As we enter 2013, I’ve reached out to a handful of my knowledgeable colleagues to hear their version of a New Year’s resolution in response to this prompt: If you had a magic wand and there was one thing you could change in the ecosystem for social impact, what would it be?
I hope you find their responses as interesting and motivating as I do.
Bruce McNamer, President and CEO of TechnoServe
If I could wave my magic wand and make one change in the ecosystem for social impact, it would be this: Let’s focus a little less on new ideas, and a little more on making good ideas – new or old – work.
Sounds simple, right? In reality, good ideas often languish for lack of real management. As a result, projects fail to achieve the desired impact, money is wasted and it’s hard to say whether failures are due to the ideas themselves, or to ineffective implementation.
From a product development standpoint, the social sector is great at ideation. I’m not playing the curmudgeon here – this is a great thing (and at TechnoServe, we have plenty of new ideas). But too often, we lavish our attention and resources on coming up with ideas at the expense of other aspects of the process – prototyping, testing, marketing, re-engineering and project managing our “products.” And yet, these areas are key to achieving real impact at scale.
Ultimately, getting this balance right means less emphasis on the shiny new approach to social change and more on devoting resources where they will be effectively used. If we focus on what works – be it a brilliant innovation or a proven solution – we can channel the collective energy of the social sector for maximum impact.
Jean Oelwang, CEO of Virgin Unite
Change the rules of business for good. The way the world does business has had significant positive impacts on humanity, but it has also become a big part of our problems. So here are some of the rules I would change with my magic wand.
Ensure a fair playing field by getting business out of politics. Stop pillaging Mother Nature and start valuing natural resource usage on balance sheets. End fossil fuel subsidies and give renewable energy a fair shot. Shift the lens from quarterly madness to long term thinking and reporting. Turn your customers into your community and truly listen. Invest in businesses that are going to make a difference in the world. Use your philanthropic dollars to break down barriers and stimulate new market based solutions to issues. Embrace unlikely marriages with government and the not for profit sector to drive larger scale change. Celebrate business leaders who are putting people and planet alongside profit at the core of all they do. Never accept the unacceptable and do business like there is a tomorrow.
Kevin Starr, Director of The Mulago Foundation
In my magical world, funders would fund for social impact with the same enthusiasm and accuracy as investors in the commercial world invest for profit, with impact recognized and rewarded in a similar way. Money would flow toward the best organizations, and the lousy ones would wither and die. Talent would be recognized and rewarded, with those best at creating impact compensated accordingly, attracting more talent to the social sector and keeping it there. A focus on cost of impact would replace donors’ obsession with overhead, and donors would be as grateful for impact as doers are for their money. Both doers and donors would shed their deadwood, adopt better systems and be more accountable. Standards of performance in the sector would rise dramatically.
Most importantly, good ideas would rise to the top and be replicated at higher volumes and quality. Rather than relying on endless “innovation” to catch donors’ attention, organizations would happily adopt the ideas and methods of their competitors when it led to more impact, and funding would follow. Successful pilots would not be abandoned because funders wouldn’t pay for trials without an organization to scale up a promising result. Good ideas and proven interventions would be eagerly rewarded by funders and would spread like benign viruses throughout the social sector ecosystem.
What if the magic wand was in your hands? What key change would you implement to most improve the ecosystem for social impact in your community, your region, your world?