I'm always looking for fresh insights from different perspectives on achieving impact at a transformative scale. Here are five interesting articles I came across this month:
1. "'James Bond of Philanthropy' Gives Away the Last of His Fortune": Jim Dwyer (@jimdwyernyt) at The New York Times writes about Charles Feeney, a billionaire who has exemplified the "giving while living" approach to charity through the work of his foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies (@atlantic). Atlantic, which recently announced that it has given away its last grants, has influenced many ambitious social changes, from pushing forward the peace process in Northern Ireland to helping establish motorcycle helmet safety standards in Vietnam. In its closing year, Atlantic has also made a series of big bets to support the development of talent in the social sector via its Atlantic Fellows Program. On a personal level, Atlantic played a pivotal role in the founding of The Bridgespan Group. Simply put, Chuck and Atlantic Philanthropies have created a tremendous legacy of impact around the world and have inspired a generation of philanthropists to consider giving while living. (Note: For those wishing to learn more about Atlantic's big betting history, please see this report by Bridgespan about how donors can learn from Atlantic's experience in this area.)
2. "Moving from Pass/Fail to Continuous Progress": Patrick Lawler, founder and CEO of Youth Villages (@youthvillages), publishes an important piece in Stanford Social Innovation Review on using impact measurement to promote organizational learning. Oftentimes, organizations use measurement to determine success versus failure, but this mindset often impedes your ability to truly listen to beneficiaries to uncover constructive feedback. Shifting to a learning orientation, and using impact data to inform programmatic improvements, is especially helpful as nonprofits work towards achieving impact at a transformative scale, and confront new contexts and evolving needs.
3. "How to Use Evidence in the Contracting Process": An instructive guide produced by Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative for how to improve government contracting processes to fund more evidence-based social programming. This is an exciting effort, as the scale of government contracting is massive: "Governments spent approximately $80 billion [in 2012] through contracts or grants on human services programs that were delivered by nonprofit organizations." Pew-MacArthur's publication advocates for evidence-based language to be incorporated into procurement requirements when appropriate. In areas with proven interventions, such as criminal justice and child welfare, this would play a really positive role in mobilizing significant capital to scale high-impact programs.
4. "Vision and Blindness": This Huffington Post article by Robert Slavin (@robertslavin) highlights the simple and maddening truth that many things that we know work and are crucial have not achieved impact at scale. For example, Slavin illuminates that children in the United States need glasses but don't have them. In Baltimore, this applies to about 30 percent of second and third graders. Since clear vision is integral for education and future employability, why is such a solvable problem (at $20 per student) for the most part ignored? We see the same thing globally. VisionSpring and the EYElliance, among others, are doing great work to provide glasses to millions of people, and yet, that is just a fraction of what is needed. This gap is a testament to how difficult it is to achieve impact at the scale of the need, even with a compelling problem and a relatively straightforward, proven solution.
5. "Saying Goodbye After Teaching Young People to Build Confidence, and Homes": Another New York Times piece, this one by Nikita Stewart (@kitastew) on the retirement of YouthBuild USA's (@YouthBuildUSA) founder and CEO, Dorothy Stoneman (@dorothystoneman). Over the past three decades, YouthBuild has been a beacon for social entrepreneurs and activists seeking widespread change. YouthBuild organizes young people to build affordable housing and "has served about 160,000 young people…since its founding." Dorothy is a personal hero of mine. She has built an organization that combines a bottom-up, truly youth-driven organization and culture with the systems and structures that have enabled YouthBuild to achieve considerable scale in the United States and around the world. I have learned much from her extraordinary leadership and her commitment to social justice and massive scale!