms; and a Commercialization unit.
Svetlana Dimovski leads Pact’s Transformation Lab. Before joining Pact, Dimovski held scientific and business development positions at BASF Corporation and The Procter & Gamble Company. With two decades of experience in strategy and change management, innovation leadership, business development, analytical discovery and product development, she holds a PhD in materials science and is a Kellogg Executive Scholar in Leadership.
All In sat with Dimovski to ask about the Transformation Lab and the importance of such change for the future of developing communities.
All In: Tell us about Pact’s new Transformation Lab.
Dimovski: For communities seeking to own their future, and our colleagues and partners around the globe interested in self-sustaining revenue generation to support and further their missions, we’re a resource where transformative ideas inside and outside of Pact are being heard and jointly tested, developed and commercialized for exponential social impact. Unlike other impact and business-building resources, we offer a one-stop-shop for insight-to-launch impact acceleration capabilities and services. With our internal and external partners, we support transformative shared value creation from facilitating discovery and incubation, through solution design, to commercialization. We are also seeking a few bigger opportunities that will have an exponential impact on people and communities currently excluded from prosperity.
In terms of strategic guiding principles, we’re working to position Pact as a leading fourth-sector organization and to strengthen our business and market intelligence and customer understanding so we can direct our resources to opportunities with the highest social impact potential. We’re also building foundational organizational capability to deepen our understanding of transformative platform technologies, and we’re sourcing knowledge, insights and ideas from anywhere in the world – especially from the people we serve. We’re also taking an ecosystems approach, focused on scaling impact through strategic business alliances, supply chain simplification, automation and aggregation.
Why is the Transformation Lab needed?
Over past 10 years, we’ve been noticing a slow-moving but steady trend that indicates a mindset shift across startups and large organizations in the private sector, with more and more for-profit organizations being mission-driven and focused on social responsibility and improving lives. This movement, coupled with technological advances, mobility, connectivity and new ways of value creation (open innovation, social enterprises) and value sharing (profit-sharing trusts, affiliate partnerships) are adding up to new opportunities and new demands that are better met with market- and discovery-driven, self-sustaining business models. By using multiple funding and resourcing mechanisms, international development organizations can better serve the communities they work with.
What’s the most exciting project the Transformation Lab is currently working on?
I’m most excited about the crucial ground we’ve laid for future impact for those challenged by poverty and marginalization. We finalized the design of our “insight-to-invoice” process that captures the essence of the Lab as an organic growth entity. This process will also serve us as a decision and project management tool, and it will help us understand the impact-readiness level of any initiative in our portfolio at any given time. We’re also setting up a solid trends research and business and competitive intelligence department at Pact so we can do our work with more insight and intention – all with the people we serve at the center. We’re adding infrastructure and processes around innovation so we can expand on the potential of good ideas that might not have had the resources in the past to be fully incubated. Examples of Pact innovations that will now have more support are things like a new business model for renewable energy in Tanzania and commercialization of Pact’s Capacity Solutions Platform, which will expand our reach in organizational capacity development. Ultimately, both of these innovations will help communities overcome challenges.
I’m also excited about the potential of starting our own digital/tech services business that would stand alone from Pact so we can serve external customers. This has been a great learning experience and a real-world test of the foundation we’re laying.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far in developing the Transformation Lab?
The transformation lab is still very new, and as with any internal startup entity, there must be significant organizational set-up. Yet a common trap is a desire for quick wins. This often comes at the cost of putting in place a strong operational foundation. Connecting talent and operations to mandate and needs is the key to long-term success.
My biggest challenge has been curbing my own appetite for immediate impact for people challenged by poverty and marginalization, while architecting, with a talented team, our new identity, operating processes and extended services that will allow us to serve more communities and partners in more parts of the world more completely.
What do you envision for the Transformation Lab 5 or 10 years down the road?
In five years, I hope we’ll have launched with our partners three to five new impact and demand-driven growth fields, with each managing a portfolio of five to 10 exponential impact opportunities. I hope a few opportunities will have been matured to fully sustainable solutions, with one or two operating completely independently and making a measurable difference in the lives of people around the globe.
Ten years down the road, our world will likely look quite different. With more connectedness, complex mutual interdependencies, environmental changes, mobile population and geographical, cultural and organizational boundaries becoming more fluid, international development will likely take up a whole new form. Organizational entities like the Transformation Lab will not be an exception, but rather a new norm for building an inclusive, vibrant and creative economy anywhere in the world.
Reach Svetlana Dimovski at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This interview originally appeared in Pact's e-magazine, All In.