Bridging the silos (2) – An idea too far?

Alliance magazine

John Ashton is not the only person worrying about the lack of contact and cooperation between people and organizations pursuing similar ends. The need for bridges between the different ‘silos’ that are pursuing what Jed Emerson has termed ‘blended value’ – a mix of social, environmental and financial value – is the motive force behind the creation of the Blended Value Map (http://www.blendedvalue.org).

Alliance talked to him about how he came up with this concept and where he hopes it will go now.

BVP has its roots in Emerson’s community work background. It was in the early 1990s at REDF (Roberts Enterprise Development Fund) in San Francisco’s Bay Area that he first asked the question ‘How do you go about tracking the social value created by a business?’ The answer was the now familiar ‘SROI’ or Social Return on Investment framework that REDF applied in its own work.[1]

As he began talking to people involved in areas like social investing and corporate social responsibility, Emerson found ‘he was having the same conversations with different people about measuring the social impact of what they were doing. A lot of people were investing a lot of energy in parallel enquiry into the same areas and not building on each other’s efforts.’ What matters, he began to think, is not whether you’re a for-profit or a non-profit but what you’re trying to create – and what all these different players are trying to create is value, value consisting of social, environmental and economic components, or blended value.

Developing the Blended Value Map

Are there opportunities to bring people together so they can support each other across silos? A year ago, Emerson came to the conclusion that at the very least people should be aware of who is ‘out there’ – both in their own areas of focus and in related areas. Hence the Blended Value Map, which he and his team at the Hewlett Foundation have been developing through a series of consultations and meetings, mainly in the US but also to a limited extent in the UK and the rest of Western Europe.

The Map itself is a ‘North American perspective informed by international practice’, so it is not an effort to map the globe, but rather to identify a number of key players and explore the common links between their work. The aim is to set out the central issues, information resources, resource organizations, initiatives and leadership examples in each of five silos[2] and to start to draw out the cross-cutting issues and challenges.

What next?

What happens now? The future is probably more dissemination of the map and its findings – through the BVM website, through the Social Edge discussion forum, perhaps through further meetings – but Emerson himself seems unlikely to play much of a part in this. His view is that the map is now ‘out there’ and others will have to decide what to do with it. ‘I’m not inclined to go on pushing people to collaborate since the best collaborations evolve naturally out of people pursuing their own interests,’ he says. ‘If the work is valuable, people will pick it up and run with it. If it doesn’t have value, they won’t use it.’ He hopes that other people will now take up the challenge of undertaking similar mapping exercises in different countries and regions.

How much linking up of silos is likely to happen is not certain. Follow-up meetings in November and December showed ‘great affirmation of the map’ but ‘people also expressed a need for more time to figure out what they’re doing internally before they link up with other silos’.

He admits to being ‘kind of curious’ and ‘a little disappointed’ with the initial outcome. ‘People involved in all parts of this conversation – funders, social entrepreneurs, for-profit business managers – know they need to collaborate and leverage their efforts more effectively, but many folks are (often by necessity!) too locked into their own issues and their own organizations to be able to actively work across silos even in their own self-interest.’ He has to admit that maybe the idea is ahead of its time. ‘Over time the logic of this perspective will come out. Maybe the result will be an informal breaking down of barriers rather than formation of big formal networks.’ He wonders whether there are opportunities to collaborate at a local level. ‘Over the long term, this may create more viable networks of actors, not new international organizations or consortiums.’ It may be that people in developing countries, where the issues are more pressing and people more isolated, will turn out to be more motivated to leave their much smaller silos and work together.

‘This is not about simply building social entrepreneurship or social investing or any of the other silos,’ says Emerson. ‘It’s about supporting the creation of a connecting tissue that will better position each of us to continue our efforts to change the world.’

1 See http://www.redf.org

2 The silos are corporate social responsibility, social enterprise, social investing, strategic/effective philanthropy and sustainable development.

Jed Emerson is Lecturer at Stanford University Graduate School of Business and
Senior Fellow at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. He can be contacted at J.Emerson@hewlett.org

See http://www.blendedvalue.org


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