Innovative models for Social Change

Last year I had written a piece for a conference blog with the title “Innovative models for Social Change“. I think the theme and topic is still relevant and I have reproduced it below.

Next week, I will be moderating a panel that will be addressing this theme at the 50th Anniversary celebrations for my alma mater, the Indian Institute of Technology – Bombay (IITB for short) in New York. The panel is titled “The New Philanthropy – New models for Social Impact“. I am fortunate to have several of the innovative organizations that I mention in the post to be a part of my panel. The panel consists of:

It promises to be an engaging discussion and one, I hope, that will answer some of the questions raised in my post from last year.

A recent Op Ed piece in the Boston Globe had the intriguing title “Too Many Do-Gooders ?” The gist of the article was that as the number of “well-intentioned, not-for-profit agencies” were growing, the number of corporate donors were declining. All this happening while the need for services has never been greater. An adjacent Op Ed article titled “Big Brothers vs. Big Sister” highlighted the issue by describing the competition for dollars among the two sibling organizations.

The authors, Kevin Phelan from Meredith & Grew and Chad Gifford of Bank of America via FleetBoston, are well known in the community for their philanthropic support and so their observations carry credibility and weight. The authors contend that by spreading limited support around piecemeal, it propagates duplicative services, resulting in inefficiencies and a senseless competition for dollars. They appeal for a new solution, a new paradigm to address this issue.

Fortunately the world of philanthropy has also been evolving. Organizations like New Profit calling themselves a “Venture Philanthropy Fund” focus on providing long term strategic and financial support to evolving social entrepreneurs. By pooling philanthropic resources, grantees are assured that their ‘investments’ result in high-quality, scalable organizations. Others, like Ashoka invest in emerging social entrepreneurs, serving as early stage seed capital in VC-speak, leverage their multi-hundred ‘company portfolio’ to propagate common learnings among its ‘social investments’ and invest in building and spreading common infrastructure across social entrepreneurs. Calling themselves a non-profit venture fund, The Acumen Fund uses a rigorous process for selecting and investing in socially driven enterprises and measures their portfolio companies in financial and social terms.

Will these new approaches to supporting emerging social entrepreneurs help address the issues raised by Messrs Phelan and Gifford? How does one balance the needs of the many with a focus on a few successful social innovators?

2 responses to “Innovative models for Social Change

  1. Raj,

    I read your piece “Innovative models for Social Change“ with great interest – you’ve really hit on these new social change strategies!

    Another trend developing with Corporate sponsors is niche-targeting by non-profits. This is where non-profits carefully pick who their corporate sponsors are based on having shared “clients”. For example, educational NPOs are getting more strategic in their targeting of Universities and Learning Software companies. This targeting in turn enhances the brand of the sponsor.


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