7 posts categorized "author-Laura Callanan"

Creativity: A New Pillar of Sustainability

October 01, 2015

Sustainability21.980x980Creativity. We hack it. We map it. We study it. We rate it. We take it places. We build industries around it. We invest in it. We recognize we need it, even when it hurts. We know our future depends on it.

This is the first in a series of blog posts which will explore the radical premise that creativity is a key driver of sustainability

We will look at the role creativity plays in strengthening communities and driving change. We will appreciate entrepreneurs using the arts, design, and making to tackle topics like healthy food, climate change, the criminal justice system, and immigration. We will remind ourselves how much research science, technology, and social entrepreneurship have in common.

We will imagine creativity as an investment theme and propose how it may be integrated into impact and mission-related investment portfolios. We will review creativity standards for companies and investment funds seeking to have a positive social and financial impact. We will start the conversation about how to measure creativity's contribution toward our sustainable future.

What Do We Mean By Creativity?

Creativity is the spark. When the spark catches, it catalyzes an expression, an experiment, a "creation." If the spark turns into an invention, an entrepreneur can build an enterprise around it. 

If the invention works and the company is profitable and grows, there can be a wide-spread change – that's innovation. Innovation makes markets.

Business uses the word creativity, too. In fact, the Conference Board reports that creativity ranks among the top five skills that U.S. employers believe to be of increasing importance.

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GlobalGiving Rewards Curiosity

September 10, 2015

Globalgiving_pict_originalI recently read A Curious Mind by Brian Grazer, Academy Award-winning movie producer and self-professed curious person. In recounting a lifetime of asking interesting people all kinds of questions, Grazer shares his philosophy about the power of curiosity:

[Curiosity is] democratic. Anyone, anywhere, or any age or education level, can use it....For it to be effective, curiosity needs to be harnessed to at least two other traits. First, the ability to pay attention to the answers to your questions....The second trait is the willingness to act....Curiosity is the tool that sparks creativity. Curiosity is the technique that gets an innovation....

The power of curiosity is a good thing to consider in the quest for social impact. Many organizations – big and small, new and old, well-resourced or not – are working on a wide range of issues – environmental conservation, education, food security, health, the arts – out of a desire to make things better. Because of this diversity, it's hard to agree on an approach that is universally useful.

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Artists as Social Entrepreneurs – 3 Exemplary Leaders

July 17, 2014

As defined by Ashoka, social entrepreneurs are individuals with an innovative solution to a pressing social problem. They are ambitious and persistent in tackling the issues they target and in offering new ideas for wide-scale social change.

I gave a keynote at the SoCap13 conference titled "The Surprise Social Entrepreneur." My talk explores the five defining characteristics of the social entrepreneur as set out by the late Greg Dees, who helped define the field of social entrepreneurship as a professor at Duke University:

  • Socially driven – Social entrepreneurs are committed to advancing a mission that creates and sustains social value (not just private wealth).
  • Growth oriented – They recognize and relentlessly pursue new opportunities to serve that mission.
  • Innovative – They engage in a process of continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning.
  • Resourceful – They act boldly despite the often-limited resources they have in hand.
  • Accountable – They exhibit heightened accountability to the constituencies served and for the outcomes created.

I then look at the case of a single entrepreneur, ticking off, point by point, how this person and the organization he started fully meet the five criteria. While some details are given – "prioritizes access for all; sets price point for services to be affordable" (socially driven) and "negotiated ten-year, $10 million bridge loan to finance new production facility" (resourceful) — it is not until the second half of the presentation that the name of the person I am talking about is revealed.

He is James Houghton, the founder of the 22-year-old Signature Theatre Company in New York City. The talk finishes with a quick look at four other artist-social entrepreneurs to prove there is a critical mass of folks linking creative expression with pressing social problems. The larger point: It shouldn't be a surprise that artists also often are social entrepreneurs.

Over the past ten years, the social sector has been spotlighting, celebrating, rewarding, and investing in new leaders. But our role models have come from fields like education, health, and microfinance. Funders, the media, and other "kingmakers" are preoccupied with change agents who can improve math scores, lower the rate of Type-2 diabetes, raise the incomes of the poor, or catalyze a civil movement. All good things to be sure. But even though the arts can contribute to those types of objectives, they are largely ignored. I question why, and at what cost.

Artists in the U.S. are addressing topics like the sustainability of the food supply, the criminal justice system, and obesity. Artists in India are addressing issues as different as caste and recycling. Mexican artists are exploring topics of migration and gun violence. These are the same kinds of critical issues that other social entrepreneurs are tackling.

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We’ve Seen the Future and It Is…Collaborative!

February 25, 2014

(The following post is the final in a series of four written by Laura Callanan, a senior fellow at the Foundation Center. Laura wishes to acknowledge colleagues who have contributed to this work. For more on the scope of the survey referenced in this post, click here.)

On the surface, a leader is a leader is a leader. Leaders need to innovate, mentor, use data, and be responsible with the checkbook. But beyond those basic capabilities, are there differences?

My colleagues and I set out to define the capabilities a social sector leader needs to be successful. We conducted interviews, surveyed two hundred social sector leaders, and reviewed ten years of literature on social sector leadership. Based on that research, here is the framework we developed:

LC_Presentation2

We suggest a social sector leader needs all six of these dimensions to be well-rounded and successful. At first look, it might seem like these are the same capabilities any leader needs. But the difference is in the details.

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Are Social Sector Leaders Walking the Talk?

February 19, 2014

(The following post is the third in a series of four written by Laura Callanan, a senior fellow at the Foundation Center. Laura wishes to acknowledge colleagues who have contributed to this work. For more on the survey, click here.)

Social sector thought leaders such as Lucy Bernholz, Paul Bloom, Bill Drayton, and the late Greg Dees have all weighed in on how ecosystem-level cooperation is the only way to scale and sustain solutions to problems too daunting for any one organization to tackle alone. As Dees and Bloom wrote in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, the first step for social entrepreneurs – and other social sector leaders – is to understand their environment:

Social entrepreneurs get help from some individuals and organizations, give help to others, fend off threats from others, and compete with still others. Social entrepreneurs must identify all of the relevant players and the roles that they play.…To create significant and long-lasting changes, social entrepreneurs must understand and often alter the social system that creates and sustains the problems in the first place. This social system includes all of the actors – the friends, foes, competitors, and even the innocent bystanders – party to the problem, as well as the larger environment – the laws, policies, social norms, demographic trends, and cultural institutions – within which the actors play....

In recent years, many funders and nonprofits – reinforced by colleagues in government and some corners of the private sector – have emphasized the importance of ecosystem-level efforts to address social problems. It all started with a few discrete cross-sector partnerships among businesses, government, and nonprofits. It evolved into a nuanced discussion of how social impact assessment must look at organizations' contributions to solving a problem, rather than attempt to attribute credit to individual actors within a like-minded group of organizations working in concert. It has led to innovative financing options such as social impact bonds, in which government, impact investors, and nonprofit service providers share risk, and rewards, in order to scale proven social welfare interventions. FSG even coined a term, "collective impact," to describe the approach.

My colleagues and I wondered whether the rhetoric around collaboration, cooperation, and ecosystem-level change was in fact the reality in the social sector. So, through a survey, we asked leaders in the sector how they are working today, and what attributes they thought would be most important for successful leaders in the future. The answers we found were mixed.

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What Do Social Sector Leaders Want?

February 14, 2014

(The following post is the second in a series of four written by Laura Callanan, a senior fellow at the Foundation Center. Laura wishes to acknowledge colleagues who have contributed to this work. For more on the scope of the survey referenced in this post, click here.)

You're probably not surprised to hear that most social sector leaders have a wish list. But you might be surprised by what's at the top. More time to experiment and explore new ideas.

Management guru Jim Collins calls it "white space," the 50 percent of his time he keeps unscheduled for reading, thinking, and writing. Collins tells every manager he works with that they need to make this type of time for themselves if they hope to be creative – and effective.

In 2013, I asked 196 CEOs and other top managers at foundations, social investment funds, nonprofits, and social enterprises what attributes they need most in order to succeed in the coming years – and what kinds of resources would help them get there. Fully half the respondents said they needed more time to experiment and innovate, as well as sabbatical time to rejuvenate, gain exposure to new ideas, and broaden their horizons.

In addition to more time to think, respondents indicated a desire to grow their networks, get some coaching, and build their communications skills. Social sector leaders want time to discuss what's happening with colleagues, understand it with the help of mentors, and share lessons with others – as well as the time to process what it all means and plan how to act on it.

As documented in Creative Disruptions: Sabbaticals for Capacity Building and Learning, a 2009 report from Third Sector New England and CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, sabbatical time is one of the more valuable investments a nonprofit and its funders can make when it comes to organizational capacity and effectiveness.

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Under-Investing in Social Sector Leadership

February 11, 2014

(The following post is the first in a series of four written by Laura Callanan, a senior fellow at the Foundation Center. Laura wishes to acknowledge colleagues who have contributed to this work. For more on the sources and methodology behind the analysis, click here.)

Compared to what American businesses spend, investment by the social sector in its leaders is nothing to write home about. Indeed, over the past twenty years, annual foundation support for leadership development has totaled just 1 percent of overall foundation giving. Despite all the attention paid to social entrepreneurs, the bigger picture is plain to see: foundation investment in the development of other social sector leaders is woefully inadequate.

Consider: the social sector would need to invest two to four times current levels (depending on your preferred comparable of GDP or employment) just to keep pace with business. On a per-employee basis, business spends $120 per employee, per year, on leadership development while the social sector spends $29.

Leadership spending comp analysis final Feb 3 2014_slide 1

An investment of $1 billion a year in social sector leadership – more than twice what foundations currently spend, though still well below what business spends – would represent just a fraction of the $42 billion that U.S. foundations awarded in grants in 2011. Think of that level of leadership investment as insurance that the other $41 billion will be spent wisely.

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