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For the Good of the Group: Be Nice, Respond in Kind, Be Forgiving

When working to change complex systems it can be difficult for individual stakeholders to engage in authentic collaboration. This is neuroscience. We are all motivated to move away from perceived threats and toward perceived reward. Bringing multiple actors together to work toward a common goal can create conflict between doing what is best for the individual organization and doing what is best for the system.

In the latest issue of The Foundation Review, we’ve shared tools on how to navigate this difficult terrain using an on-the-ground example: The Colorado Health Foundation’s (TCHF) Creating Healthy Schools funding strategy. TCHF engaged Spark, as well as Harder+Company and The Civic Canopy to support an emergent approach to design and implement the strategy.

Here are some highlights on how to help stakeholders align their work and build inclusive engagement and partnership:

  • Lead stakeholders to a shared understanding of systems thinking and how it translates to systems acting.
  • Leverage a neutral facilitator.
  • Engage on-the-ground perspectives to involve those who will be most impacted by the change.
  • Support increased communication between systems-level and on-the-ground groups.
  • Develop clear function-group goals.
  • Be transparent about what you are doing, how you are approaching the problem, and how decisions are made.

Read more about TCHF’s implementation of an emergent philanthropy philosophy in Insights from Deploying a Collaborative Process for Funding Systems Change.

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June Spark News: Changing the World, One System at a Time

Spark Policy Institute

Spark-notext-highresThis month, we’re looking at how organizations can support large-scale systems change, either as a backbone, partner, evaluator, fiscal intermediary, or through many other roles. But we would be remiss if we didn’t take a moment to talk about what happened in Orlando. Earlier in June, we witnessed the worst mass shooting in our country’s modern history. In the wake of the shooting, there has been a lot of discussion about how we got here and where we go.

As some of you may know, Spark was originally conceived to replicate, improve on, and expand the types of systems change work that one of the founders helped to lead in response to the Columbine High School shooting. During that process, over a hundred leaders from across the system, community and private sector came together to try to find a systemic solution. They found some small changes, but it took years before anything significant shifted. Spark was created to help catalyze, accelerate, learn from, and scale systems change efforts across issues and needs. It was born of a recognition that meaningful change doesn’t happen in a vacuum – it requires a cross-system, cross-sector approach.

The why of what happened at Pulse on June 12 is complex and there is no easy – or singular – way to prevent similar incidents happening in the future. But we can work toward achieving a solution together by recognizing the complexity of the situation and the ways in which we all play a part in creating, implementing, and continuing to improve that solution.

Read the rest of the newsletter. Want to receive more updates like this? You can subscribe to our newsletter here.

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Scaling Change: Market Forces are Part of the Solution

LeverageI’ve been thinking about this issue of how to scale social innovation a lot lately. When I was at the D.C. Presidio Fellowship week, we talked with the Social Innovation Fund. Their focus is on mobilizing public and private resources to find and grow the best community solutions. They identify evidence-based strategies that can make a difference on issues like economic opportunity, healthy futures, and youth development and then fund those innovators to do a lot more of the same.  The Fund is a great model for leveraging the private sector with the public sector to scale change. It builds on what the non-profit sector has always done, focusing on services and supports that are working, and adds the actively engagement of the private sector as part of the solution.

I really appreciate their recognition of the important role the private sector. This recognition is growing – there are an increasing number of models for how public/private partnerships can solve some of the most pressing social issues. For example, the Omidyar Network  invests in a combination of for-profit and non-profit ventures that together can help solve complex problems, like government transparency and financial inclusion, throughout the world. One of their approaches is to combine funding with technical support for the early stages of innovative market solutions, helping expand the scale of social entrepreneurships.

For me, one of the more exciting examples of private sector investment in social change and evidence of the tremendous scaling potential of engaging corporations comes from PepsiCo’s recent work with the Clinton Global Initiative.  They took the following inputs:

PepsiCo’s juice products in India + Clinton Global Initiative’s capacity + small cashew farmers living below the poverty line + highly nutritional cashew fruits + modern agricultural techniques

and created:

A value-added supply chain of over 2,000 small farmers (soon to be over 15,000) who previously could only sell the cashew nut, but are now able to efficiently grow and sell the fruit to PepsiCo where it is used to increase the nutritional value of existing juice products.

CashewTalk about a win-win. It made me want to fly to India to try one of the juices!

The takeaway from this great public/private partnership is to remember that the for-profit sector is built around the concept of scaling in a way the public and non-profit sector just isn’t. We need to leverage that! Businesses seek growth – new markets, new customers, new products. That means they have an ever expanding reach and when we can work with businesses to balance profit with social good, what we care about can grow along with their bottom line.

Next time we start a social change strategy, I propose we start asking questions from day one to help us identify the for-profit partners who have a business reason to be part of the change:

  • Who is already making profit related to the issue we care about and how do they make it?
  • What changes to current for-profit models could change outcomes on this social issue?  Who would benefit from thosePPP changes? How small of a change would make a difference?
  • Where is there potential for profit not yet tapped by anyone?

Just like any other type of social change, engaging a for-profit in a market-based solution to the problem may benefit from starting small and piloting the change. But once you can demonstrate the bottom line benefit, both in profit and in social good, just imagine the scaling potential!

Want more resources on scaling?  Check out the Stanford Social Innovation Review’s special supplement on scaling.

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Sparking Change for the Better: Why We Don’t Need to Wait for a Visionary Leader

SparksPeople ask me why the “Spark” in Spark Policy Institute on a regular basis. The answer, in short, is that change has to be triggered – there has to be that moment where inspiration meets commitment. As I’ve delved deeper into causing change through cross-sector partnerships, I am increasingly aware of the importance of that SPARK.

In a meeting with Jennifer Bradley from the Brookings Institute, she boldly stated that change doesn’t happen just because of a visionary leader and that it’s time to stop waiting around for that leader to show up. I couldn’t agree more. There are so many things that will SPARK a change for the better – we just need to be ready to act.

  • Sometimes the SPARK is the intensity of the need, such as the hunger issues arising from the great recession, leading the Denver Foundation and its cross-sector partners to look for a new way to meet Denver’s hunger needs.  That spark led to Hunger Free Colorado.
  • Sometimes the SPARK is a mandate, such as the Affordable Care Act. When the ACA passed, new organizations were formed at the state and local level to help implement and to ensure the consumer voice was part of the process.  At the same time, many existing organizations shifted their work to dive deep into advocating for successful implementation. Collectively, these groups moved the needle on access to health coverage and care.
  • Sometimes the SPARK is the resources that are available. The White House’s initiative known as the Social Innovation Fund has a new strategy for funding and scaling change: they are investing significant resources into non-profits like Year Up, giving them the funding to spark growth not only into new cities and with new partners, but also in thinking about how to better serve the youth who need them the most.
  • Sometimes the SPARK IS the visionary leader, but often that leader is backed up by a team of incredible people with deep passion. Dr. Carl Clark at the Mental Health Center of Denver has led his organization into the future, pioneering a Recovery model that has been recognized nationally for its exceptional outcomes. But he wouldn’t have accomplished this without the team he assembled, composed of passionate, smart people who thought about how to build public will for mental health, how to engage communities and youth in understanding mental health, and how to drive systemic change to make services more accessible for those most in need.

These are all ways to spark change, but here’s what I think the real SPARK is:Circle

Sparks-psd46817It’s when these different factors come together and bring people across different sectors and communities together.

Sparks-psd46817It’s when necessity meets an influx of resources of any type and a leader and team of people decide they are ready to act.

Sparks-psd46817It’s when a new mandate is a game-changer and the stakeholders decide to treat it as an opportunity, not a problem.

Sparks-psd46817It’s when an influx of new resources are directly related to an intense need and the stakeholders come together to make decisions instead of competing with each other for the resources.

Sparks-psd46817It’s any combination that creates sufficient motivation to cause people to commit to the change.

As someone always committed to being an agent for change, I’m going to keep my eyes open for these convergences and add whatever element is needed to move from a SPARK to an inferno of innovation, passion, commitment and change for the better.

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Cross-sector Collaboration Lessons Learned: Implementing a Powerful Tool for Social Change

I was fortunate to spend the last week with 23 other cross-sector leaders who are doing amazing things – everything from changing how PepsiCo sources its fruits in order to benefit local economies and increase the nutritional content of their drinks, to scaling an evidence-based afterschool program throughout the country, to developing and disseminating an exciting model for community organizing to build resilience. We are all part of the inaugural class of Cross-Sector Leadership Fellows, a partnership of the Presidio Trust and the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation. After a week’s worth of collaborating and learning with this team of innovators, my brain is overflowing with lessons learned about cross-sector collaboration and I wanted to share a few. Mailbox

  • People’s attention is seriously divided. Getting access to the attention of your partners keeps getting harder and harder. Email inboxes are overflowing with messages we should have read, twitter is feeding us more messages then we will ever read and most of us never get around to opening email attachments. Yet, cross-sector work depends on good communication. This means when we’re convening a cross-sector partnership we need to be prepared to spend face time and phone time catching people up and making sure we hear their needs.
  • A neutral party who can help surface competing agendas and needs is critical. This can be the facilitator, a developmental evaluator, a cross-sector coach, etc. Whatever their title, this neutral third party is a critical part of the process.  All of the partners need a confidential, unbiased partner, someone they can talk to – including some venting – and begin to break down the problem and figure out how they can be part of the solution.
  • UntitledSolutions aren’t created in one big swoop, but piece by piece over time. When’s the last time someone developed a big visionary plan to solve a truly complex problem, implemented it, and said at the end of the day, “Yes, we nailed it!  No changes needed!”?  Never.  Because tough problems wouldn’t be tough if we knew how to solve them. Testing out different ideas, trying to fix pieces of the problem, and evaluating the impact are all part of tackling the complex problems facing society. However, we need to make sure the small tests along the way are directly related to where we want to go in the big picture.
  • Never lose focus on the change you’re trying to cause in the world. Every meeting with partners, one-on-one conversation, email, and newsletter needs to keep the meaningful difference that is driving the work front and center. Not only does it inspire us, but it helps us figure out how to make it through all the competing demands on our resources and conflicting expectations. After all, we wouldn’t be doing the tough work of cross-sector collaboration if we weren’t passionate about changing the world to be a better place.

I will continue to blog about the lessons I’m learning on this cross-sector journey, including what we learned spending a day with some of the federal government’s most innovative leaders, our lessons from visiting the DC Central Kitchen, and what one can learn from watching cross-sector work in action that is triggered by leaders in corporations, non-profits, local government, federal government, and small businesses.