The Roddenberry Foundation’s +1 Global Fund is a philanthropic experiment


Lior Ipp


For foundations and philanthropists everywhere, the Covid-19 crisis represents a singular challenge, as well as an opportunity to doing things differently.

This month, in response to the pandemic, The Roddenberry Foundation launched the +1 Global Fund, the first fund of its kind with no applications, restrictions, or reporting.

The Fund relies on a ‘network of networks’ framework in which leading social entrepreneurs identify and nominate peers who are successfully combating the pandemic in their communities. In this new model, nominations replace applications; partnerships supplant silos; and collaboration, trust, and efficiency are paramount.

It’s a philanthropic experiment. One with the potential to transform the very nature of how funding takes place and who gets funded.

But we are not alone. The global and unprecedented nature of Covid-19 has forced many foundations to revisit their funding priorities. In only a few months, billions of dollars have been committed and hundreds of foundations have pledged to streamline their funding processes.

Like many of our peers, at the start of the pandemic The Roddenberry Foundation launched a ‘rapid response’ fund for existing grantees. Within three weeks, funds were distributed among 14 states in the U.S., and in 13 different countries on 3 continents. 

Listening to how our grantees are leveraging their infrastructure and community access and are pivoting or amplifying their work in response to the crisis – particularly with vulnerable communities – helped us think through a longer-term strategy for this pandemic.

In considering a broader, more robust response to Covid-19, it became clear that this global crisis is in many ways a hyper-local one – it’s at the community level where there is both the greatest need and opportunity. Any set of solutions has to account for the variances in geographic, economic, political, and public health systems across and within different countries.

In our design process we set out to meet the crisis with a solution as unorthodox as the problem. We challenged ourselves to throw out the funder’s playbook and take a radically different approach to combating the pandemic.

We identified five key characteristics that would define our work:

  1. Collaborative: the enormity of the crisis meant that engaging partners and their networks, knowledge, and infrastructure was going to be critical in sourcing innovative solutions to local problems.
  • Targeted: we chose to focus on communities that often exist in isolation (‘the last mile’) outside the reaches of traditional aid and are disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
  • Inclusive: because of our experience with our own network, we decided to focus on small organisations with budgets of $1.5 million or less – roughly 70 per cent of the world’s nonprofits.
  • Agile: we sought to design a program that is equally responsive and scalable and reflects the urgency required in a moment of great uncertainty.
  • Accessible: given the extraordinary pressures of the pandemic on frontline organisations, it made sense to eliminate applications, reports, and restrictions to more easily distribute funds quickly and efficiently.

For our first round of this initiative, we partnered with some of the most respected global networks, including Acumen, Ashoka, The Obama Foundation, The Resolution Project, and USAID. To date, over 150 social entrepreneurs have nominated nearly 350 peers in 35 countries combating Covid-19.

As the social, economic, and health impact of the pandemic becomes more pronounced, the need for more responsive, scalable, and agile funding models will be essential. Given the circumstances, it’s a risk worth taking.

Lior Ipp is CEO of The Roddenberry Foundation.

Tagged in: Covid-19 Funding practice

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