This is the second of two posts in which Paul Shoemaker of SVP Seattle reflects on a recent trip to new SVP groups in Asia, in Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing. Click here to read the first post.
And yet …
While the things we hold in common tend to be a little more visceral, philosophical, right-brained, our differences are a little more tangible, technical, left-brained. Some of the differences create a rich mosaic of creative, sometimes better, ways to approach social challenges.
In Japan, they are very bought into a collective, full group decision. Over 50 people spent a full day working through their grant decision making (and they weren’t done yet). There is no way that happens in the States.
Our last session in Tokyo was a half day at Entrepreneurial Training for Innovative Communities. Their founder, Haruo Miyagi launched his endeavour when he was in college. In a country that, by his words, has structures that can sometimes make entrepreneurship challenging, ETIC has launched hundreds of social entrepreneurs over the last 20 years.
Their NGO leaders had every bit as much passion, chutzpah and creativity; but it’s hard for these social entrepreneurs to succeed in a country whose ecosystem for social change is still developing. The ‘fuel’ to drive their ideas to fruition is not sufficient yet. The entrepreneurs are ahead of the philanthropists and social investors. This isn’t a put-down of Japan, I’m relating what was said many times in all three countries over two weeks. Another important reason for models like SVP is to help develop emerging social ecosystems for positive change.
On the drive into Seoul from Incheon Airport, I asked one of their founding partners why he is in SVP and he said it ‘refreshes me’. Sixteen years ago, Paul Brainerd created SVP to engage a ‘new generation of givers’. Today, SVP Seoul is helping catalyse ‘the first generation of givers’. In their own words, they are building the ‘donation culture’ in their country.
We toured the new Social Economy Center, which felt a lot like our Seattle home. There is a vibrancy and sense of openness and the integration of the social and market economies is far ahead of what I’ve seen anywhere in the States.
We are exploring how to add impact investing to SVP Seattle’s toolkit. In Seoul, they’ve already made two investments in for-profits with a social purpose. One is www.letsplayplanet.com. The organizational form (for-profit vs non-profit) and the kind of capital given (grant vs equity vs working capital) was almost an afterthought. They’ve leapfrogged us, using whatever form of capital makes sense that will create the greatest impact.
SVP Seoul is also ahead on their relationships with community and public sector leadership. We met Mayor Park Won-soon. He has a wall full of post-it notes with dreams and complaints from citizens and two sets of bookcases askew to remind him of the inequalities in society. He believes social entrepreneurship and the work organizations like SVP are doing are the ‘main force to change the world’.
The first morning in China we trekked to the 4th ring in Beijing to Thousand Trees Equal Education Partners, founded by Gan Wang in 2001. She couldn’t find early education for her little boy, so she started her own school with three teachers and six kids that first year. Today, they are developing curriculum, and training teachers on and off line. She is working on true system change.
One is struck by the scale and scope of challenges in China. One of the first six kids in the school from 2001 was there during our visit. She’s in college now, and her mom is an SVP Beijing partner who is going to start their first Social Venture Kids group … life comes full circle.
The leadership team there has an expression: they plan to ‘go slow to go fast’. They realize they need to build really good infrastructure and partner connections, have a great first investee, etc before they accelerate their growth. The quality bar for what they launch seems to be a little higher in China, because they might not get as many chances.
This is still a great experiment, with awesome new colleagues around the world (including India, Australia and the UK), and the ultimate outcome is still very much to be written. Now is not the time just to keep doing what we’ve been doing; instead we must stay bold, unafraid of challenges, risks and failure.
In Asia, the sense of possibility and potential is astounding, especially in China. Our SVPs in Charlotte, Boston, Bangalore, Calgary, Austin, Los Angeles and 29 more cities helped make Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing possible … and in turn the rest of the world is giving each of us new ideas and connectedness and an even greater sense of possibility. I can’t wait to get back in the spring for the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network conference … full circle, again.
Paul Shoemaker is executive connector at Social Venture Partners Seattle.
This is the first of two posts in which Paul Shoemaker of SVP Seattle reflects on a recent trip to new SVP groups in Asia, in Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing. The second post will be published tomorrow.
It’s easy for an American, like me, to say things aren’t that much different around the world. They are quite different: cultures are different, languages are different, the way people live is different. And yet, I can’t help but walk away from a two-week trip to Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing feeling there is just as much that we have in common, that binds us together, especially when it comes to wanting to help change the world.
After 12 years of growth across North America, Social Venture Partners’ (SVP) model of engaged, networked philanthropy has been ‘imported’ over the last three years by Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Melbourne, Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai, and now London. I say imported because in every case a group of leaders came to us. We didn’t ‘export’ SVP any more than we could have exported it from Seattle to Portland. Engaged philanthropy has to be locally owned and driven.
For the purposes of this blog, references to SVP are more about the idea of engaged philanthropy than about one specific organization. The point isn’t to sell SVP, it’s to chronicle what is emerging around the world and to share those stories to help inspire others.
In June, I was walking down the street in Tokyo with a new SVP partner on our way to dinner on the last night of a 4-day, 15-hours-a-day visit. We’d finished up an all-day grant decision meeting and I asked him how it felt, since it was his first extensive philanthropy experience. He told me it was ‘an ‘opening of me’. He was new to this world of social change and explained it was ‘very special’ because he had never been with a group of people like that and had no idea how complex so many social challenges were. He said he had his mind opened up in a way than he never had before.
At dinner, someone else spoke about how they can ‘raise their voices’ through SVP and another suggested that SVP is a ‘seed that each partner takes out into the world with her/himself’. I remember feeling the same myself when I started with SVP Seattle in 1998, and now here were young men and women halfway around the world having that experience in 2014 in Tokyo. For me, it was full circle, 16 years later.
I don’t hear the phrase ‘philanthropy’ as often as expressions like ‘building civil society’, ‘helping my fellow humans’, ‘giving back’. As close as I can interpret, the reasons people are responding like this all over the world is similar to why people in Vancouver and Portland, each a few hundred miles from Seattle, did so nearly 15 years ago:-
I love to just ask someone ‘why are you in SVP?’ I asked it dozens of times over the two weeks. Often their voice noticeably rises and their body language changes. In Beijing, one partner said, ‘it is the test of my life.’ I asked what that meant and she said it is ‘about finding out who I am and what I will be in this world’.
Before I flew out of Seattle in June, I didn’t realize that the attraction to the engaged philanthropy model, the way people across cultures, ethnicities, geographies and philosophies talk about ‘philanthropy’, is quite common around the world. It’s inescapable that where you live makes a lot of things different. But talking to people about what they hope for in their communities, why they want to give of themselves, makes it clear that where you live is irrelevant to other things that we hold in common across our world. They may say it in different words and languages, but our hopes and dreams are much the same.
Paul Shoemaker is Executive Connector at Social Venture Partners Seattle.
A little while ago, I attended an event with Simon Willis, CEO of the Young Foundation, on civil society and social change. I had just started my new position at the Maecenata Institute in Berlin, which was hosting the event in collaboration with the Young Foundation and the Anglo-German Society. The first thing that struck me was the title: ‘Disruptive Innovation’. I had never heard that before and certainly not within civil society.
I learned that it is often used in business to describe strategies which improve a product or a service in an unexpected way. Through strong network building and a very practice-orientated, bottom-up approach, new value systems are established, and obsolete ways of thinking are disrupted and replaced. The Young Foundation is applying this method to the social sector, and Simon’s talk presented their approach and some of the challenges.
Disruptive vs sustaining innovation
Sustaining innovation evolves in existing markets, allowing the companies within to compete against each other’s sustaining improvements.
Disruptive innovation is an attack from outside, which happens quite often in the private sector. According to Simon, small companies’ ability to destroy large ones through the process of disruption is based on their short decision-making processes, which give them a crucial advantage over large organizations with large teams and long processes to figure out what the next innovation might be.
So, the idea of social innovation is to take successful innovative strategies that are used in the market and adapt those tools to tackle social problems. Sounds simple, but how does it work exactly? And how can we actually apply business strategies to a social impact project?
Leaving established paths
First of all, we need to disrupt the traditional approach to tackling social problems, which is mostly to plan for a couple of years, and to start projects that are top-down orientated and expensive. By the time the project is working, the problem has often changed. A better strategy to deal with social problems is to engage with communities, sit down with the people and design a service that actually addresses their needs and interests. The method in itself is social.
Second, innovative ideas in any sector do not fall from the sky. Social innovation is constantly hard, persistent work; above all, it is mostly collaborative work. You need different people with different ideas at different stages of the process. Simon pointed out that a team of specialists, particularly from the same field, is very unlikely to innovate, because they tend to stick to the approaches they already know. Most innovations emerge in multidisciplinary environments with low hierarchies. In fact, having strong leaders is incredibly narrowing for any innovation culture. Every team member should constantly be open to correction within the process.
The major challenge, however, is that socially innovative projects may be slow and can fail, which is a barrier to them getting funded. Funders want to know the outcome at the beginning of the process. In social innovation, the outcome of the process is unknown by definition.
Disruptive innovation may be a way out of a whole range of dilemmas that social innovation is facing. Interestingly, combining social impact and entrepreneurship with democratic values like participation and inclusion offers the best chance for continuous improvement.
Click here for a full report of the event.
Mia Bunge is a research associate at Maecenata Institute.
Lots of people talk about conserving the Amazon rainforest, which harbours one-third of the world’s tropical forests and the planet’s largest hydrographic basin. The forests of the region retain vast amounts of carbon and play a strategic role in the regulation of regional and global climate. Many fewer people mention the 24 million people – the ultimate guardians of this important ecosystem – who live in the Brazilian Amazon.
A recent study found that 98.5 per cent of municipalities in the region perform worse in areas like access to education, clean water and information than Brazil as a whole. That is an alarming finding, but it also presents a great opportunity for philanthropists and foundations. The major recommendation of the study is that Brazil and the wider world take this new social and environmental data – rather than just economic growth or forest data – into account when making decisions about social investment in the region. If the people living across this vast region were given access to things like better education, sanitation and personal rights, the study concludes, they would be more empowered and better equipped to manage this important global resource.
The index, called Índice de Progresso Social na Amazonia – or IPS Amazônia – measures social and environmental performance at both the state and the municipal level. It measures social performance directly because economic development alone does not lead to social progress outcomes. Findings of the new study include:
Education On measures of access to basic knowledge, the region scores 10 per cent lower than the Brazil as a whole. Illiteracy in the Amazon is twice as high as in Brazil as a whole, while only one third as many people are enrolled in tertiary education.
Water and sanitation For water and sanitation, Amazonia scores over 50 per cent lower than Brazil as a whole. 20 million Brazilians in the Amazon are worse off than Brazilians as a whole for access to clean water. There is a critical situation related to clean water and basic sanitation in Amazonian houses: 99 per cent of municipalities don’t have decent sanitation facilities compared to the national average.
Gender On overall measures of opportunity, measuring the capacity of individuals to reach their full potential, 99 per cent of Amazonian municipalities are below Brazil as a whole. This is in part because of the situation for women, which is significantly poorer in this region than across the rest of Brazil. Maternal mortality is nearly three times higher than the country average; more young women become pregnant; twice as many women have to take care of their families alone; and Amazonian women don’t have the same access to education as Brazilian women have elsewhere.
The new index is based on the global Social Progress Index, a holistic framework consisting of three broad dimensions (Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellbeing and Opportunity), which drills down into 12 distinct components. For example, Nutrition and Basic Medical Care; Water and Sanitation; Shelter; and Personal Safety are the components of Basic Human Needs. Each component consists of several indicators. Some of the 43 indicators used in the Amazon index are globally relevant, such as maternal mortality rates, access to piped water, and secondary school enrolment, but others are used because they are particularly relevant to the Amazon, such as deforestation rates, the incidence of malaria, and violence against indigenous people.
The IPS Amazônia website has an interactive tool with comprehensive scorecards for each municipality in addition to detailed, interactive maps, which together reveal both specific needs in different communities and success stories that shed light on what works in one municipality that might be leveraged to advance social progress in others.
The report was conceived and supported by #Progresso Social Brasil, an emerging network of partners that convenes different sectors of society in Brazil around the shared objective of improving social progress, under the leadership of Fundación Avina and Deloitte Brazil. The project was led by the Amazon Institute of People and the Environment (Imazon) with technical support from the Social Progress Imperative.
Elaine Smith is a Young Global Leader from the World Economic Forum; she helps organizations in their development process, focusing on innovative approaches to social issues.
Two of the most established and respected social impact organisations are joining forces to create the largest international social value network in the world.
The SROI Network in the UK will become Social Value UK and the SIAA will become Social Value International. Both the international and UK organisations will continue to be member-led and to offer training, accreditation and assurance on SROI and impact measurement.
Jeremy Nicholls, CEO of The SROI Network and Chair of the SIAA, will remain as CEO of Social Value UK and also take on the role of CEO of Social Value International.
Nicholls said: “In forging Social Value International, we are creating an international force for change that brings increased knowledge and resources to our members and to all those who want to see a world where decision making, ways of working and how we allocate resources lead to increased equality and well-being and reduced environmental degradation.
Social Value International will provide a clear and unified message about the importance of accounting for value, within and beyond its membership.
Tris Lumley, Trustee of the SIAA and Director of Development at NPC, said: “At this crucial stage in the development of the social impact field, I’m delighted that two such important networks are coming together to speak with one voice. As a field we need common principles, clarity on approaches, and shared learning. This development will help us get there much faster.”
As Chinese academics and the government seek to devise a system under the proposed ‘charity’ or public benefit law for adoption by the National People’s Congress in the coming years, the question of how ‘people’s organizations’ should qualify as being of public benefit (gongyi zuzhi) arises. In this post we will address that question.
In common parlance in China, qualification as a gongyi zuzhi is being designated as ‘certification’, and that term is used here. Certification follows the legal coming into existence of a minjian zuzhi or a local community organization, through either registration or ‘recognition’ (bei’an).
In countries around the world there are essentially two different processes used for ‘certification’, the commission model and the tax model. The commission model proceeds from the situation in England and Wales, where the Charity Commission makes such determinations, and has done so since 1601. The ‘tax model’ is exemplified by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the US. Asian examples of both models are also available for China’s consideration.
In China, the commission model has been proposed by the China Philanthropy Research Institute (CPRI) in its draft ‘Charity Law’. One of the rationales for such a system can be found in CPRI’s reliance on the newly adopted (2006; effective 2008) Public Benefit Commission in Japan. While not perfectly emulating the Japanese system, CPRI’s proposal would largely adopt it. The PBC in Japan reports to the Prime Minister’s office, while the ‘Charity Commission’ in China would report to the State Council.
In contrast, the current system for ‘certification’ as a public benefit organization in China follows the ‘tax model’, as in Taiwan and Hong Kong. At the present time, the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) and the State Administration of Taxation (SAT) cooperate in administering a set of clearly defined rules for qualification of both organizations and donations made to them. Thus, while CPRI’s idea may be a good one, it is unlikely that the entrenched bureaucracy would be in favour of it unless the new commission does not disturb its current role.
And that may well be possible, because instead of relying on prefectural (provincial-level) commissions to carry out local enforcement of nationally developed policies (as in Japan), CPRI’s draft would rely on the current MCA/SAT system. In a sense, then, the proposed CPRI model is a true hybrid. It relies on a high-level commission to set policy and establish procedures while at the same time allowing the existing bureaucratic structures to make the practical decisions.
The following chart summarizes proposed procedures in China.
* The charity commission only makes policy and prescribes procedures; MCA and SAT administer them.
** Registered jijinhui must be for public benefit.
*** The lines clarify which organizations may apply to be ‘certified’.
Although this chart implies that all registered or recognized organizations may apply to be ‘certified’ as public benefit organizations, they may not all qualify. The next blog will consider what qualifications are necessary for such ‘certification’.
Special note: The author has been engaged by the Asia Foundation to assist CPRI in the development of the Charity Law. Her commenting in this blog and elsewhere proceeds from that work.
Karla W Simon (西 门 雅) is chairperson of ICCSL
John D. Rockefeller built a vast fortune on oil. Now his heirs are abandoning fossil fuels. The family whose legendary wealth flowed from Standard Oil announced on Monday that its $860 million philanthropic organization, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, is joining the divestment movement that began a couple years ago on college campuses.
The announcement, timed to precede Tuesday’s opening of the United Nations climate change summit meeting in New York City, is part of a broader and accelerating initiative.
Rockefeller Brothers Fund President Stephen Heintz said Standard Oil tycoon John D Rockefeller, who built the family fortune in the 19th century, would approve of the move. ‘We are quite convinced that if he were alive today, as an astute businessman looking out to the future, he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy,’ he said.
In recent years, 180 institutions – including philanthropies, religious organizations, pension funds and local governments – as well as hundreds of wealthy individual investors have pledged to sell assets tied to fossil fuel companies from their portfolios and to invest in cleaner alternatives. In all, the groups have pledged to divest assets worth more than $50 billion from portfolios, and the individuals more than $1 billion, according to Arabella Advisors, a firm that consults with philanthropists and investors to use their resources to achieve social goals.
One of the higher profile education institution divestments came in May, when Stanford University said it will no longer use any of its $18.7 billion endowment to invest in coalmining companies. But the University of California voted last week to maintain its investments in fossil fuels, frustrating a student-led effort to divest its portfolio in oil, natural gas and coal.
Click here to learn more about the Divest-Invest Philanthropy Initiative.
Alliance magazine’s September 2014 special feature focused on Talent for Philanthropy, and this was the topic of the Alliance breakfast club, held in association with the Association of Charitable Foundations and hosted by the Baring Foundation.
There is a lot of discussion about foundations’ and philanthropists’ financial resources, and how they can best be used, but very much less about the people in the philanthropy sector. Yet these people – operations staff, programme staff, leaders – are arguably the sector’s most important asset. So the questions focused on were: do we think enough about what sort of people the sector needs? And do we do enough to attract and retain them?
Panellists were David Emerson (chief executive, Association of Charitable Foundations), Elisabeth Marx (partner at Stonehaven Search London), Paul Ramsbottom (chief executive, Wolfson Foundation) and Sandra Schwarzer (Global Director of Human Resources, Open Society Foundations).
The first question for the panel was: ‘what talent do we need and how do we find it?’ Should foundations be looking for generalists or specialists? Permanent staff or consultants? People from outside the sector or from within? For the Open Society Foundations (OSF), said Schwarzer, a culture fit is extremely important. ‘You can be a star, you can be the best expert, but if you don’t share our values it’s not going to work out.’ In the last two years their HR department has transformed from simply ‘paying their staff on time’ to recruiting new staff with the right skills and ethos and developing the talent within the organization. For example, all staff who have been with them for over five years can apply for a sabbatical to refresh their skills in the field.
The Baring Foundation’s David Cutler made a salient point in his opening remarks: that often the issue for foundations is not how to retain staff but how to get rid of them. It is a small field with few opportunities and jobs in it are highly desirable. This was a point that came up again and again during the meeting. Trusts and foundations are rich organizations that can offer good salaries in ‘jobs for life’ doing things that can ‘make a difference’. Why would anyone want to leave such a job? asked Emerson. OSF’s promise to new staff is that they will be a ‘skills academy’: an employer who will train staff and enable them to move on to jobs in other organizations.
Paul Ramsbottom rose through the ranks to become CEO of the Wolfson Foundation. So what did he think about employing people from outside the sector or from within? Traditionally, he said, Wolfson CEOs tended, like much of the leadership within the sector, to be retired military people (in the 1960s and 1970s) or civil servants (more recently); he was the first Wolfson CEO to be appointed from within the foundation sector. Now they recruit on the basis of the required skills for each role rather than experience, said Ramsbottom, but ideally they want a mixture of employees with sector and non-charity sector experience to prevent them becoming inward-looking.
Marx echoed the need to recruit on the basis of skills rather than experience: not only does this allow you to open up your possible candidate list but it also prevents you from continuously hiring your mirror image. Staff must support your core values, and complementary personalities are important, but you should not recruit carbon copies of yourself.
As Ramsbottom pointed out, diversity in the foundation sector is a real challenge, from board to junior staff; too much recruiting takes place from among those with a shared cultural background. A number of suggestions came from the floor for addressing this, for example: foundations creating openings for volunteers so more people become familiar with them; job swaps between foundations and charities; and foundation staff going into schools, as big charities do. Allowing foundation staff at all levels time to volunteer in a grassroots organization was also suggested as a way not only to renew their enthusiasm but also to give them a greater understanding of frontline work. Foundations could learn much from the corporate sector about valuing staff and fostering their skills, Marx suggested, while Emerson outlined the role a member association like ACF can play in training foundation professionals.
The sticking point here is time. UK foundations are mostly small organizations, Emerson pointed out, certainly too small to have a dedicated HR person. Allowing a staff member to be away for a decent length of time on a job swap would be a serious drain on resources for most foundations, said Ramsbottom.
Discussion focused on trustees as well as staff. Trustee recruitment should be a formal process, with candidates appointed on the basis of their skills, rather than following a friend’s recommendation, suggested Marx. The issue of appraisal for trustees also came up – not an easy thing to do, especially if you have family members on the board.
Most panellists agreed that salaries are important in attracting talented staff, especially those from outside the sector, but they are by no means the only factor. OSF offers training and a generous benefit package, but not all organizations have the resources to do this, so what can they do? Salaries are particularly important for foundations with staff based across the world, said Schwarzer. Another issue is: hoq do you benchmark salaries for roles that are often highly individualized?
For Ramsbottom, the key question raised by the breakfast club was how foundations can adopt the highest-level approaches to recruitment and staff development with their limited resources. Yes, foundations are rich organizations, but trustees like to keep them ‘lean’ and admin costs at a minimum.
The Alliance Breakfast Clubs are free to attend. The next Breakfast Club will be held in December, focusing on Philanthropy in transitions: What role for foundations in post-conflict and post-authoritarian transitions? If you are interested in attending please email us at email@example.com
At the beginning of September, Paula Jancso Fabiani took over from Marcos Kisil as president of Brazil’s Institute for the Development of Social Investment (IDIS). She talks to Caroline Hartnell about an advocacy role for IDIS, developing a culture of giving in Brazil, the role of tax incentives, the credibility of NGOs, and the role of women in the country’s non-profit sector. Below, Marcos Kisil talks about the early days of IDIS, the challenges ahead and the leadership transition.
I’d like to start by asking you what you hope to achieve in your new role as president of IDIS?
Recent experience suggests that IDIS could have an effective advocacy role. We have done quite important work putting together a study group to work on the topic of endowments. There is no legislation regulating endowments at the moment, so if the board of an organization decides to spend all the money intended for an endowment in one year, there’s no protection for the endowment to prevent that happening. Nor are there any tax incentives for donations to an endowment. At the moment, an individual donor pays tax on the part of the income they donate and the recipient organization pays tax on the donation, too. So it’s very hard to establish endowments.
The group has drafted the proposal for a law that is now before the Brazilian congress. This experience has shown us the capacity of IDIS to bring people together around an idea to come up with solutions. We can now advocate for a better legal environment for philanthropy in Brazil.
Carol Civita says in her August interview for Alliance that she doesn’t think that tax legislation is a big issue for philanthropy in Brazil. Do you agree?
I don’t. I feel that once you have tax incentives, even if people are not motivated to donate because of tax planning, they start doing something. Once you start, you become really involved and it becomes part of your practice. So I believe tax incentives can have this ‘first moving’ effect on giving.
I agree with Carol, though, that a better regulatory environment is key. Brazil’s current regulatory environment is not favourable for giving, which is why we decided to focus some effort on endowment legislation – that would be one step in the right direction. For the last 10 years, the third sector in Brazil has been discussing the idea of one general law for the sector. At the moment, what we have is more of a patchwork of legislation, which makes compliance complicated.
The Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University is launching a free national online clearinghouse of information about philanthropy that¹s designed to accelerate learning among newcomers to the field and change how learning happens in the field of philanthropy.
The site, LearnPhilanthropy.org, will provide on-demand education About a wide range of topics in the field of philanthropy, from funding models to annual board to-do lists and much more.
The Johnson Center built the site around the concept that learning curves shouldn¹t get in the way of smart philanthropy, and that the site should serve as a marketplace of knowledge and tools for grantmakers who are new to the field.
Main sections of the site include the Philanthropy Ecosystem, Knowledge Library, and learning briefs, each with several subsections and an easy-to-use search feature so users can easily find topics of interest that they want to learn about.
For more information, visit LearnPhilanthropy.org>
First published 18 April 2014, by Alliance magazine.
I’m going to lay my cards on the table: I believe that grantmaking can help achieve social change. But I also agree with so many of the excellent contributions to this edition of Alliance: it cannot achieve it alone.
Grantmaking for social change – it’s not an oxymoron, is it? All grantmakers are surely agents for some form of direct or indirect social change … or at the very least helping to build civil society. If not, why are they doing it? Even the least prescriptive, light-touch, enabling funders are looking for something – improved quality of life, better local environment, raised awareness of issues, building greater community cohesion or social capital. Funding of people and projects will necessarily bring about some form of social change. I guess the key questions are how you define it, what you demand of it, and how you deliver it.
Three themes struck me from reading this edition of Alliance. First, the debate between the merits of grantmaking versus various other forms of philanthropy; second, the importance of having willing partners to help deliver social change; and third, a couple of areas that perhaps should have been considered: funders’ appetite for risk and the need to consider more cooperative models of working, sharing and collaborating between funders.
Grantmaking versus other forms of philanthropy
So to the first point. Maybe I’m bucking a perceived trend but I’d challenge Barry Knight and Jenny Hodgson’s assertion that ‘Increasingly, the practice of grantmaking as a tool for bringing about social change has fallen out of favour, replaced by newer, snappier-sounding forms of philanthropy.’ Maybe those that ‘do’ grantmaking need to shout louder about its benefits?
In fact, I’m not sure it’s an either-or. Rather, it’s about the funding route which best fits what you are trying to achieve. Surely the key as an effective funder is to offer a blend of funding that responds to need or opportunity. I think this is what Phil Buchanan was driving at in his article. And while there is a lot of talk about new forms of philanthropy, I wonder what the statistics look like and indeed whether, when we unpeel the onion, this might sometimes reveal an old practice in new clothes or vice versa.
I recognize the ‘scattergun’ reference made in Knight and Hodgson’s article in relation to the perceived random nature and impact of open grantmaking. This apparent randomness is responsive and often bears fruit. Random acts of kindness are a strategic choice based on a view that change that sticks is often generated by those closest to need. By responding in a fairly unhindered way to the needs of local communities, we at Big Lottery Fund often unearth some real gems of what works. For example, a key public policy concern at the moment is to increase the resources going into ‘early action’, which helps to prevent problems from occurring rather than picking up the pieces. When we carried out an analysis of how our funding programmes support early action, benchmarked against those of other UK funders, we found that the funding programme which was doing most to support what experts call ‘primary prevention’ was our open, demand-led, small grants programme called Awards for All. In this sense, grantmaking is a strategic tool.
I was interested in what Barry Knight and Jenny Hodgson critically refer to as: ‘the top-down, planned use of resources … with the goal of bringing about large-scale social change that can be measured.’ But the devil is in the detail. The underlying philosophy for all our grantmaking is to enable others. Our money is the oil that fuels other engines. With some of our larger strategic investments, too, design, delivery and ownership lie with the relevant community of interest. Our aim is to be the light touch facilitator. This is of course a learning journey for us and for those we work with.
So I can do no better than quote Helen Monteiro’s words:
‘Grantmaking is an essential strategy for bringing about social change. It represents the organizational building blocks of civil society. It provides resources for a large and diverse range of non-profits to build institutional capacity and to undertake their activities. It also provides resources for grassroots initiatives, social movements and individuals to improve the lives of communities and tackle the most intractable social problems. It can support a wide range of interventions, from community mobilization and participatory research to capacity building and income generation.’
“We value your feedback as a customer of our services. Would you be willing to answer a few questions at the end of this?”
Airlines, online retailers, medical offices, and restaurants all ask these kinds of questions. They recognize that getting regular customer feedback helps them continuously improve. It doesn’t mean they take every suggestion, or that businesses are handing over the reins of decisions to their customers.
Far from it.
But the consistent avenues for feedback do mean that businesses can listen and consider what they hear, and then make adjustments to respond to customer preferences, thereby improving their outcomes—the bottom line. Often, businesses publicly share the changes they make because customers appreciate responsive businesses.
What if the people meant to benefit from the programs that foundations support, as well as the nonprofits we finance, could contribute their needs, opinions, and experiences to help us improve our current grant-making programs and suggest ideas for the future? Imagine if all of us working for social and environmental change understood better what the intended beneficiaries of our work think and what we could do differently to ensure that we achieve our goals.
We know, for example, that patients who report high-quality experiences with their doctors and nurses—where the health professionals clearly explain conditions and offer treatment choices—often have better health outcomes than those who report low-quality experiences. And when students have overall positive feelings about their classroom experiences, they fare better academically.
That means measuring how patients, students, and others feel about the institutions that serve them can pay fast dividends.
Rather than waiting years to find out if a student will graduate, nonprofit and foundation staff members can measure what the student thinks about the school she attends and make real-time adjustments that ensure she achieves. But that won’t happen if we don’t make a deliberate effort to get feedback about the experience.
As foundation leaders, we believe that lack of openness and input from the people nonprofits serve prevents us from being as effective as we want and need to be. We have been asking ourselves how the foundation world can do better.
How can we learn more about the ways people experience the services and products our grantees provide? Do they find the services useful? Relevant? Are the hours of operation convenient? Is there room for improvement? If we knew the answers, might we also improve the outcomes?
It’s time to make gathering such feedback routine so that all of us, at both foundations and other nonprofits, reliably consider the perspectives and experiences of those we seek to help.
But we know such efforts are costly, in both time and money, and too few experiments have been conducted to figure out the most effective ways to get feedback that matters.
To help elevate the voices of the people our grant money is designed to help, we have joined with five other grant makers to create the Fund for Shared Insight, which will award $5-million to $6-million a year over the next three years.
In addition to Ford and Hewlett, we are joined by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the JPB Foundation, Liquidnet, the Rita Allen Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Shared Insight will award one- to three-year grants to nonprofit organizations that seek new ways to get feedback and use the findings to improve their programs and services, and conduct research on whether those improvements—and the willingness to listen to clients—make a difference. We’ll also finance projects that take other steps to promote more openness among grant makers, nonprofits, and the public.
We further commit to sharing what we are learning—both what works successfully and lessons learned when things don’t go as planned.
Those insights and experiments will help, but we also need more donors and nonprofits to join this crusade, and to make asking for feedback part of our everyday routine.
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