Crossing the mountains and building the bridges between NGOlandia and Bizworld


Louise Hallman


Louise Hallman

Although Salzburg Global Seminar says it likes to do things a little differently to most convening spaces – bringing together ‘all of the pieces of the jigsaw’ to solve ‘globally interactive problems’ creatively, as program director for gender and philanthropy Nancy Smith explained in her opening remarks – most of the 42 participants in the seminar ‘Value vs Profit: Recalculating the Return on Investment in Financial and Social Terms’, held in Salzburg, Austria, 13-17 October, probably weren’t expecting map drawing to be part of that creative process.

Eschewing the usual approach of opening a seminar by giving a lecture, Smith decided instead to draw a map of the landscape of producing social good and addressing social challenges, and encouraged participants to do the same; where did they fit in this landscape? How did they see the lie of the land?

With participants coming from 16 different countries and varied backgrounds, from individual social entrepreneurs to senior directors of foundations, from small to large non-profits, from strategic advisory organizations to large corporations, it was not surprising that people saw themselves and their organizations in very different places.

In the first attempt led by Smith, the two sectors of business and NGOs were represented as two lands – Bizworld and NGOlandia – separated by a seemingly impassable mountain range. The mountains are starting to give way smaller hills, she said, and in the lower plains, small ‘hybrid’ settlements are starting to spring up, such as benefit corporations. But despite speaking a similar language – using terms like ‘value’, ‘profit’, ‘investment’ and ‘return on investment’ – the two lands still don’t fully understand each other.

Or perhaps instead, as another fellow suggested, the two lands are islands, with the rugged yet fertile isle of NGOlandia in the process of building a bridge to the heavily built-up but increasingly resource-scarce Bizworld, which itself prefers the less permanent crossing of an aeroplane.

But neither of these two visions incorporates a number of important factors: where does government and regulation fit in? Where do foundations and individual philanthropists fit in? Where is the ‘base of the pyramid’ in this landscape? And where does society as a whole lie?

By the end of the four-day seminar, after hearing from speakers on how best to use business as a driver of social good, harness the power of investors, and develop better policies and regulation, as well as working together in small groups to identify the most important ‘levers and actions’ for change, a more detailed map emerged, complete with corporate social responsibility expanding into the ‘waters of social good’ more typically inhabited by NGOs, religious organizations and social entrepreneurs, armies of volunteers crossing backwards and forwards, individual and foundation investors on the outskirts directing their capital into the social good waters, and government pumping money into social good and additional ‘social impact’ ventures such as biodiesel crops.

Despite the wry smiles and chuckles at Schloss Leopoldskron, the visual metaphors proved a serious point – these multiple actors are often acting separately and their differences need to be bridged if society’s ‘wicked problems’ are to be tackled effectively.

Over the course of the session, participants from all sectors repeatedly spoke of the need for moving beyond their traditional parameters. Corporate philanthropy needs to go beyond traditional ideas of corporate social responsibility (which has long meant businesses ‘earning money over here in Bizworld and giving it away over there in NGOlandia’, as one participant articulated), and work towards creating shared value with Nestlé presenting their case study, together with their advisers from FSG.

Foundations need to go beyond just impact investing, said Buzz Schmidt of the F B Heron Foundation (pictured left) and consider ‘mission-related investment’, with all of their available capital and investments – endowments and pension funds included – to achieve greater impact on society.

And all enterprises, from businesses to foundations to non-profits, need to go beyond fulfilling their initial missions and look to how they can create – and more importantly measure – impact across all their activities.

The main challenge for the ‘Salzburg Global Fellows’ now the seminar is over comes not in redrawing our own map and establishing where in the landscape our own organizations are located, but more in navigating this ever-changing landscape of creating social good – not only working out where we are, but more importantly where we want to go.

Louise Hallman is the editor for Salzburg Global Seminar. You can follow her on Twitter at @salzburgglobal.

Those who attended this session with the Salzburg Gobal Seminar are entitled to discounted subscriptions to Alliance magazine.  The discount form can be accessed here.

Further articles related to these topics:

Tagged in: Gender Impact investing Mission-related investing Salzburg Global Seminar Social investment

Comments (1)

Tom Ritchey

Re: Wicked Problems, you might like to know about this recent publication: “Wicked Problems – Social Messes: Decision support Modelling with Morphological Analysis”. Springer, 2011. You can see a description at: Regards, Tom Ritchey SweMorph

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