Venture philanthropy is a different beast from traditional giving. We sit at the crossroads of business and the social sector, and therefore can play just outside the rules. We are the chameleons who can speak corporate lingo and NGO acronyms, sit with CFOs and community activists. With what looks like a perfect cocktail of money, autonomy reach and purpose, we should be free to do what we feel will drive impact. So why did so many of the speakers at the EVPA Business of Impact conference call on us as a peer group to be bolder, edgier and less risk-averse? What is holding us back?
Is it identity? I heard the phrases again and again, ‘I used to be in finance’, ‘I was corporate, too’. Yes, and… that gives the ability to bridge, to translate, to push the boundaries. For example, a programme that trains women to work in venture capital sees that we need to move beyond the traditional business school track, whether for men or women. Instead, they are looking for women who trained in a variety of STEM fields and have the propensity to thrive in finance. We need to constantly look beyond, push the envelope, test new career paths, and blaze a new trail based on what could be, not just what has been.
Is it fear of failure? In the innovation space, we know that the majority of ventures will fail. Yet, when someone else’s money and lives are at stake, are we emotionally and reputationally ready for failure? Do we feel obligated to create a rosy story for our partners, our boards, our stakeholders so they will continue to come with us, to employ us, to believe in us? We have to be bold and trust the process. ‘I don’t say pilot because that sounds like we don’t know if it will work’, said one of the speakers. Just do it, learn fast, pivot and move forward.
Do we lack sufficient partners? There is an over-abundance of organisations and companies professing partnership, yet a lack of those who can forge collaboration in both spirit and practice. This came up again and again through the summit. If the partners are lacking, there is a need to educate, to incentivise and create the ones we want.
This is a community that shares a common language of ambition, systems change, ecosystem building and collaboration. If we can free ourselves from the elements that holds us back, the potential is limitless and, as one participant said, ‘the cake is big enough for all’. It is now up to us to be brave, take risks and find innovative ways to drive social impact.
Cynthia Hansen, Managing Director, Innovation Foundation empowered by the Adecco Group