The New Philanthropy – New models for Social Impact

I had a great time attending the conference to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of my alma mater, IIT Bombay. The event was well attended with over 800 attendees and very well organized. It was fun catching up with some of my classmates after 30 plus years!

I had the pleasure of moderating a wonderful panel on “The New Philanthropy – New models for Social Impact” with four great speakers presenting a wide range of activities that their different organizations pursue in the social sector.  The panelists were

  • Shari Berenbach, Executive Director, Calvert Foundation
  • Omer Imtiazuddin, Health Portfolio Manager, Acumen Fund
  • Lisa Nitze, Vice President, Entrepreneur 2 Entrepreneur Program, Ashoka Global
  • Linda Segre, Managing Director, Operations & Initiatives, Google.org

I have written a more in-depth article for Lokvani, but some of the key points were:

  • Google.org is structured as a ‘hybrid philanthropy’. In addition to grants from its Google Foundation, it can make investments as well as advocate for causes.
  • A couple of Google.org initiatives that focus on “providing information to empower people” and “using information and technology to predict and prevent disease outbreaks and other environmental disasters” would be expected areas of social investment from a IT giant, the others require some explaining.
  • Two other areas that they support are encouraging use of hybrid vehicles and developing renewable energy sources cheaper than current coal based technology. Both areas are of interest as Google attempts to address reducing overall greenhouse gases. In addition as a large scale consumer of electricity to power its hungry data farms, it is keenly interested in coming up with alternative and cheaper sources of energy.
  • Recently Google.org has launched an initiative to encourage the growth of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in developing countries. The Google speaker observed that over 50 percent of  the GDP of richer countries is generated by SMEs. Google believes that encouraging SMEs would unlock economic growth in the developing regions also.
  • The Calvert Foundation allows individuals to invest directly in undeserved communities thru its Community Investment Notes. Investors can support a number of areas ranging from affordable housing, microcredit partners, small businesses and community development projects, while earning a ‘social return’ (a rate below market rates) but making significant social impact
  • The Calvert Foundation has also worked with Microplace to allow individuals online to provide capital to various qualified microcredit organizations around the world. Their innovative model allows ordinary individuals to actively participate and make a direct impact in reducing poverty in developing countries.
  • The Acumen Fund takes a more venture capital approach to investing in the social sector. They have deployed over $30 million in 17 companies in 6 countries addressing a range of issues in the four focus areas of Health, Water, Energy and Housing.
  • Ashoka the granddaddy of organizations in the social entrepreneurship space has several innovative programs to encourage social entrepreneurs. In addition to providing direct financial support to the selected Ashoka Fellows, it also provides training and shared learning and best practice info among its community of fellows. Its latest initiative, the Entrepreneur to Entrepreneur Program, attempts to bring together entrepreneurs from the business and technical communities with social entrepreneurs to share insights, learnings and help support and solve issues.

In summary, the cross section of organizations provided a range of perspectives on the innovative new approaches being adopted to help solve some of the most pressing social issues worldwide. With the deployment of talent and financial resources in novel ways, these ‘new philanthropists’ have an opportunity to make significant progress and impact in addressing these problems.

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