Friday, September 4, 2009

Can Impact Sell?

It is nice to arrive on scene where 800 people in modest surroundings are energetically pursuing questions that have to be answered to build a movement. At Fort Mason on San Francisco Bay investors, fund managers and social entrepreneurs put their heads together to discuss what it will take to do better, and do more, in the space that lies between strictly nonprofit and strictly for profit.

The Basics
I experienced day two of the SoCap09 conference where one of the first presenters joked about “glimpses of demystification”. In the spirit of demystification here is a definition and a couple of resources about the social capital market.

The social capital market is the arena that allows investors to "do well by doing good." An easy example is green technology. Others examples include loans to schools in India and capital for small manufacturers in Ghana. These ventures offer solid rates of return as well as environmental and/or social benefits, sometimes called blended value. Some are calling it impact investing.

The first SoCap conference in 2008 coincided with the launch of this paper,

Investing for Social & Environmental Impact: A Design for Catalyzing an Emerging Industry A Monitor Institute Report

and a wiki with definitions of the lingo

Last week I gave a colleague a hard time about aspiring to “create an enabling environment” so I deserved to be surrounded by smart people who are making strides to create the infrastructure needed to drive capital to social change. I sought out sessions that focused on setting industry standards for social measurement. Lucy Bernholz, moderating, said that metrics are the carbon in the ecosystem and the oxygen is the policy frame. She’s launched a policy project you can read about here.

What these investors and fund managers find missing are the social sector equivalents of GAAP, LEED building certification, Venture One, or Standard and Poor’s ratings.

Moderator Antony Bugg-Levine from the Rockefeller Foundation got a big laugh when he made the usual polite introductions of one panel’s speakers and summarized by saying, “they have an incredible impact on the world… or maybe they don’t”. Investors need simple indicators that managers have taken a deep dive to understand the social and environmental impact of the projects in their portfolios. The result of the work might be the “Platinum low cost housing project” and the “Gold job creations” project.

People are open sourcing their metrics, and building taxonomy. In order to compare job creation projects “job” must be defined. There is a difference between seasonal agricultural work and a full time job with benefits. To get the market from niche to mainstream people are working on taxonomy, metrics and peer and trend ratings. It was a bit tough catching up on the acronyms but the Global Impact Investing Network (GINN) has taken up a chunk of the work . I’ve lifted this from their website.

"To address these challenges, the GIIN will continue work initiated by The Rockefeller Foundation, Acumen Fund, and B Lab to advance a common framework for defining, tracking, and reporting the performance of impact investing capital. The group, in collaboration with other impact investors and intermediaries, has developed a set of standards (taxonomy) that would facilitate comparisons of financial, operational, and impact data. The project has been supported by Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers and builds on prior work in the social impact assessment field while further developing and clarifying the means and metrics for enabling investment choices. The taxonomy of social and environmental terms enables the aggregation of data from different providers and multiple data collection systems. “

The conference itself and the comment below shows how hard everyone seems to be trying to work together in an environment where some are saying the efforts are proliferating.

“IRIS is working in conjunction with other efforts, including Pulse, Acumen Fund's portfolio data management system, and the GIIRS rating system.”
You can read more about their work here

Dilemmas - Q&A periods are great for pointing up dilemmas, here are a few.
Lagging indicators -. One participant pointed out that the metrics tend to be lagging indicators and don’t support innovation. We were invited to check out David Hunter‘s work, Alliance for Effective Social Investing. Folks from Good and Ideo spoke up saying that they are looking at this issue, and they invited people to join them blogging this topic.
Adoption – It will take time and energy to adopt the standards and they will likely be wrong at first
Range of use – Learning or Leaving? -No conference is homogenous and there was a range of views about how metrics should be used. Some talked from a capacity building frame, using the data to improve operational efficacy. Those noted that we need to listen better to the people doing the work. Others were more focused on investors needing to act differently based on the information, to “shut down” ineffective organizations

Role of Foundations in the movement
Foundations appear to be at the table in a number of ways, being interviewed as things are being designed, funding infrastructure efforts and participating as early catalytic investors in funds. Foundations also do their own mission related and program related investing

This may be one of those times when it is best to get out of the way. People took some pains to clarify that these metrics and ratings were not intended for institutional philanthropy consumption. Margot Brandenburg embodied this when it was pointed out the kind of metrics that are being gathered are more "outputs" or "activities' than impact indicators. What I heard is “yes we know, and let’s keep it simple” These investors do not need what another speaker referred to as the “complex and opaque” evaluation results that some other approaches yield. And if these high caliber players can make progress on challenges like the diversity in the work or attribution for advocacy efforts we can all celebrate and use the tools.

What is at stake ? From the GINN site – “The ultimate success of the initiative will require collaboration and cooperation from a great number of organizations. The challenges of this effort cannot be underestimated; neither can the potential benefits resulting from the more robust and efficient flow of capital with a social and environmental benefit”. I like thinking about a world where two pocket thinking (1.make the money, 2. Use it for social good) has a robust alternative.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Network Effectiveness Tides and Tables

photo credit - JimMedia

Today some Packard Foundation staff who have been thinking about network effectiveness, plus our visiting scholar Beth Kanter, got to chat with evaluation expert Michael Quinn Patton about evaluating networks. Our Evaluation Director Gale Berkowitz invited Michael to spend a day at the Foundation while he was out on the West Coast. Michael has a nice story telling approach to sharing his thinking. I think the stories belong to his clients, but here are my takeaways.

After reading Working Wikily 2.0 he missed a continuum that goes from;

Network → Coordinate → Cooperate → Partner

Our discussion followed along this frame. We talked about the realities of network ebb and flow. Organizational Effectiveness Program Officer Kathy Reich mentioned that we get the advice “build your network before you need it”. And Michael pointed out that sometimes networks will hum along at a lower level of activity, doing no more than sharing information e.g., tracking state court cases to predict when the issue could become a Supreme Court case. While the network is just “networking” or is engaging in basic activities it is building the trust needed for the network to activate, moving into campaign mode to solve something.

He also talked about how sometimes there are subgroups of effectiveness within a network. When it is time to mobilize the network it may need to get smaller, leaving behind outliers who have a hard time functioning in a network.

Michael has heard funders criticized when they are slow to support a network’s activation; requiring extensive proposal work when the network is responding to the rapid emergence of an opportunity. Just when network members should be devoting their attention to the window of opportunity they get bogged down in a time consuming proposal process. Could foundations get money out faster to already trusted partners?

Another essential network function is to watch for a window of opportunity for activation. So an early task is to create a shared vision of that window of opportunity. Would it be a new health minister? a disaster? front page headline about the issue? Other networks focus on creating a window.

Sometimes after intense outcomes focused action the network will settle back into just networking. Some networks stay vital with scenario planning - what could go wrong? In addition they conduct drills. (that is what firefighters do; they drill and practice so they are ready for a fire) Others become a listening, or as Beth said - sensing network.

Network Ebb and Flow – so it might looks more like this

Evaluation Table
We tried to figure out the axis for a two dimensional grid. We came up with something familiar.
One axis would be the extent to which there are identifiable outcomes. You could ask; how close are network members’ description of their shared purpose? The other axis would be process. Where are network members on process issues; relationship, trust, and understanding of each other’s niche.

This reconfirmed for me why social network mapping is tool that can be used for network evaluation. Process questions include the frequency of use of the network, who you go to get information, how important the network is to you vs. other things, how much do you trust the information you get from the network. The questionnaire could include questions that get to alignment on the purpose and hoped for outcomes also.
I came away convinced that we funders and network participants should be patient in our networks, and I am curious about work that has been done on network life cycles. Feel free to send it my way.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009 - I can't call this work

International Planned Parenthood Federation has an office on an alley in the Bermondsey section of London. I stopped by there and heard a bit about their 15andcounting campaign. It was great talking social media strategy and potential with Matthew Lindley, Development, Nuzhat Jabinh, Web Officer, Paul Bell, Senior Communications Officer and Chris Wells, Creative Design Officer. (You can follow on Twitter – @djwesto and @t­_box, and of course @15andcounting) We exchanged resources and opinions at a furious and fun pace.
At one point Matthew said “You can’t make partnerships if someone has to buy into your brand”. This comment struck me as well aligned with some made by Vikki Spruill from the Ocean Conservancy. She got me started thinking along this line at a networks meeting where she was encouraging the branding of issues, instead of specific organizations.

15andCounting is a campaign to demand better access to sexual health services and education for everyone, regardless of your age, gender or where you live. The 15 refers to both the fiscal promises made by governments in 1994 at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and the age of the young people who need these services, who were born that year. The site includes a petition and a resource kits with tools, like stakeholders letters, so people can launch campaigns in their country. The site is in English, Español , Français and Arabic. Its fun to look at the petition and see people signed up from Djibouti to Brazil There is a cell phone component to the campaign that has caused it to really take off in South Africa. Check it out,

Friday, July 3, 2009

Lucky Day in Johannesburg

I had the good fortune to tour Johannesburg and Soweto with Mrs. Franky Toussaint. She loves her town and its people. She's old enough to have lived the history and is open about her experiences. She led me through town explaining and showing that Jo'Burg exists because of gold and diamonds.

She interwove history and her pride in progress. As we walked around in the developing arts district near the Market Theatre she attends she explained how everyone- mixed ethnicities, lived there together peacefully until the government decided that the races needed to be separated and pulled everyone apart and tore the housing down. These heads represent the different people who lived there.

In Soweto we were guided through a settlement by one of two young men she has supported to attend tourist guide school and first aid training. We visited this creche.

This settlement felt less chaotic than where we work in India and the Philippines but it is amazing to think that the World Cup is going to be played in 2010 in the newly built stadium in view of metal shacks with no electricity in the homes, or sewage system, and clean water at communal taps only.

What I love about travel is how it pierces little holes through the layers of my ignorance. We visited the Hector Pieterson Museum where I learned about the events of June 16, 1976, a watershed moment that focused the world on apartheid. Franky views it as the beginning of the end, and for her it was the beginning of her involvement as the Secretary of the Women's Leadership Committee and the start of her Soweto visits.

I also got to see Regina Mundie Catholic Church which still has a shattered corner on the alter and bullet holes from government's efforts to break up the organizing that happened behind the scenes there. It was also the scene of Truth and Reconciliation sessions in the late 90's.

We had lunch at Wandie's where I enjoyed the good food. I think it was mielie, samp, and pumpkin, at any rate it was delicious.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Michael Jackson

The moment I heard the king of pop died will be memorable. I was at the market on Portobello Road when a wizened old man brought a newspaper to a merchant. The Chinese booth holder asked "You bring me good news?" With an African lilt the newspaper salesman replied "No-- bad news, Michael Jackson died." The three of us gathered around the headlines and photos, sharing reactions and speculating. Each of us in our own way said "poor guy". Three of us from different worlds, a special travel moment.

His death is a huge deal in London where he was about to appear. I wondered as we headed to South Africa what the coverage would be. Front page news is that he had a special relationship with South Africa, and was planning to retire here.

Johannesburg South Africa

It is winter her in Jo'Burg. It is very convincing, the trees are bare, the grass is brown and it is very cold early and later in the day. (38 degrees F). This outing to the modest, edge of the city Lion Park was the capper on one of the all time great travelling transitions. We started the day yesterday at Stratford on Avon, had a nice train ride to London, hopped on the Heathrow Express train and flew overnight on South Africa Air. I have never changed seasons in a day before. And they are saying it is 29 and humid in London, so we will know it when we change back later this week. But today, it is winter. And the winter light is beautiful here.

We are staying the the Melrose Arch Hotel which is part of the African Pride chain. The decor is is hip and quirky.

In Stratford on Saturday we visited Shakespeare sites which got us into the mood for "As You Like It" which was a thrill. The Royal Shakespeare actors overcome the language and historical context for the jokes barriers and make it clear what is going on and what is funny. They have amazing stamina.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Exploring Dubai

The elevator at our hotel ascends 6 floors per second. There are lots of biggest, longest, fastest things here. I made it over to the beach area and realized that all the talk about building isn't the 15 skyscapers under construction I can see out my window here in the business district. Its the 30 five star hotels being built at the first of three sucessivley bigger "Palm" islands being constructed in the Arabian Gulf. My guidebook says "ecologists are concerned" - oh my.
At the Wafi Gourmet I tasted some of the fantastic things that are done with dates.
At the Jumeirah Mosque I heard a talk from a volunteer for the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Understanding explain Islam thinking and traditions in a warm and welcoming way.

Traveling around Dubai on my own is easy and fun. It is like nowhere else I have been, with eighty-five per cent of the population from elsewhere. I am not noticeable , and people are helpful when asked. I love the scent (of ood?), the signs in Arabic, the women in abaya who smile and nod.

In honor of EE Kim, who so enthusiastcially posts food photos, I am going to post photos of my Iranian lunch at the Mall of the Emirates (the one with the real ski slope) and my delicious Arabic breakfast this morning.