For today's post, here are a few articles from the Spring issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review that caught my attention.
The Re-Emerging Art of Funding Innovation discusses grantmakers' (lack of) risk-taking in search for breakthrough changes. It is an oustanding read that advocates the re-thinking of risk and describes how innovation can be injected in the five main phases of the philanthropic process: sourcing new ideas, selecting new ideas, supporting innovation, measuring progress and scaling up successes.
The part that resonated the most with me was about the grant-making process of the Gates Grand Challenges Explorations, where "after initial screening by internal staff for relevance, the foundation uses a champion-based review process that allows an idea to receive initial funding with the strong support of only one reviewer. The foundation selects an external panel of innovators and each member reviews a subset of applications and gives a gold award to the best idea and a silver idea to other promising ideas. The foundation then collects all the gold awards and funds those projects... and views the silver awards in aggregate to decide what additional projects to fund."
Such a champion-based system sends a much stronger positive message and encourages far more original innovation than the system of stack ranking or average z-score used in certain research-funding federal agencies. Instead of negative comments or ratings pulling a proposal down, positive ones propel it up. Also, it seems that reviewers entrusted with the responsiblity of using their gold star to guarantee funding to one project would think about the proposals in much more depth than the reviewers who have to assign ratings to a whole pile of proposals before they are discussed at the panel. (Of course you can imagine variations of the system, based on the number of proposals and of reviewers and the amount of money available: perhaps two gold stars would have to be necessary to guarantee funding.) Doesn't the champion-based system seem superior to you to the naysayer-based one in every way?
In Growth Force, we are treated to a fascinating behind-the-scenes peek at the model driving the Salesforce.com Foundation. Salesforce had a 1-1-1 eBay-inspired model where its foundation received 1% of the company's founding stock, employees were encouraged to donate 1% of their time to volunteer work and 1% of the company's product was given away to nonprofit and higher-ed organizations. The issue was that, as the company grew, the foundation had to find more and more revenue to help employees find volunteer work and match their donations. The key change came in 2007, when the company decided to allow the Salesforce.com foundation to become a reseller of Salesforce.com products.
This has required the creation of a salesforce team specifically targeting nonprofits (which receive a discount for the product). The foundation has also been able to help serve and expand the company's nonprofit user base. For instance, the foundation's sales team can now better explain to nonprofits how this or that Salesforce product can benefit them as they pursue their mission. For instance, the American Red Cross now uses Salesforce CRM capabilities "to track its communication with major donors." The foundation, working with the Red Cross and others, has also developed nonprofit-specific tools to better serve them, such as a disaster relief portal using a Salesforce app "that allows people around the world to share messages in a closed environment."
My favorite part was the description of the partnership between the Salesforce.com Foundation and Year Up, "a national nonprofit organization [ranked four stars by Charity Navigator] that provides intensive workplace training to people between the ages of 18 and 24." Not only did Salesforce software provide important functionalities that Year Up was seeking, but the Salesforce.com internship program has proved a transformative experience for the young interns seeking to start a career in technology.
The last article I'll mention for today is a review of Scaling Up Excellence by Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao, both of Stanford Business School. The book is a "compendium of lessons and practical tools that will help leaders... including in-depth interviews and case studies that cover both successful and disastrous scaling efforts at organizations such as the Girl Scouts, Facebook, Jet Blue, Stanford University, the US Navy SEALS and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals." The reviewer, a co-founder of Standord's d.light, has a lot of praise for the book while remaining honest about its weaknesses (the book doesn't go into a lot of depth for each issue, the case studies have a US bias, it is a quick read), but the overall positive words carry quite a bit of weight, coming from a successful entrepreneur attempting to scale up his own business.
And happy birthday to my blog, which will be seven years old tomorrow!