in SSIR

I didn’t realize how large Ashoka‘s initiative had grown in the last several years until I read this article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.  It’s amazing that so much innovation can come from a contest offering such relatively modest prizes.  I do wish that the article’s subtitle referencing the wisdom of crowds was more than a simple name-checking.  The most compelling part of the article for me was this section:

“Like most funders, Robert Wood Johnson usually circulates its requests for proposals within a limited circle of U.S.-based nonprofit groups, and then treats submissions as intellectual property. The whole process has an air of secrecy about it.  In contrast, Changemakers’ approach was novel and refreshing, says Jeane Ann Grisso, an internist and epidemiologist who works as a senior program officer in the foundation’s vulnerable populations division. “Organizations I’d never heard of, doing projects I’d not even thought about, bubbled up through this process.” She says the foundation plans to solicit more proposals from the winners, and will almost certainly fund some of them.”

This is a portion of one of the key complaints/conversations that we had around the table as we formed ncyt over a decade ago.  In fact, we were more frustrated by the lack of transparency around the funding process and the often adversarial (or at best “guarded”) nature of the relationship between nonprofits and their funders.  Only as more funders came to the table did we realize the secretive and competitive nature of communications between the funders themselves.  When I went to business school in 2001, I was heartened to realize that this was a known issue, being addressed on a larger level as “field building” grants were being given to multiple foundations to collaborate and create some “industry standards” and benchmarks.  When I rejoined the ncyt Board in 2005, it seemed that these larger national efforts had stalled.  However, we did have some productive and fruitful conversations with organizations working to address these issues – most notably a conversation with Dan Moore, a consultant with NC Gives, an organization founded to create and sustain a more inclusive and collaborative network of philanthropy (including the very-hip-at-the-time and apparently growing giving circle concept).    Let’s hope that as time goes on there is an increased emphasis on impact, collaboration and transparency and less emphasis on who “gets the credit” for positive social change.

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