Scaling up social justice: reflections of a grantmaker

Kathleen Cravero

Oak Foundation’s mission is to address issues of global social and environmental concern, particularly those that have an impact on the lives of the disadvantaged. As a social justice grantmaker, we work with and through partners – and in collaboration with a range of other stakeholders – in over 40 countries. ‘Scaling up’ is a goal in all the sectors in which we work. As a private foundation two of our greatest strengths are the ability to support innovation and the freedom to take risks – but these make sense only if they lead to something bigger, ie expansion on a national or international scale, improved policies, or paradigm shifts in the ways that problems are conceived or solved.

From this perspective, the principles set out in Beyond the Pioneer resonate with our own experience, even though we do not work directly with social enterprises. We agree that scale is important because the problems of global poverty – and social injustice – are vast. Our aim is also to scale up models that work. In fact the four factors cited in the report as leading to the success of social enterprises are the same as those for many of the social justice issues that we pursue: the ‘business model’ of the enterprise (in our case the nature of the solutions we support or the services we help expand); effective facilitation to overcome barriers; leadership of the enterprises, organizations and/or governing boards; and money.

Perhaps the most relevant factor of the four is facilitation. In Beyond the Pioneer, the authors define market facilitators as people or entities that act to resolve barriers to scaling, at the levels of both the enterprise and its wider business ecosystem, to the benefit of many firms, not just one. Facilitators do this in order to help promising models and to get other actors or institutions to act differently. They cite foundations as potential facilitators that can give grants to resolve the scaling barriers experienced by commercially viable enterprises. Foundations play a similar role with organizations that create more viable social systems. They can support individual groups, coalitions or networks that bring new ways of working or solving problems to scale.

An example of this is the recently formed Child Protection Funders Group (CPFG). The CPFG includes several private foundations, including Oak Foundation, that are pooling their energy, money and expertise to end violence against children. To do so they are pursuing three separate but related initiatives: a pooled fund to support efforts to build the evidence base on what works to prevent violence against children; a multi-disciplinary global group of experts who will examine evidence-based knowledge, draw conclusions about approaches that work, and promote action to stop violence against children (called KNOW Violence); and a communications and advocacy effort to change the way the world thinks – and talks – about this issue. All three initiatives are designed to facilitate the scaling up of efforts to end violence against children – ie to create an environment in which violence against children is seen as a problem that is solvable through proven and cost-effective strategies.

A new Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) publication entitled Smarter Philanthropy for Greater Impact: Rethinking how grantmakers support scale further develops this notion of foundations as facilitators. It encourages grantmakers to facilitate social impact through providing more flexible funding for longer periods of time; funding data and performance management capabilities; investing in capacity building and leadership development; and supporting movements as well as organizations. Sound familiar? These correspond closely to the four factors that underlie the successful scaling up of social enterprises, ie sound business models, facilitation, leadership and money.

My point here is that, while none of Oak’s experience involves social enterprises directly, scaling up is based on the same principles. Furthermore, our work contributes to an environment in which commercial groups addressing related social causes can flourish, eg promoting tools for different types of learners or more sustainable fisheries in the European Union.

Michael Edwards makes a similar point in a recently published article.[1] He suggests that deep and transformative social change occurs in ecosystems that combine the strengths of market-based and other types of funding and that innovation does not happen only in one, market-oriented part of the system. We agree: facilitators come in all shapes and sizes and from across the funding spectrum.

Michael Edwards, Beauty and the Beast: Can money ever foster social transformation? HIVOS Knowledge Programme, June 2013.

Kathleen Cravero is president of Oak Foundation. Email

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