As the saying goes, April showers bring May flowers. With two major events in the social investment and philanthropy sector, May was abloom with new ideas and energy, much needed in a world full of fractured hope and failing states.
One in Istanbul (Social Innovation Exchange/SIX Wayfinder) and the other in Nuremberg (German Association of Foundations), these gatherings created space for discussion on social innovation, digitalisation and future trajectory of the social investment sector. Surrounding both events was an aura of hope for the future of social change.
Moving social innovation from the margins to the mainstream
After a warm welcome from SIX Wayfinder Istanbul host Emre Zorlu (Board Member of Zorlu Holding in Turkey), Geoff Mulgan (CEO of Nesta) set the framework for discussion. Mulgan proposed the nexus of social innovation to be at the intersection of: Power (policy making, corporates), people (hackers, makers), money (venture philanthropy spectrum) and knowledge (digitisation, open data, university models). He urged us to proactively move social innovation from the margins to mainstream. With experts from countries where spaces for ‘traditional’ civil society continue to shrink, it was encouraging to hear of initiatives with social aims yet different operational models.
Many expressed concerns of increasing capital – private, EU and other- with continued low levels of absorption capacity among social innovators. Bridging this gap was proposed as a necessary step. SIX published this report on Turkey, where the social innovation conversation is gaining traction, in an effort to do just that.
Another key theme was communication and mobilisation of movements. Just to think that Twitter is a mere twelve years old and You Tube only eleven, puts into perspective how much modalities changed in just one decade! In a session with Louise Pulford (Director of SIX) I suggested social innovators need to communicate with specificity and precision. Stories are important and need to be curated and presented in a way that increases both agency and self-efficacy, especially with regards to social innovation – something which still feels a bit esoteric for many.
The rapid emergence of social innovation–to a great extent a result of digitisation- excites many, especially those working in countries with increased roadblocks (political and otherwise) for civil society organisations. Yet scepticism remains regarding for-profit /financial return operating models. As these topics were discussed among German foundations in Nuremberg, I began to wonder if the foundation sector may sometimes be its own greatest obstacle akin to Clara Miller’s call for a Revolution of Capital.
Jacqueline Fuller (CEO of Google.org) who joined via video favoured a ‘yes, and’ approach and called for more openness about bringing social impact solutions to market to achieve scale, especially when philanthropy could be limiting. In a panel on ‘Silicon Valley philanthropy’ with fellow panellists, we agreed that next generation social investors are more likely to take risks, engage other contributors more early on, be more open to market-based solutions, and less likely to have endowments.
Founder and CEO of Acumen. Jacqueline Novogratz, acknowledged the increasing fear, fragility and fracture in our respective countries, encouraging us to see the world how it is and not how we think it should be. She suggested Acumen’s ‘spectrum of capital’ approach to engage different forms of capital enabled investments of 700 mm$ (600 mm$ leveraged) in more than 100 companies since 2001, and highlighted the importance of applying knowledge gained by investing in one company to develop new insights on how to disrupt a broader sector.
A compass, not a road map: Investing in human capital
Individuals are (at) the very heart of social change and a critical source of capital. Dr Joachim Rogall (President and CEO of Robert Bosch Foundation and Chair of the German Association of Foundations), spoke of Bosch’s 54 years of investing in nearly 10,000 fellows from all over the world. Referring to its new Alumni Global Network, he called on foundations to sustain engagement and keep connections alive. Noting the transformational impact of Acumen’s fellow program, Novogratz reminded us that we can only give individuals a compass, not a road map.
Leave no one behind
Ise Bosch, founder of Dreilinden, a fund for women, girls, and LGBTI rights, invited all those investing time, energy and capital in social change to ‘leave no one behind’. In a moving ceremony, the German Association of Foundations awarded Ise Bosch with the prestigious German Donor Award. Her inspiring speech conveyed a genuine call to action for more inclusive German and global philanthropy.
Filiz Bikmen is founding Director of Esas Sosyal, a family fund based in Turkey.