Our mission is to transform local organisations through technology and scientific insight. By growing and mobilising an international network of technology leaders to thousands of hubs embedded in urban and rural areas, we aim to make a global impact, one community at a time.
the tech skills deficit
About a third of Australian not-for-profit organisations fail to grow larger than extra-small, as defined by the ACNC as earning less than $50,000 in revenue annually. So, why are critical community organisations struggling to scale?
Drawing upon our experience working with the not-for-profit sector, we’ve found a number of significant impediments to growth. A high reliance on manual processes, a lack of process orchestration and poor data visibility to name a few.
We believe that all of these issues can be solved at a fundamental level by technology. That’s why we see the root problem as being that local organisations don’t possess the tech skills needed to scale.
To understand why, consider the decision facing these organisations: whether to try to hire someone internally, amidst a global shortage of tech talent, or to seek outside assistance from an agency or consulting firm. Both options raise serious questions. Namely, if an organisation currently possesses low or no technological knowledge, who can properly supervise the new employee? On the other hand, who will be left to maintain and build upon a deliverable project once the agency or consultancy signs-off?
It is the year 2030, and we have established an international network of Zentient workplaces – called Zen Gardens – that are each deeply enmeshed within the fabric of their respective communities. They are places of collaboration between Zentient and local organisations, that serve as digital transformation hubs.
technology for purpose, not profit
As a Zen Garden grows, an increasing percentage of its revenue will be paid into a philanthropic trust that Zentient owns, the Zentient Well.
The disbursement of funds from the Zentient Well is guided by our mission to use science and technology to solve generational challenges such as those outlined in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In particular, the Zentient Well funds two main activities: providing financial assistance to those wishing to establish a Zen Garden, and subsidising or covering completely the cost of impact-focused projects taken on by Zentient.
sowing the seeds of transformation
Most client relationships begin as a pro-bono or Zentient Well-supported project. With the organisation being assigned to the nearest Zen Garden, both client and consultant possess a shared knowledge of the local context within which the organisation operates. As a social enterprise itself, we also bring to the table a deep understanding of not-for-profit organisations and how others in the area use technology to advance their cause.
With many organisations having no tech infrastructure set up before engaging Zentient, they are often unaware of the need, and therefore unable to see the true value at the beginning. Without fail, however, the delivery of the project sparks a profound appreciation for what technology can do for their organisation.
Typically this epiphany is quickly followed by the recognition that the tech talent needed to pursue this digital transformation is more than can be found within the organisation. Unfortunately, for local organisations, the alternative to hiring tech talent amidst a global shortage is both daunting and expensive.
a hybrid approach to digital transformation
That’s why we developed the concept of a Zentient Technology Officer, or ZTO. A hybrid between an employee and a consultant, a ZTO is a Zentient representative placed within an organisation to fill the skills gap. A ZTO possesses excellent communication and project management skills, and the ability to lead an organisation into the technological unknown. The ZTO is a member of the organisation’s team in every sense: taking direction, delegating to subordinates and attending meetings. In fact, some people might not even suspect they were from Zentient at all.
A ZTO may work anywhere from 4 to 160 hours per month for an organisation, however, most commonly the commitment is part-time. A single ZTO will often be engaged by a handful of organisations at any given time, with each being located in the immediate vicinity of the Zen Garden from which the ZTO primarily works. By working as an integral part of so many local organisations, ZTOs are often nominated for community awards.
Inevitably, as an organisation undergoes transformation, projects will be conceived that are beyond the scope of what the ZTO can achieve within the monthly allowance of hours. This is when the difference between a CTO and a ZTO becomes plainly apparent. Seeing that the internal team will not be able to deliver the project, the ZTO draws upon Zentient’s pool of talent to assemble a project-specific team. With the knowledge that the ZTO has gained from working within the organisation, they are ideally placed to ensure that the project is delivered successfully.
democratising specialised tech knowledge
With the project delivered, the ZTO will of course return back to work as normal. The team of talented tech experts – Zengineers – however, will be sent on their next assignment.
That’s because, unlike ZTOs, Zengineers specialise in particular areas, such as software development or data science. Given the incredible value – and often cost – of professionals in these areas, we want to share their skills around to as many organisations as possible, on an as-needed basis.
pioneering the future of work
In order to attract and retain such high-calibre talent, Zentient prioritises building an experimental work culture that promotes personal and professional growth through practices such as reverse recruiting. Reverse recruiting encourages applicants and employees to be radically candid about where they would like to be in the future, so that instead of being blind-sided by an exit, Zentient can work with them to actively pursue it.
As well as supporting the career development of employees, Zentient also invests heavily in their well-being. Burnout policies, a buddy system and access to psychologists all aim to reduce the psychological burden that can be common in consulting work.
Every Zentient team member is both heard and respected. The organisational structure formalises this concept, with each employee having members’ voting rights on matters such as the appointment of directors. Additionally, employees who, through circumstance, are forced from work may be entitled to receive a Zentient pension – Zension for short.