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Posts Tagged ‘Social Innovation’

Imagine if countries competed with each other to create the best environment in which social innovation can occur. And imagine if social entrepreneurs were actively encouraged and supported in countries around the world.

Two consultative bodies affiliated with the World Economic Forum (WEF) – its Global Agenda Council on Philanthropy and Social Investing and the Global Agenda Council on Social Entrepreneurship – are aiming to make those ambitions a reality. These bodies are just two of 60 interdisciplinary entities part of the forum’s Global Redesign Initiative, which is seeking ways in which international institutions or arrangements should be adapted to meet contemporary challenges.

“Particularly in the wake of the global economic crisis,” according to WEF’s Klaus Schwab, “we need to rethink our values, redesign our systems, and rebuild our institutions to make them more proactive and strategic, more inclusive, more reflective of the new geo-political and geo-economic circumstances, and more reflective of inter-generational accountability and responsibility.”

Everybody’s Business: Strengthening International Cooperation in a More Interdependent World summarizes and reports on proposals from the WEF’s global councils, focused on specific challenges, from health to economic growth to poverty to sustainability. The Council on Philanthropy and Social Investing, chaired by The Economist’s Matthew Bishop, proposes development of a Social Competitiveness Index that would inspire countries to become more socially innovative. More broadly, the goal is to help analysts and policymakers catch up with the revolution that has been taking place in the social sector for the past decade or so – to “chart its evolution going forward and show countries how to make the most of this opportunity.”

The Council on Social Entrepreneurship, chaired by J. Gregory Dees of Duke University, proposes development of a Global Alliance of Social Entrepreneurs, guided by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. This alliance, among other things, would establish a Consultative Group for Research to Advance Social Entrepreneurship (CGRASE) similar to the World Bank-hosted Consultative Group to Assist the Poorest (CGAP), which has become world-recognized for its role in advancing microfinance. CGRASE’s mission would be to conduct research on and promote policies supporting social entrepreneurship, including working to have the UN designate 2011 the “Year of the Social Entrepreneur.”

Beyond philanthropy and social entrepreneurship, other ideas proposed include: creation of a global financial risk watchdog; development of a strategy to improve the diet of the poor; establishment of a new business model for humanitarian assistance with better coordination among all sectors; and establishment of an Ocean Health Index to strengthen information available about marine life. The report authors are currently seeking public debate and refinement about the many ideas contained. And this fall they will convene meetings to further discuss and develop these proposals, culminating in the forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, next January.

The report concludes that today’s global challenges require a more integrated and proactive approach, with new or upgraded international institutions and greater international cooperation: “No network exists that is sufficiently interdisciplinary, interactive and international to overcome these barriers to collective intelligence and action.”

— Jane Wales

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Despite popular perception, it’s not one single product, epiphany or “a-ha” moment that drives innovation. From Thomas Edison’s light bulb to Apple’s multi-functional personal devices, innovation happens when a network adapts and executes using a new approach or technology.

Those were key lessons imparted by Andrew Hargadon of the University of California-Davis, speaking on April 25 at a mini-plenary session on social innovation and philanthropy at the start of the Council on Foundations’ 2010 Annual Conference. This was the kickoff to the conference’s social innovation track, which also included sessions with Chip Heath, co-author of the book Switch, and Gabriel Kasper of the Monitor Institute.

Also at the conference Kasper, co-author of the 2008 Kellogg Foundation report Intentional Innovation: How Getting More Systematic about Innovation Could Improve Philanthropy and Increase Social Impact, noted that there are five steps to getting to innovation: from establishing a culture that embraces it, to identifying opportunities for focus, to diffusing and sharing with others in the field. Both Hargadon and Judith Rodin of the Rockefeller Foundation shared specific ideas for and examples of foundations advancing innovation. So did one audience member, who volunteered that philanthropy can be the driver to lead innovations in fields struggling to adapt to a rapidly changing world, most notably K-12 education and print journalism.

More generally, though, Hargadon said foundations should take advantage of their already established networks and connections to look for and advance innovations. They should also invest in individuals and organizations with the potential to build or expand a network around new ideas, helping them to take root.

Rodin said that philanthropy, long a field focused on innovation, needs to re-imagine its approach in the 21st Century, focusing as much on innovations in organizations, markets and processes as on ideas or individuals. In this century, innovators don’t need a laboratory, according to Rodin: Everywhere is and can be a laboratory for innovation. She also noted that the best innovative ideas are to be found as a result of collaboration and partnership— in other words, networks of foundations, as well as partners in other sectors, working together.

—Jane Wales

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Some of the best nonprofits have been prevented from growing as large or becoming as capable as they should be. What’s needed, according to Steven Goldberg, a consultant to nonprofits and social entrepreneurs, is a new nonprofit capital market that would take the form of a prediction, or information, market, akin to political polls. In a new book, Billions of Drops in Millions of Buckets: Why Philanthropy Doesn’t Advance Social Progress, Goldberg argues that such a market, while not a silver bullet, would increase social impact by fundamentally restructuring the sector, turning philanthropy from being loyalty-based – guided by fundraising and relationships – to merit-based – guided by performance. The idea of a nonprofit capital market has been mentioned by many thought leaders in the sector, Goldberg acknowledges. Nonetheless, he feels it has not received sufficient attention to date. Such a virtual stock market or “Impact Index” would allow philanthropists to know what various nonprofits accomplish, through evaluation and transparency, and not just what nonprofits are trying to accomplish, through anecdotal reporting. Such data will help make the most promising nonprofits, with the greatest likelihood of “transformative social impact,” stand out from the “weeds,” he writes.

Goldberg is not alone. Most established foundations are making the case for improved impact assessment — and for a decision-making process that is based on objective measures. And most organizations that study or support the sector — including GEO,  FSG, Independent Sector, the Foundation Center and UPenn’s Center for High Impact Philanthropy — have made the case as well. But, we may be better at devising viable metrics than we are at changing behavior. And so Aspen’s program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation will convene thought leaders, practitioners and funders to consider how impact measures and other data can lead to field-wide learning — and changed behavior. Engaging in this workshop series will be members and partners of the Global Philanthropy Forum.

Before detailing his plan for this Impact Index, Goldberg writes about the problems of the current financial structure governing the sector. Traditional fundraising takes too much time and offers too little money, as foundations offer too many small, short-term grants with lots of strings attached. This practice reduces foundations’ risks of failure, he writes – but may also lead to less significant achievement. The sector’s most critical flaw, he says, is the fact that funding is tied to relationships, not performance.

The release of Goldberg’s book is timed to take place when the discussion of metrics and evaluation is taking place in all corners of the sector — but has not yet exhausted us. Superb work has been done and is being undertaken by many organizations on both the local and the national levels. For some, this is the time to take the discussion the last mile, from thought and successful experiment to field-wide change. But, in trying to do so, we might want to bear in mind the resilience of human nature. Both performance and relationships will surely play a role.

–Jane Wales

Vice President the Aspen Institute

President & CEO, The World Affairs Council/ The Global Philanthropy Forum

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Laura Starita, managing editor of Philanthropy Action, reported on her experience at the Global Philanthropy Forum 8th Annual Conference in Alliance magazine. Her candid observations illuminate the challenges faced by the investor community to address the numerous and varied nuanced issues associated with philanthropy. Despite her apparent disappointment with the lack of tangible answers, she concludes that the conference was indeed a success:

The goal of the meetings, says president Jane Wales, is to create ‘learning communities’ to complement the ‘perpetual matchmaking’ she does to connect members with like interests. By that measure, the event seems a success: 83 per cent of conference respondents report that they call on fellow attendees when developing giving strategies.

To read the full article, visit Alliance magazine’s Conference Reports: Global Philanthropy Forum.

To watch conference sessions online, visit the Global Philanthropy Forum 2009 Conference Videos.

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In an article yesterday, The Chronicle of Philanthropy confirmed the rumor that Sonal Shah has been named the head of the new White House Office of Social Innovation. The office was created to “promote government efforts to help innovative nonprofit groups and social entrepreneurs expand successful approaches to tackling pressing social problems.” Our CEO & President Jane Wales is quoted in the article on the potential of the new office: “…it has the opportunity to encourage public-private partnerships aimed at addressing some of the toughest problems we face at home and abroad,” and in addition, “the office can take a careful look at U.S. government policies, including tax and regulatory policies, and determine which policies spur innovation, and whether others might needlessly impede innovation.”

Previously the head of global development at Google.org, Sonal is an excellent choice for the position, and we’re looking forward to seeing where she takes it.

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The Philanthropy News Digest spoke with Jane Wales, the co-founder of the Global Philanthropy Forum and president and CEO of the World Affairs Council about the world’s poor, the global economic crisis, its effect on philanthropy, and the Obama administration’s interest in social innovation.

Read the full interview: Jane Wales, President and Co-Founder, Global Philanthropy Forum: Philanthropy and Social Innovation.

The last four Newsmakers recognized by the Philanthropy News Digest will be speaking at the Global Philanthropy Forum’s 2009 Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., April 22-24. See all the articles here.

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