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What If Grants Were Given for Social Change Ideas?

The time has come. The Jeff Skolls, Larry Brilliants and Melinda and Bill Gates of the social entrepreneur movement feel they’ve reached the tipping point. Sidestepping traditional charity, business or government “modelsthey’ve crafted systems for doing good that are data-driven and replicable – so they can scale, to use the geek term for “keep growing.”

Now they are determined to re-write Uncle Sam’s role and think Americans are ready for change. They formed an alliance, dubbed it America Forward and went to Washington, to ask for fresh, more accountable social and education programs. As New York Times columnist, David Brooks describes it, “to expand national service (to produce more social entrepreneurs) and to create a network of semipublic social investment funds. These funds would be administered locally to invest in community-run programs that produce proven results. The government would not operate these social welfare programs, but it would, in essence, create a network of semipublic Gates Foundations that would pick winners based on stiff competition.”

As Bill Drayton famously said, “Social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish, or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.

By now we know that money alone doesn’t lead to fundamental social change. I especially like their underlying approach of offering incentives for proposing new approaches and for meeting goals. For example, former advisor to Reagan and Clinton, David Gergen suggested a grant system for social change ideas.

What do you think? Is this a SmartPartnership for the federal government, local not-for-profits, social entrepreneurial agencies and American citizens who may to start or work in such organizations? Is it a smarter way to invest our government and “charity” funds? Or will such an alliance get bogged down by government bureaucracy? Brooks seems more hopeful than not.

Categories: cause, Collective Intelligence, Government, Social Entrepreneur and tagged , , , , , .
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  1. Posted March 22, 2008 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    In view of the economic crisis facing the USA today, it is essential to wake up to alternative ways of thinking about economics. How long are we going to take the advice of so called experts who are allowing people to become so greedy when there are so many people becoming so much poorer?

    Here is a suggestion: HUMANITIES 112, Educate Yourself for Tomorrow


    Required Reading: Small Is Beautiful, E. F. Schumacher; Money and Freedom, Hans F. Sennholz;

    Reincarnation and Immortality, Rudolf Steiner; Money and the Meaning of Life, Jacob Needleman

    There is much advice written today which attempts to guide society constructively through the economic dilemmas, which face us all. Some of the authors assert the importance of an unfettered economic life, while others hold that equality or justice is necessary in this sphere. Both viewpoints will lead us towards authoritarianism.

    A new approach is needed which simultaneously considers the responsibilities as well as the rights of individuals, respects individual initiative and creativity, views life in a longer-term perspective and develops new types of economic associations based upon these principles. The conservative vs. liberal conflict is the result of an historical process. It is important to review some of the key events that have brought us to this impasse so that we can transform these opposing, dualistic views into something different and move on to the future.

    Andrew Flaxman, Director of Educate Yourself for Tomorrow, will be your mentor for this important course. Check for details.

  2. Posted March 24, 2008 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    I think it is clear that the social entrepreneurs have the innovation, flexibility and freedom to react and solve problems more quickly and efficiently than government. If government wants to support the work of social entrepreneurs they must be willing to give up earmarking funding for political purposes. But the government has enormous resources and could be a wonderful mechanism for replication of the programs created by social entrepreneurs.

    If the government had a big pot of money that it would grant to social entrepreneurs, how could they determine who to give the grants to? You mentioned Bill Drayton of Ashoka, I think they have developed a very unique way of identifying high impact social entrepreneurs which includes various checks and balances and includes a screening for Integrity which allows them to give grants in full confidence without stipulations. Interestingly Ashoka currently does not accept any government money based on principle, not wanting to be restricted by political agendas in the way they invest their money. I suppose the ideal would be for government to be willing to give grants to the likes of Ashoka and Skoll with no strings attached. If that’s not possible then I think it might be best for government to stay out of the picture in direct funding but perhaps can help by creating policy and financial incentives for private money to flow to social entrepreneurs.

  3. Posted March 24, 2008 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    D Stoker, this is an evolving world where some social entrepreneurs are not-for-profit, some turn profits and some, as you know, are a mix of both. Let’s follow this campaign and see what unfolds – that is what models attract the most support and from whom. While I am against many forms of privatization such as of the prisons I am open to seeing what organizational models can do the most good, in part by who the quality of the people they attract to operate them and the outcomes they achieve.

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