July 21, 2016

Recommended Reads for Transformative Scale: July 2016

In his July 2016 reading list, Jeff Bradach highlights a number of technology-focused articles, including Google and Omidyar's funding of a tech accelerator, the growth of artificial intelligence, and one organization's story on why it funded a texting app that helps those in crisis.

I’m constantly on the lookout for fresh insights from different perspectives on achieving impact at a transformative scale. Here are five interesting articles I came across this month: 

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1. How to Lead a New National War on Poverty: The last installment of an interesting four-part Washington Monthly series on New York City’s anti-poverty efforts under Mayor Bloomberg. This piece focuses on how a national effort to scale evidence-based programs might take shape. The authors discuss the role of an intermediary called CEO in identifying and disseminating innovative approaches, and they lay out suggestions for the next presidential administration. Transformative scale in most cases requires creative partnerships across sector boundaries, something done well in NYC.
2. Building a Movement: From Occupy Wall Street to Bernie Sanders: Movements have shifted a number of key debates in the last five years (economic, political, criminal justice, etc.). In their early stages, some people asked what these movements achieved—but with the benefit of hindsight we see how they have created a context for new possibilities, which is often a precursor to big change. This piece charts the emotional life cycle of movements, noting the “inevitable, if painful” contraction before movements adapt and establish a new normal.
3. Why We Invested: Crisis Text Line: Dena Trujillo of @OmidyarNetwork writes about their decision to invest more than $7 million in Crisis Text Line, a nonprofit that provides free crisis intervention via text message. (Crisis Text Line has already processed more than 17 million messages.) Importantly, Omidyar is far from alone in supporting a solution designed for scalability. It is encouraging to see more philanthropic big bets on shifts from offline to online (“bricks to clicks”), especially those using mobile-based platforms.
4. Google.org, Omidyar Network backing Fast Forward, the accelerator for tech nonprofits: Technology has transformed the private sector and now underpins almost every for-profit effort to scale. The accelerator model has been critical to that transformation in recent years. Unfortunately, the impact of technology has barely penetrated the social sector. Indeed, the use of technology may be the area where the for-profit and nonprofit sectors diverge most widely. That may be due in part to the systematic bias of many philanthropists against “overhead” investments, which is sometimes how technology is viewed. (See “Pay What It Takes Philanthropy” on this topic.) Whatever the reason, the accelerator model—backed by some of the private sector’s tech leaders—could help bring the social sector up to speed.

5. AI will be a bigger than social networks, Internet: Early Facebook backer: Venture capitalist Jim Breyer, an early Facebook investor and leading venture capitalist, discusses the nascent but promising use of artificial intelligence through an interesting example from the entertainment industry. AI may also present enormous opportunity for impact in the social sector, but big philanthropic investment will be needed to integrate these sophisticated technologies in social impact business models.
Given that several articles this month are related to technology, I can’t help but note the remarkable spread of Pokemon Go—the app is now one of the fastest spreading technologies in history. (Thinking of technology adoption, here is one article about different technologies getting to 50 million users and a critique of that article. Regardless of where you come out on this debate, Pokemon Go has scaled fast!)
I cannot help but wonder what the social change possibilities might be for mobile gaming and similar technologies—for example, applications that motivate people to reach across traditional boundaries of class, race, and geography. What if the most powerful and creative companies and people put their minds to that problem? Technology will not cure all ills, but it feels like we have just scratched the surface for how it might be used.
The top five pieces from June and May are available on our blog.
You can always find our latest insights on the Transformative Scale Resource Center. I also Tweet regularly about transformative scale: @JeffBradach.
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