121 posts categorized "Social Entrepreneurship"

A Conversation With Ann Mei Chang, Author, 'Lean Impact: How to Innovate for Radically Greater Social Good'

November 14, 2018

Poverty. Mass migration. Economic dislocation. Climate change.

The problems confronting societies around the globe are big and getting bigger. The resources available to address those problems, however, are shrinking, as governments burdened by huge debts and future obligations and corporations wary of controversy pull back from “feel-good” causes and collective action. And while countless foundations and civil society groups continue to fight the good fight, their resources seem Lilliputian compared to the magnitude of the challenges we face.

It’s a moment that demands big thinking, bold thinking but also creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. The kind of thinking we’ve come to expect from Silicon Valley, the global epicenter of a certain kind of innovation and can-do spirit. The question, for many, is: What, if anything, can technologists teach nonprofits and social entrepreneurs about social change?

In her new book, Lean Impact: How to Innovate for Radically Greater Social Good, Ann Mei Chang, a respected social change-maker and technologist, tackles that question head-on. Based on interviews with more than two hundred social change organizations spanning almost every continent, the book distills the lessons learned by change-makers over the years into a set of "lean" principles for nonprofits looking to innovate their way to greater impact.

PND recently spoke with Chang about the genesis of the book, the sometimes testy relationship between tech and the nonprofit sector, and her advice for millennials and social entrepreneurs impatient with the slow pace of change.

AnnMeiChang-32Philanthropy News Digest: How did you get into social change work?

Ann Mei Chang: I studied computer science in college and then worked in Silicon Valley for over twenty years, at big companies like Google, Apple, and Intuit, as well as a number of start-ups. But I had known since my mid-twenties that I wanted to spend the first half of my career in tech, and the second half doing something more meaningful, something to make the world a better place. I hoped I would be able to make that change, and I was committed to it, although I didn't know exactly when or how. But as I got closer to that point in my career, in my early forties, I began to look around at all the things I cared about, and decided to focus on global poverty, as it seemed to be at the root of so many other problems I cared about.

I recognized there was a lot I needed to learn about a very different space. I ended up taking a leave of absence from Google and went to the State Department on a fellowship, where I worked in the Secretary's Office of Global Women’s Issues, with a focus on issues around women and technology. It didn't take long before I was hooked. I resigned from Google and signed on for another year. After the State Department, where a lot of the work takes place at the ten-thousand-foot level, I joined a nonprofit called Mercy Corps to learn how the real work was being done in the trenches.

Then I was offered my dream job — as the first executive director for the Global Development Lab at USAID, the agency's newest bureau with an inspiring two-part mission. The first part was to identify breakthrough innovations that could accelerate progress in the global development and humanitarian aid work that USAID does. And the second was to look at how we could transform the practice of global development itself by bringing new tools and approaches to table. The first was the "what," and the second the "how."

It fit exactly into the way I was beginning to think about what was really needed to make a difference. That's why it felt like a dream job — it was an opportunity to do this work at the largest aid agency in the world, in the belly of the beast, so to speak, but where I'd be responsible for thinking about how we could work differently and more effectively.

PND: It's an interesting career trajectory, in that it bridges the worlds of both technology and social change. In your experience, do technologists get social change? Or do they tend to see it as another problem that needs to be "engineered"?

AMC: That really depends on the technologist. As with everything, people in tech exist on a spectrum. I've known people in tech who think that technology can solve everything — we'll build a smart phone app and that will somehow end global poverty. There can be a naiveté and hubris, especially when you’re building products for people who live in contexts that you’re not that familiar with.

But there's also a thriving community of tech people in the global development sphere — we call it ICT4D, or information communication technologies for development — who are both technologists and development professionals looking at the intersection between the two. This community has developed something called the principles for digital development, which embody the best practices for the responsible use of technology in development.

One of the really exciting things that happened while I was in government was the creation of US Digital Services and 18F, where a lot of people from the tech sector came in to work for the govern­ment and saw that their skills could be put to use to help the government better serve people. It was catalyzed by the debacle with HealthCare.gov, which caused a lot of people to recognize that tech had something it could contribute that would really make a difference.

PND: Your book, Lean Impact, builds on a book called The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries. If we grant that there are some things nonprofits and government can learn from business — and, more specifically, from Silicon Valley — would you also grant that there are things that nonprofits do at least as well as business?

AMC: I would answer that question a couple of ways. It's true that businesses, nonprofits, and governments function very differently and have different cultures, different processes, and so forth. That said, there are a number of factors that are causing that to change.

One is that in the world of social good, all these players need to work together if they hope to create sustainable change at scale. No one sector is capable of solving most of these problems on their own. And two is what I heard repeatedly in the course of my over two hundred interviews for the book — more and more of the most interesting work is happening at the intersection of sectors. It used to be that nonprofits did good and companies made money. Now you're seeing more nonprofits trying to build sustainable business models and more businesses trying to do good, because their employees, their customers, their stakeholders, and their investors are demanding it. You still have nonprofits and for-profits, but the gap between them is narrowing.

Eric's book has been incredibly popular and successful in the business world, but I've also talked to a lot of people who work in the social sector who have picked it up, were inspired by it, and said, "This makes so much sense, I want to do it." But they feel stuck. There are a lot of reasons for that, but basically it comes down to a number of struc­tural impediments that make it harder for nonprofits to innovate.

So, the idea behind Lean Impact is to build on these best practices for innovation and adapt them for the unique challenges of doing social good. None of this is rocket science. But it can be hard to do in the context in which we work.

PND: Innovation is a key theme of the book. How do you define it? And why does it need to be lean?

AMC: I think those questions go together. In the book I quote Edison, who famously said, "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration." That's very much true of innovation. It's one percent inspiration, which is the big idea, the invention, if you will. That's the part that people tend to focus on when we talk about innovation, because it's sexy. Someone comes up with some whiz-bang gadget and everyone goes, "Wow."

But I think innovation and the book is about the ninety-nine percent — the blood, sweat, and tears that is involved with taking that initial germ of a good idea and testing, iterat­ing, improving it; creating a business model; and building the infrastructure and operations to bring it to real impact in the real world.

The book looks at how to do that. Remember, despite being considered among the most innovative companies on the planet, Google didn’t "invent" search and Facebook didn't "invent" social networking. They built on existing ideas and relentlessly focused on improving the algorithms, the user interface, and the feature set, until, over time, they were head-and-shoulders above their competitors.

In the social sector, there tends to be a focus on the big idea, the flashy thing no one has thought of before versus the blood, sweat, and tears needed to take an idea that is already out there and figuring out how to really make it work in a context in which it could have real impact.

PND: You're a believer in the importance of setting audacious goals. But I think many people engaged in social change work would argue that, given the constraints on resources, setting big audacious goals is a non-starter. Do they have a point?

AMC: The book is organized around three principles, and one of them is about the importance of thinking big. And yes, the nonprofit sector tends to plan based on constraints. They look at the money they have, the existing staff, or the size and scope of a particular grant and ask, What can we do with these resources? But that rarely makes an appreciable dent in the problem. The organizations that I have found to be the most impressive and most successful were the ones that think big and plan based on the real needs in the world. It forces them to make different decisions. Can I give you an example?

PND: Sure.

AMC: There's a social enterprise based here in New York called VisionSpring. They've identified an invention that has proven to improve productivity and learning. You know what I'm talking about. Eyeglasses. It's a technology that has been around for seven hundred years, and yet two and half billion people who could benefit still don't have a pair. So, VisionSpring set out to address this huge gap. They started out in two countries, India and El Salvador, and they hired "vision entrepreneurs" to go into rural areas to do eye exams and sell eyeglasses at a very low-cost. And these vision entrepreneurs came back with amazing stories about kids who were suddenly able and eager to learn and people who thought they'd never be able to see well again who could suddenly see and work and contribute to the community. These are results most nonprofits would have been very happy with: We had some resources, and we did some good, right?

But, for VisionSpring it wasn't enough. It was doing good and on to something that mattered. But it was also losing money on each person it served and was never going to raise enough money to reach all the people who could benefit from a pair of eyeglasses.

So it pivoted. It moved to a hub-and-spoke model by setting up vision centers in urban areas to serve a higher-end clientele. And with the profits, VisionSpring was able to cross-subsidize outreach to more rural areas. Under the new model, the organization soon became financially self-supporting, which is something most nonprofits would be happy about. But VisioinSpring still wasn't satisfied. Even though it was on financially solid ground, it would take decades for it to set up centers around the world to reach all the people who might benefit from a pair of eyeglasses.

So it pivoted again. This time it partnered with BRAC — one of the biggest global development organizations around — to leverage its existing network of community healthcare workers in every corner of Bangladesh. By working with BRAC, VisionSpring was able to train those community healthcare workers to provide eye exams and sell low-cost glasses across the country. It was a win-win, because it gave BRAC another benefit they could offer their constituents, while VisionSpring was able to get eyeglasses to a lot more people. Together, they've now helped over a million people. Which is pretty impressive. Today, VisionSpring has hundreds of partnerships through which they've been able to reach over four and a half million people. Again, most people would consider that a huge success.

But the organization still wasn't satisfied. The way VisionSpring saw it, they'd only reached a tiny fraction of the two and a half billion people who needed eyeglasses. So their most recent pivot was to spin out a new nonprofit called EYElliance, which brings together eyeglass manufacturers, governments, and nonprofits to look at the market and policy failures that are behind the supply-demand gap — things like the fact that eyeglass manufacturers aren't incentivized to invest in low-cost glasses or distribute them in rural areas and that governments tend not to include vision care in the services they provide. One of their first successes was an MOU they signed with the government of Liberia to integrate vision care into the national health and public school systems. One can imagine what that might mean for one of the poorest countries in the world. And as the coalition continues to focus on systems changes like that, you can see the potential for it to maybe, just maybe, get to that two and a half billion in need.

PND: You mentioned that the book is centered around three guiding principles. What are the other two?

AMC: The first is to think big. The idea is to have an audacious goal that moves the needle on the real need in the world.

The second is to start small. Too often, social entrepreneurs and nonprofits do the opposite: they think too small and start too big. Funders tend to ask nonprofits to set achievable goals and deliver reliably on them. That's not a recipe for innovation. The beauty of starting small is that it allows you to experiment when you don't yet have a solution to the problem and to validate your assumptions before making a bigger investment. It also makes it easier for nonprofits to try out more options and find the best one, to take more risk, to learn more quickly and cheaply, and to adapt and improve on their solution.

The third principle is to relentlessly seek impact. By that, I mean staying intently focused at every step of the way on your big audacious goal, and avoiding all the things that can throw you off track. In the book I encourage people to fall in love with the problem rather than their solution. Often, it's the opposite: we fall in love with a solution — because it's what we have been promoting, become attached to, feel pride of ownership for, or can't let go of. In the process, we can forget to ask ourselves whether it’s actually going to solve the problem. VisionSpring could have gotten very attached to its idea of vision entrepreneurs; they were doing some good and they had great stories to tell. But because it held on lightly to that particular path and kept returning to what its original audacious goal was, it realized it had to pivot — not once, not twice, but three times — and find even more effective ways to achieve its goal.

PND: What is the role of time in all of this? Should organizations looking to scale their impact ignore how long it might take or is taking? Or is time irrelevant to the equation?

AMC: Well, you've got to have both long- and short-term goals. Your big audacious goal should be your North Star that keeps you headed in the right direction. But by definition it's usually a long-term goal and is not granular enough to guide your short-term decisions. From a day-to-day standpoint, I recommend focusing on innovation metrics. In The Lean Startup Eric Ries coined the term "vanity metrics" for the kind of numbers that quantify activity and look good, but often are not a meaningful measure of progress. In the nonprofit space, this tends to be aggregate numbers like the number of people reached or touched. In contrast, innovation metrics capture the unit metrics that are the underlying drivers of real impact. In the book, I break those down into three buckets: value — is this something people demand, will come back for, and will tell their friends about; impact — does what you're delivering create the social benefit you intend; and growth — do you have an engine to drive scale to somewhere approximating the need that exists.

PND: Many of the case studies in the book feature NGOs and nonprofits working in a developing world context. Should we infer from that that it's easier to scale impact in a developing world as opposed to a developed world context?

AMC: No, not at all. I worked at USAID, Mercy Corps, and the State Department, which were all focused on global poverty, so I've had a lot more personal experience in this area. But at least a third of the examples in the book concern domestic organizations and efforts. Part of my research for the book was to learn more about the work that is happening domestically and about organizations that are innovating and pioneering new approaches to problems here in our backyard.

PND: Do you have an example you can share with us?

AMC: One example I like is an organization called Summit Public Schools, which operates a dozen charter schools in the Bay Area and Washington State. One reason I find them inspiring is that they have been rapidly innovating in the field of education, a field where impact can take years to fully realize. When Diane Tavenner started SPS, her big audacious goal was to have 100 percent of SPS' diverse student body graduate from college. She and her team started with a couple of schools, adopted the best educational practices they could find, and hit the ground running. Eight years later, when SPS' first cohort of students graduated from college, the graduation rate for those kids was much higher than average. Again, most people would say, "Hey, that's a huge success."

But Diane wasn't satisfied, because she had a big audacious goal, and 100 percent meant 100 percent. She also wasn’t willing to wait another eight years to see whether a new set of enhancements might succeed. Instead, she decided to focus on building innovation, iteration, and data into the culture of SPS so that teachers and administrators in SPS schools could speed up their pace of learning.

And that's what they did. In a space where, traditionally, it's very hard to innovate, SPS created a system where they could run week-long variations, trying a mix of elements such as lecture time, one-on-one mentoring, personalized learning with computers, group project time, and so on. They also introduced variety into the curriculum, changed the physical configuration of classrooms, and looked at a bunch of other dimensions of the school day. Each week they would gather data from individual student learning assessments, focus groups, and student and teacher feedback, to see what was working and what wasn't. Now, of course, the data collected wasn't going to tell you definitively whether this kid or that kid would, down the road, graduate from college. But it did tell them which elements of the curriculum and school day were more engaging and resulted in improved learning. With these iterations over the course of a year, they were able to fine-tune their approach and come up with a personalized learning model that was significantly better than the model they started with.

The students who were exposed to that approach haven't graduated college yet, but in the past year 99 percent of them were admitted to college. What's even more exciting is the SPS model is now being replicated at over three hundred different public schools in forty different states. Dianne and her team recognize that they would never be able to run enough schools themselves, but they have developed the capacity to be able to experiment and innovate much more quickly than most schools and school districts, and that should benefit everyone in the long run.

PND: The elimination of global poverty by 2030 is one of the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals. Do you think that's an achievable goal? And how might the principles outlined in your book help the global community achieve that goal as well as the other SDGs?

AMC: All indications are that we are not on track to achieve many of the SDGs by 2030, including ending extreme poverty. I often hear people focus on the $2 trillion to $3 trillion annual funding gap that is needed to get us all the way there. It's completely unrealistic, of course, to think that we're going to somehow magically come up with $2 trillion or $3 trillion — if anything, foreign-aid dollars are more likely going to decline over the next decade. The only other alternative I can see is to innovate our way into better, more cost effective, more scalable solutions to these problems. That is, we need to get dramatically greater bang for the buck for the dollars we do have. Of course, that means innovation. If we shift our attention and apply more of the kinds of approaches I try to elevate in the book, we have a far better chance of achieving many more of the SDGs.

PND: After thirty-plus years of globalization and technology-driven disruption, we're seeing a serious populist backlash to many of the consequences of those phenomena in countries like Hungary, Poland, Italy, Brazil, and, yes, the U.S. What advice would you give to a young social entrepreneur with a great idea and a burning desire to change the world?

AMC: Well, the political landscape certainly has changed, and national­ism and populism are on the rise. But there are still a huge number of institutions out there that are continuing to drive and push for social change, whether its foundations or multilateral institutions like the World Bank and USAID or governments, including ours. At the same time, new problems are rearing their heads and demanding attention. I do think there's a ton of passion and interest among millennials to step up and take responsibil­ity for making the world a better place, and we're seeing that in the increased interest in things like impact investing and the drive to hold all com­panies, but especially giant multinationals, accountable. There's a real interest in the responsibility we all have to society and the planet.

The nonprofit space is changing as well. There's more emphasis on the need for rigor and on the need to scale, and that's part of what I think Lean Impact is trying to do — to take some of the techniques that have been honed by business and put them to work to solve some of the world's most important problems.

As for advice I might give, I think it really comes down to the principles outlined in the book. Don't get too attached to your big idea. Lots of people have great ideas, and most of them end up falling by the wayside. Be open to the possibility that your idea may need to be tweaked or even discarded and fall in love with the problem you want to solve instead.

Be audacious about your goals and what you’re trying to accomplish and remember: the foundation of innovation is an audacious goal. If your goals can be achieved with business as usual, there's no reason to take the risks needed to achieve something great. As I tell my teams, what would you do if you had to deliver ten times as much as what you're doing today? It forces you to think out of the box, to take some risks, and to try some things that are different.

Finally, get out there and start building, experimenting, and start learning. Be humble about what you know and don't know. And be relentless about trying and failing, trying and fail­ing, and finding the best path forward. Great things have never been achieved by those who were afraid to fail.

— Mitch Nauffts

[Review] How Change Happens: Why Some Social Movements Succeed While Others Don't

July 30, 2018

Social movements are nothing new. People always seem to be marching for — or against — something. Part of this is due to the fact that social movements often take decades to achieve the change they seek, while many never get there.

Book_how_change_happens_3DWhile there is no simple recipe for social movement success, Leslie Crutchfield, executive director of the Global Social Enterprise Initiative (GSEI) at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, and her research team have identified a number of patterns that distinguish successful social movements from those that didn't succeed and shares them in her latest book, How Change Happens: Why Some Social Movements Succeed While Others Don't. The six she identifies are a focus on the grassroots; a recognition of the importance of state and local efforts; a commitment to changing norms and attitudes as well as policy; a willingness to reckon with adversarial allies; acceptance of the fact that business is not always the enemy and often can be a key ally; and being "leaderfull."

Crutchfield argues that successful social change leaders invariably recognize the importance of advocating for a shift in social norms, not just policy reforms, and that they never prioritize one over the other. And to support her contention, she shares some key insights from successful change leaders. In the movement for marriage equality in the United States, for example, LGBT advocates used polling research to reframe the focus of the campaign's messaging from "rights" to "love" and "commitment," which in turn led to the dissemination of now-familiar slogans such as "Love is Love" and, eventually, a change in marriage laws.

To further illustrate how change happens, Crutchfield highlights a number of instances where a movement prevailed over a determined counter-movement that strayed from one or more of the patterns. Most telling, perhaps, is the success the National Rifle Association has had "in defending and expanding the gun rights of gun owners in the United States" through a relentless focus on grassroots organizing. Indeed, "[t]he gun rights movement's grassroots army is the reason why, despite the waves of angry anti-gun protests, heartbreaking vigils, and pleading calls for reform that erupt after each tragic mass shooting…gun violence prevention groups still largely lose ground." Over the years, NRA leaders have been laser-focused in growing and emboldening their grassroots base through community events such as barbecues and town hall meetings. In contrast, gun safety advocates have been more oriented "toward elite politics at the national level" and in "push[ing] a comprehensive gun control bill through Congress." The dichotomous results of the two approaches speak for themselves and serve as additional support for Crutchfield's contention that the single most important decision movement leaders have to make is whether "to let their grassroots fade to brown or...turn [them] gold."

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[Review] 'The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur'

December 04, 2017

Social entrepreneur. A once-niche label for a great many people who toiled as environmentalists, civil rights activists, and suffrage fighters before any of those was a "cool" thing to be. It's also the focus of The Unfin sh d Social Entrepreneur — as the book's cover cleverly renders it — by Jonathan C. Lewis, a life-long social justice activist and accomplished social entrepreneur who has founded two socially focused enterprises, MCE Social Capital and Opportunity Collaboration; co-founded another, Copia Global; and currently serves as a trustee for the Swift Foundation, which was founded by UPS heir John Swift in 1992 with a mission to enhance the well-being of people and the environment.

Book_unfinished_social_entrepreneurIntended as a guide for current and would-be social entrepreneurs, the book outlines twenty-one themes that Lewis believes are essential values for anyone thinking about jumping into, or currently working in, the social entrepreneurship space. In short (five to ten page) chapters, Lewis uses each theme as a lens through which to explore the mindset required to be truly successful in the world of social justice, whether it's founding your own social enterprise or joining someone else's cause.

He begins with a chapter on "Justice," describing how he dropped out of college to work as a legislative aide for Nicholas C. Petris, a California state senator representing the 11th district (consisting of portions of Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin, and Santa Clara counties) from 1966 to 1976 and the 9th district (encompassing most of the East Bay area) from 1976 until he was termed out in 1996. Petris's "clear sense of right and wrong; his bold embrace of new and controversial ideas; his courageous use of power; his principled instinct to fight alongside those without privilege or advantage" are, writes Lewis, "the very soul of the social entrepreneur." Lewis then weaves his personal story through chapters titled "Starting," "Passion," "Rescued," "Connection," "Failure," and "Misgivings," walking readers through the twists and turns of his journey, with each chapter highlighting a lesson learned and/or core value to be absorbed and put into practice by would-be social entrepreneurs among his readers. Taken together, they are values that — if we remain cognizant of them in our day-to-day lives, writes Lewis — will help us be better, more compassionate, and empathetic, both as human beings and as professionals.

For example, in the chapter on "Listenership," Lewis shares a moment in which he learned the value of listening "authentically," of paying attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues, and of pushing our understanding beyond the limitations of our individual frames of reference. "Listenership means hearing others: the Others who have come before us, the Others who walk alongside us, the Others who are marginalized," he writes. "Listenership is social entrepreneurship....Social entrepreneurship valorizes the listening skill because it's so fundamental, so vital, to achieving social impact." 

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 14-15, 2017)

October 15, 2017

California-fire-story7-gty-ml-171012_4x3_992Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

We've always admired Herb Alpert — chart-topping musician, innovative record producer/executive, generous philanthropist — and are happy to pass on the news that his foundation has a brand brand new website.

Economy

"[F]or the first time since World War II, American children have only a 50-50 chance of earning more than their parents" — proof that our "economic system is broken," and why jobs and opportunity are America's most pressing challenge, writes Rockefeller Foundation president Rajiv J. Shah.

Giving

How might tax reform affect charitable giving? On the NPR site, Jonathan Meer, a professor at Texas A&M University and an expert on charitable giving, shares his analysis.

Cash-strapped though they may be, cause-driven millennials are finding ways to support causes and organizations aligned with their passions and concerns. Justin Miller, co-Founder and CEO of CARE for AIDS, a faith-based NGO that provides holistic care to families affected by HIV/AIDS in East Africa, explains.

Grantmaking

On the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Anthony Richardson, a program officer at the Nord Family Foundation in Ohio, argues that it is critically important for funders "to listen and be discerning about what may be most helpful — and what may indeed be unintentionally harmful — to organizations doing challenging work on the front lines."

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 13-14, 2017)

May 14, 2017

Youre-FiredOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

Although President Trump has signed into law a $1.1 trillion appropriations bill, bringing to an end (for now) months of debate over his administration's controversial budget blueprint, the future of arts funding in America remains uncertain, write Benjamin Laude and Jarek Ervin in Jacobin. Critics who accuse the president of philistinism are missing the point, however. "For better or worse," they write, "the culture wars ended long ago. These days, with neoliberalism's acceleration, nearly every public institution is under assault — not just the NEA. If we want to stop the spread of the new, disturbing brand of culture — the outgrowth of an epoch in which everything is turned into one more plaything for the wealthy — we'll need a more expansive, more radical vision for art."

On the Mellon Foundation's Shared Experiences blog, the foundation's president, Earl Lewis, explains why the National Endowment for the Humanities is an irreplaceable institution in American life.

Data

In a post for the Packard Foundation's Organization Effectiveness portal, Lucy Bernholz, director of the Digital Civil Society Lab at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, reflects on the process that led to the center's Digital Impact Toolkit, a public initiative focused on data governance for nonprofits and foundations.

According to The Economist, the most valuable commodity in the world is no longer oil; it's data. What's more, the dominance of cyberspace by the five most valuable listed firms in the world — Alphabet (Google's parent company), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft — is changing the nature of competition while making the antitrust remedies of the past obsolete. "Rebooting antitrust for the information age will not be easy," the magazine's writers argue. "But if governments don't want a data economy dominated by a few giants, they will need to act soon."

Food Insecurity

According to Feeding America's latest Map the Meal Gap report, 42 million Americans were "food insecure" in 2015, the latest year for which complete data are available. That represents 13 percent of U.S. households — a significant decline from the 17 percent peak following the Great Recession in 2009. The bad news is that those 42 million food-insecure Americans need more money to put food on the table than they did before. Joseph Erbentraut reports for HuffPo.

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 15-16, 2017)

April 16, 2017

Glitter-eggs_2Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Advocacy

Our colleagues over at GrantCraft have put together an excellent suite of resources that captures the wisdom of philanthropic leaders who have participated in multi-party advocacy collaboratives. Check it out.

And Salsa Labs, a maker of integrated software for nonprofits, has released a a Nonprofit Advocacy Action kit that includes, among other thing, best practices and customizable advocacy templates. (Registration required.)

Climate Change

There's no denying that philanthropy is as industry that loves jargon — or that the use of jargon often undermines the effectiveness of our messaging and communications. With that in mind, Achieng' Otieno, a communications officer in the Rockefeller Foundation's Nairobi office, shares some tips about how to communicate the concept of "resilience" to non-experts.

Health

Here on Philantopic, the Robert Wood Johnson's Foundation John Lumpkin has some suggestions about what we can do to improve care for patients with complex needs.

Higher Education

On the Inside Philanthropy site, Mike Scutari examines the implications of a new Marts & Lundy report which finds that mega-gifts for higher education are rising while alumni giving overall is falling.

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Weekend Link Roundup (December 17-18, 2016)

December 18, 2016

Tis-season-eye-chartOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

The government of the Netherlands has presented a long-term energy plan that stipulates that no new cars with combustion engines may be sold from 2035 on and that all houses in the country must be disconnected from the gas grid by 2050. Karel Beckman reports for the Energy Collective.

Fundraising

What's the best way to get donors under the age of 40 to donate to your nonprofit? Future Fundraising Now's Jeff Brooks shares a little secret.

Giving

In FastCoExist, Ben Paynter has a quick primer on what certain proposals in the Trump tax plan could mean for charitable giving.

The real possibility of lower marginal rates and changes to the cap on itemized deductions under a new Trump administration has many wealthy donors rushing to donate shares of appreciated stock before the end of the year. Chana R. Schoenberger reports for the Wall Street Journal.

As another year winds to a close, Elie Hassenfeld, Holden Karnofsky, and other members of the GiveWell team discuss the thinking behind their personal end-of-year giving choices.

Impact Investing

For those interested in keeping up with developments in the fast-growing field of impact investing, the Case Foundation's Rehana Nathoo has curated a list fifty impact investing "influencers" you should follow on Twitter.

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Weekend Link Roundup (December 3-4, 2016)

December 04, 2016

Traditional-WreathOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Aging

America is aging rapidly, and for "elder orphans" — the growing number of seniors with no relatives to help them deal with physical and mental health challenges — the future is a scary place. Sharon Jayson reports for Kaiser Health News.

Animal Welfare

Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther looks at the animal welfare movement, which, he writes, "is energized these days by the commitment, brainpower and moral fervor of a impressive group of activists in their 20s and 30s...crying out in opposition to what they see as an evil but widely-accepted practice."

Data

On her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz explains why, given the threats the incoming Trump administration poses "to free assembly, expression, and privacy," the nonprofit and philanthropic communities need to do more to manage and protect their digital data.

Education

Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump's pick to be U.S. Secretary of Education, is a wealthy supporter of "school choice" and, as "one of the architects of Detroit's charter school system,...partly responsible for what even charter advocates acknowledge is the biggest school reform disaster in the country." In an op-ed in the New York Times, Douglas N. Harris, a professor of economics at Tulane University and founding director of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, explains why her "nomination is a triumph of ideology over evidence that should worry anyone who wants to improve results for children."

In a letter to the editor of the Washington Post, Paul J. Deceglie of Fairfax, Virginia, argues that poverty, not school choice (or lack thereof), is the chief driver of poor student performance.

In a new installment of The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Re:Learning podcast, Goldie Blumenstyk chats with Jim Shelton, who recently was hired by the hired by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to head up its education work.

Fundraising

Guest blogging on Beth Kanter's blog, Rob Wu, CEO and co-founder of CauseVox, shares six insights the so-called sharing economy tells us about the future of fundraising.

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Weekend Link Roundup (August 20-21, 2016)

August 21, 2016

Rain-south-la-9a-jpgOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Civic Engagement

On the Carnegie Corporation website, the corporation's Geri Mannion and Jay Beckner of the Mertz Gilmore Foundation chat with Carnegie Visiting Media Fellow Gail Ablow about how foundations can support voting rights litigation.

Community Improvement/Development

The Rockefeller Foundation and Unreasonable Institute, which works to identify entrepreneurs with the potential to address social injustice at scale, have announced the launch of the Future Cities Accelerator, a $1 million urban innovation competition aimed at spurring next-generation leaders to develop solutions to complex urban problems. Though the competition, ten winners will receive $100,000 each and will participate in a nine-month intensive program giving them access to business leaders, investors, and technical support. Details here.

The Knight Foundation is bringing back its Knight Cities Challenge for a third iteration and will offer $5 million in grant funding for the best ideas in three areas that are crucial to building more successful cities – attracting and retaining talent, increasing economic opportunity, and promoting civic engagement. The competition, which is limited to the twenty-six Knight communities, opens Monday, October 10, at knightcities.org and will close on Thursday, November 3, with winners to be announced next spring.

As part of Generocity's "Leaders of Color" series, Tony Abraham profiles David Gould, a program office at the William Penn Foundation, who has a plan for leveling the playing field for people of color in Philadelphia. You can check out the rest of the series here.

What can we learn about creative placemaking from Jane Jacobs (The Death and Life of Great American Cities)? As the Saint Luke's Foundation's Nelson Beckford reminds us, pretty much everything.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Think the concept of sustainability is a little too fuzzy to serve as a pillar of one's corporate strategy. Think again, argues the Environmental Defense Fund's Tom Murray.

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Weekend Link Roundup (July 23-24, 2016)

July 24, 2016

Bulldog-on-ice1Our weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Community Improvement/Development

In the New America Weekly, Heron Foundation president Clara Miller explains how the foundation's recent work in Buffalo, the fourth poorest city in the nation, "started as a response to a Heron board member's referral of the local community foundation" and led to the foundation becoming a trusted neutral convener and connector "for a number of contingents in the community."

On the Knight blog, Lilly Weinberg Lilly Weinberg, program director for community foundations at the Knight Foundation, shares three takeaways from a recent convening of twenty civic innovators who've received grants of $5,000 to implement a project in a calenadr year that improve mobility, a public space, or civic engagement in their home cities.

Criminal Justice/Policing

Reflecting on the killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Philando Castile in Minnesota, five police officers in Dallas, and three police officers in Baton Rouge, Open Society Foundations president Chris Stone suggests that the divide between black America and American policing is in part the "legacy of slavery, the legacies of Jim Crow, of lynching, of the repression of the civil rights and black power movements, the legacy of the war on drugs" -- and that efforts to close it must include solutions to racial disparities and the building of mutual trust between African Americans and local police departments.

Environment

Here on PhilanTopic, we featured a pair of great posts this week  -- one by Frank Smyth and the second by Maria Amália Souza -- on the noble, unheralded, and frequently dangerous work done by environmental activists in the global South.

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A Conversation With Steve Case: The 'Third Wave' and the Social Sector

June 23, 2016

Anyone of a certain age remembers when free America Online software — delivered on 3.5" floppy disks and then in CD form — seemed to arrive in the mailbox on an almost-daily basis. Although its genesis was in online gaming, the company soon evolved into an online services company and, by the early 1990s, was one of the leaders of the tech world, innovating and helping to build the infrastructure for the online world we know today. In the words of the company's co-founder and former chair, Steve Case, AOL was part of the "first wave" of innovation driven by the Internet.

By the early 2000s, a "second wave" of Internet-enabled innovation featuring apps and mobile phone technologies had sparked a new communications revolution, with companies such as Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook leading the way and birthing a new generation of billionaires. Even as this second wave was cresting, however, a third wave of innovation was forming in its wake. In his new book, The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur's Vision of the Future, Case lays out his vision of an emerging era in which almost every object is connected to the Internet and the network of all networks "stops belonging to Internet companies.…The entrepreneurs of this era are going to challenge the biggest industries in the world, and those that most affect our daily lives. They will reimagine our healthcare system and retool our education system. They will create products and services that make our food safer and our commute to work easier."

PND spoke with Case, who chairs the Case Foundation and, with his wife, Jean, is a signatory of the Giving Pledge, about what these changes mean for the social sector and how nonprofits, large and small, can partner with business and government to solve some of our most pressing challenges.

Headshot_steve_casePhilanthropy News Digest: What you have labeled the "third wave" of Internet-enabled innovation will affect many areas of interest to the social sector, including health and health care, education, and food and agriculture. Do you see this next wave of innovation as a boon for nonprofits and social entre­preneurs?

Steve Case: I think it can be. Obviously, there are different folks focusing on different things in different ways. And there will always be an important role for nonprofits to deal with issues that, frankly, only nonprofits can deal with. But some of the sectors you mentioned — health care and education, food, agriculture — I think there's a role there for entrepreneurs to build companies that can have an impact.

One of the big things I talked about in the book — and which the Case Foundation has been championing for years — is the importance of partnerships. Partnerships between startups and other organizations — whether it's other companies, nonprofits, or government — will become more important in the nonprofit sector generally and will have a significant and, I think, positive impact on some of the sub-sectors you mentioned.

PND: The Case Foundation has always emphasized the importance of working across sectors. How do you think the changes brought about by the third wave of Internet-enabled innovation will affect its own work?

SC: I think we'll continue on the path we've been on. We've been talking about some of the issues around cross-sector collaboration for the nearly twenty years the foundation has been around. In the last few years, we've focused on things like impact investing, inclusive entrepreneurship, leveling the playing field so every entrepreneur who has an idea has a shot, and we'll continue with those efforts and try to use all the levers available to us.

Jean [Case] has spent a lot of time on impact investing. Part of her focus is advocating for policy changes that actually free up and expand more impact investing capital. The kinds of things we're focused on at the foundation are very much in sync with the kinds of things I address in the book.

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Weekend Link Roundup (May 14-15, 2016)

May 15, 2016

Joe-dimaggio_display_imageOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Children and Youth

Brain development in young children is critical to their readiness for school and success later in life. "But preventable poverty and toxic stress can impede and derail a child's early brain development," write Marian Wright Edelman and Jackie Bezos on the Huffington Post's Politics blog. Which is why, "[i]n addition to quality interactions with parents, grandparents and other caregivers, young children need access to a full continuum of high quality early learning opportunities...."

Climate Change

Where's the beef? More to the point, asks Marc Gunther on his Nonprofit Chronicles blog, why aren't environmental groups working actively to reduce meat consumption and the number of factory farms, two of the biggest contributors to global warming?

Corporate Philanthropy

In Fortune, American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern shares what she has learned over eight years in that position about what business and nonprofits can teach each other.

Data

On the Hewlett Foundation's Work in Progress blog, Sarah Jane Staats has five questions for Ruth Levine, director of the foundation's Global Development and Population Program, about the existing gender gap in data.

Education

How can we fix public education in America? The answer, says the Grable Foundation's Gregg Behr in a Q&A with Forbes contributor Jordan Shapiro, starts with the way kids learn.

On her Answer Sheet blog, the Washington Post's Valerie Strauss has the second part of an email conversation between noted education reform critic Diane Ravitch and hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson, a supporter of such efforts. And if you missed the first part of the conversation, you can catch up here.

Have school-choice policies solved the problem they were meant to address -- namely, the strong link between a child's educational outcomes and the neighborhood conditions in which he or she has grown up? The Washington Post's Emma Brown reports.

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Weekend Link Roundup (April 30-May 1, 2016)

May 01, 2016

Munich-May-dayOur weekly round up of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

On the Americans for the Arts blog, Sharbreon Plummer offers some "suggestions for ways that employers can support emerging leaders...of color, along with ways that individuals can begin to explore self-care and agency within their institutional structures and everyday lives."

Climate Change

The Paris Agreement to limit emissions of global greenhouse gases will go into effect when 55 countries  —  comprising at least 55 percent of annual global emissions — ratify it domestically. Making sure individual countries live up to their commitments is going to be a challenge. Pacific Standard's John Wihbey explains.

Community Improvement/Development

"In the wake of Freddie Gray's fatal encounter with the police, subsequent tumultuous protests, a mistrial for one of the officers charged in connection with [his] death, and a crime spike, Baltimore, for better or worse, has become a poster child for government failure," writes Clare Foran in The Atlantic. With Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake having announced she will not run for reelection, what happens in the city's Democratic primary "could shed light on the complex challenge of how to rebuild a fractured city — or how not to."

Corporate Philanthropy

On his Nonprofit Chronicles blog, Marc Gunther considers the growth of global pro bono programs and argues that, as well intentioned as they may be, "without independent evaluations, feedback from clients and transparency about results, [such] practices won't do nearly as much good as they could."

Education

On the Ford Foundation's Equals Change blog, Frederick James Frelow, a senior program officer in the foundation's Youth Opportunity and Learning program, looks at some of the restorative justice practices the New York City Board of Education has implemented to help address "the root causes of the conflicts and misunderstandings that undermine trust and respect between youth and adults in school as well as in the world at large."

Environment

A massive 40,000-acre seagrass die off in the waters of Florida Bay is raising alarms about a serious environmental breakdown. The Washington Post's Chris Mooney reports.

In the first post of a four-part series, Mongabay reporter Jeremy Hance explores how the world's biggest conservation groups have embraced an approach known as "new conservation" that is roiling the field.

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[Review] Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change

April 30, 2016

When I think back to the social movements I learned about as a kid — from women's suffrage to civil rights — I picture grainy, black-and-white photos of people, young and old, with picket signs marching through the streets. While social movements today share many of the same elements, they would be largely unrecognizable to the early to mid-twentieth century leaders and social reformers who paved the way for today's activists. In Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, Derrick Feldmann adeptly dissects many of the social movements we've become familiar with, distinguishing them from movements of the past and, in so doing, reveals how contemporary social movements emerge, gain momentum, and, in some cases, sustain themselves long enough to change the world.

Bookcover_social_movements_for_goodFeldmann, the founder of cause engagement firm Achieve (and a regular contributor to Philanthropy News Digest), begins by drawing a distinction between the social movement traditionally understood and social movements for good. The latter, argues Feldmann, "establish a platform of awareness, individual action, outcomes, and sustainable change beyond initial participation and triumph," in contrast to social movements "focused solely on injustice and policy change in the immediate term." The ultimate outcome of a social movement for good may not be policy change but rather continued support and awareness at the level of the individual, as is the case with the "Movember" prostate-awareness campaign that takes place during the month of November.

In addition to this difference in end goals, the vehicles through which social movements for good tend to disseminate their message also differ from those used by more traditional social movements. In an age in which technology affects nearly every aspect of our lives, it shouldn't surprise anyone that it has become a key driver of the way we champion the issues we care about. In fact, our ability to reach potential supporters and champions for the causes we care about has never been greater, thanks to the virtual social networks that connect us. More than mere distribution channels, those networks and platforms have changed the nature of how we communicate. And yet, as Feldmann notes, social movements today "are more challenged than ever to get to the viral stage, given the rise in mass media outlets and the onslaught of shorter messages."

What makes Feldmann's narrative believable is his inclusion of first-person accounts. His interviews with individuals who have actually succeeded in catalyzing social change range from social sector celebrities such as Scott Harrison, founder of charity: water, to passionate millennials on college campuses. And while they've all managed to garner a fair amount of public attention and inspire individuals to take action, their narratives also demonstrate that there are many ways to get there. Indeed, their stories reinforce a point that Feldmann makes from the beginning: empathy — a trait we all possess, regardless of age, race, or gender — is at the heart of all social movements.

To illustrate his point, Feldmann tells the story of a marketing campaign that asked Alaskans to donate some of the annual payout they receive from the Alaska Permanent Fund, an endowment funded by the state's mineral royalties, to a nonprofit of their choice. The campaign featured two different messages: "Make Alaska Better" and "Warm Your Heart." The latter resulted in a higher response rate of more than 30 percent than the former and a donation rate of 55 percent — proof, of sorts, that the "warm glow" feeling one gets from helping others isn't just something concocted by fundraising professionals to separate you from your hard-earned cash, but rather one of the key building blocks of any social movement.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (February 2016)

March 01, 2016

A couple of infographics, a book review by Matt, a short Q&A with the MacArthur Foundation's Laurie Garduque, an oldie but goodie from Michael Edwards, and great posts from Blake Groves and Ann Canela — February's offerings here on PhilanTopic beautifully capture the breadth and multiplicity of the social sector. Now if we could only get it to snow....

What did you read/watch/listen to last month that made you think, got you riled up, or restored your faith in humanity? Share with the rest of us in the comments section below, or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

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  • "Ignorance and prejudice are the handmaidens of propaganda. Our mission, therefore, is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity. Racism can, will, and must be defeated...."

    — Kofi Annan (1938-2018)

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