Sunday, November 15, 2009
One great way young adults are making a difference is by joining our Don't fall back...FAST FORWARD! campaign. The response was so enthusiastic, we're extending the campaign throughout this giving season. We need your help to blow this campaign through the roof! Check out three ways you can help : donate, promote, or suggest ideas for the campaign.
Students learning about Fast Forward through the fall '09 BGIA class recently heard first-hand about making a difference with two outstanding, back-to-back guest speakers: first Lara Galinsky wowed us during our site visit to Echoing Green, then we were inspired by Michele Kahane (until recently of Clinton Global Initiative, now Professor of Social Entrepreneurship at the Milano New School of Management), during her visit to BGIA. Both founding members of FFF's Board, these leaders are making their mark.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Our bold idea is to get as many people as possible to contribute to FFF the value of one hour's earnings saved from Daylight Savings Time. Whether that's $7.25 minimum wage or much more, let's see how many donor-investors we can mobilize! Here's what you can do to make a big difference:
1. donate the approximate amount you would earn in one hour to Fast Forward Fund. You can do this easily and securely online right now and anytime here
2. help FFF spread the word any way you can:
* post "Don't fall back...FAST FORWARD!" on your website, facebook page, linked-in profile
* mobilize your network sending messages via email, twitter, facebook, linked-in
* mention the FFF Campaign with link to www.fastforwardfund.org in blogs, articles, newletters, email
* include a link to www.fastforwardfund.org in your signature
* announce the "Don't fall back...FAST FORWARD!" to your employees, colleagues, co-workers or community
* if you have employees and capacity, offer to match their one-hour contribution
3. suggest other ideas to mobilize donor-investors in our give back an hour campaign.
And to learn more about FFF, check out recent interview on SoCap & Unreasonable Institute blogs! What do you think? Can a twenty-something-year-old change the world through philanthropic social investment?
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Who are your favorite teachers? And who has taught you, directly or indirectly, about giving, philanthropy, social investment, generosity? What are the key lessons you've already learned? Teach us and each other! We want to learn from you.
Friday, September 25, 2009
- Fola Adeola, The Fate Foundation: "What we hold in our hands is a compass, so we can write our maps as we go along"
- Marilyn Carlsen: "holding up a mirror to ourselves may be best thing we can do"
- Nick Kristoff: "need metrics of quality, not just quantity"
- (not sure who said this, but it's good!) @CGI: "what is done to children they will do to the world"
- (me!) : Why are 4 billion poor people "bottom of the pyramid," not "global majority"?
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Developed by Social Actions (full disclosure: led by one of my favorite colleagues, Peter Deitz), the Social Entrepreneur API is "the first open database of information about social entrepreneurs who have won fellowships and awards from social enterprise funders. The tool allows philanthropists, investors, press, and fellow entrepreneurs to find social entrepreneurs based on keyword, location, cause area, population served, and a variety of other factors." "Civic Ventures (sponsor of The Purpose Prize), The Draper Richards Foundation, ideablob, PopTech, The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, and The Skoll Foundation have pooled their data to create an open database of information about vetted social entrepreneurs. "
Sounds good in theory; how does it hold up in practice? To answer that question, let me call on next gen social investors to play around w/Social Entrepreneur API ! From your perspective, how is it helpful? how could it be more helpful? how could it inform and advance the efforts of social investors? Tell us how to shape this pipeline!
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Leading a SoCap09 "unconference" session on Building the Pipeline for Next Gen Social Investors, together with founding FFF Board Member Michele Kahane (The New School), and FFF Advisory Council Members Justin Rockefeller (Uhuru Management) & Nathaniel Whittemore (Asset Map), we explored what's working, what's needed, and what we've learned so far. Interesting issue arose around use of term "social investor" v. philanthropist. The FFF "social investor" model aggregates philanthropic capital through what we call a "diversified social investment portfolio" to leverage impact of social investments to youth-led social enterprises (for profit, not for profit, and hybrid social ventures). FFF does not offer financial ROI, rather we offer a social return on investment (SROI) and a charitable tax exemption to investors. So why not just call FFF supporters "philanthropists," "donors," "givers"? Isn't it confusing to say "investor"? Well, that confusion is a risk we're bumping up against, and frankly, we may need to reconsider our language, maybe sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, the reason we say social investor is that we mean it! We very intentionally want to instill the value that philanthropy through FFF is not just a charitable donation rather it's a real investment with real returns in social terms. Directing capital to and through FFF is part of shifting philanthropic "business as usual" to a new era of strategic giving as a social investment, one that will build the society, the social context, of the world we want to create & embrace. That said, language matters. Semantics can be important. So what's in a name? What do you think? Is a philanthropist a social investor?
And Back in NYC...BGIA & CGI
After two summer FFF trips to California, I've settled back into New York where I happily began fall semester teaching "Global Social Entrepreneurship & Strategic Philanthropy" at Bard Globalization & Int'l Affairs ( BGIA ) last week. Splitting my time between NYC & mid-Hudson Valley, I feel autumn in the air from upstate apple orchards, back-to-school buses & kids w/bulging backpacks, to city slickers wearing long sleeves for first time in months. I'm looking forward to the upcoming Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), where I'll be blogging both for FFF and on change.org. What are the top questions or issues you'd like to see raised at CGI re:next-gen social investors, innovators, and change-makers? who are the top people you'd want to meet?
Friday, July 17, 2009
So far, July has featured FFF's 1st Leadership Summit, FFF as keynote speaker at NYWSE's Incubator Project celebration, and our 1st young professional meet-up. What a great month...with two more weeks to go! This weekend, I'm off to California to introduce FFF to new partners & colleagues, find & deepen collaborative opportunities, and celebrate social investment with friends & family. Looking forward to the FFF picnic at the Ravenswood Winery, and to the first event for HubSF about mobilizing change!
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
And if you're in NYC, come to Fast Forward meet-up tonight: http://bit.ly/IJCLL , SideBAR, 6-9pm, 118 E.15th St., NYC. See you there! gathering tonight: http://bit.ly/IJCLL , SideBAR, 6-9pm, 118 E.15th S.. gathering tonight: http://bit.ly/IJCLL , SideBAR, 6-9pm, 118 E.15th S..
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Our theme is "Envisioning & Enabling FFF Growth." The day is structured around building our action plan in three respects: Intention, Integrity, Impact. I believe effective action requires all three qualities, as distinguished from mere activity. Intention is about envisioning, dreaming, seeing where we want to go. Integrity is about how we get there, making it happen, making it real. Impact is the significance, the outcomes, the results of our efforts.
Here's to a fruitful day!
Monday, June 1, 2009
So who's your ultimate mentor? what makes for great mentorship? The mentors who've most impacted me range from lifelong angels with whom it feels like I've been engaged in an always timely, yet timeless, conversation with no beginning and no end, to visionary visitors who mysteriously pass through my life at just the right moment in just the right way to guide me along...
Here's a top-ten, dream-team, wish list of mentors I'd love to call on to help shape FFF:
- Oprah Winfrey
- Melinda Gates
- The Dalai Lama
- Jon Stewart
- Michelle Obama
- former President Bill Clinton
- George Soros
- J.K. Rowling
- my three children
Thursday, May 21, 2009
This semester has exposed us to a wealth of information, insight and experience, but there are two things overall that really resonated with me.
First, learning about - and experiencing - the "other side" of social entrepreneurship, namely the philanthropic and social venture aspect to the whole endeavor, which I had previously been ignorant of. Frequently- as speakers and faculty alike have noted all semester - Social Entrepreneurs are associated with an individualistic, glorified Heed to a Calling (much like how I considered traditional entrepreneurs in my early teens). So much is forgotten with that glorification though: first, the myriad contributions from family, friends and colleagues which enable a social entrepreneur to reach for the stars, or reach at all; and the second, the philanthropic piece we've all come to know and appreciate. Learning about social investment has been a real pleasure for me, not least because it gives us the opportunity to know social change from yet another angle.
The second thing which resonated with me was the insight, observations and achievements of us, the Student Directors. If the rest of you are at all like me, then you've been dismayed/disenchanted/discouraged by the (higher) education system more than once - it is a great privilege to live within it, without a doubt, but it is by no means perfect.* So it was a real treat for me to be part of an engaged and enthusiastic class comprised of dedicated people who will no doubt be a part of the shift we are all experiencing, as well as a part of FFF's future.
The end of this semester marks the conclusion of a few things: the first round of Student Directors for the Fast Forward Fund; the Spring 09 semester of Bard College's Globalization and International Affairs Program; and (of course) the first 100 days of the new administration.
However, if we're so inclined, this can also mark the beginning of extended engagement with FFF for each of us, in our respective towns, cities, colleges, countries and lives. Though I lived in Brooklyn this semester, and thus was unable to be as much a part of the BGIA community as I would have liked, I am confident that this bond between us that GSE&SP, FFF, Diana, and all the stellar speakers have wrought will keep us in touch for years to come.
All the best,
*Though we're not all from the same institution, or the same country for that matter, no system is perfect; it remains a great privilege nonetheless.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
This even was true in our pitch session. The video on Public Stuff’s site proves this. The video made the organization seem more in touch with the audience they may be trying to reach. The ability to tap into an increasingly technologically smart public will become an essential tool for these entrepreneurs.
In addition, the use of video—such as that on the Action Center website—allows investors to really feel a connection to their giving. It puts a human face and voice to a social problem. This is important as issues and giving becomes increasingly global.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Thursday, May 14, 2009
While I enjoyed the virtual pitch sessions, I think being able to interact face-to-face was really useful. These interactions allowed me to see the passion the entrepenuers had as well as ask some vital questions. For instance, some of the key elements of Girl Guides USA was lost on paper. By speaking with the entrepenuer I was able to understand the depth of the project.
The virtual pitch sessions worked to really convey the global nature of philanthropy. While we could not feel the distance the live investors had travelled it was tangible in the virtual pitch format.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Every end is a new beginning! As Diana said, that bitter-sweet taste is so strongly present these days. At the same time excitement and discussions about decisions that we made, and that tomorrow we will present to others. They all had the same experience but at the same time different one, because we all concentrated mostly to our portfolios; and tomorrow will see the whole semester work of all of us. Final preparations are still on, and no matter how long we work there is always certain feeling of unknowing what is waiting for us and our chosen Social Venture.
I think most of us would agree that the pitch session (both virtual and in-person) was the most interesting part of working with the projects. To see people that came to the idea and that are leading the project changes so much in perception and visualization of projects future. Some things (as attitude and enthusiasm towards the project) are just impossible to write while working on proposal.
Working with FFF gave me an opportunity to think as an investor and to experience the difficulties and challenges that they face, and at the same time to see the beauty of knowing that your decision will make a huge difference.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Seems like there've been weekly highlights and milestones:
- launching FFF w/former President Clinton at CGIU,
- visits to Acumen Fund, Echoing Green, the Action Center;
- inspiring guest speakers
- a NYC youth-to-youth Investor Pitch,
- a virtual investor pitch featuring entrepreneurs online from Ann Arbor, MI to my hometown, Portland, OR.
Throughout their semester-long academic training program, the Portfolio Student Directors have been considering 14 youth-led social ventures for FFF youth-to-youth social investment. Nominated by four of our Pipeline Partners (this round: Clinton Global Initiative, Global Engagement Summit, NYWomen Social Entrepreneurs, and Teach for America), these investment opportunities address one or more of our four portfolio global social priorities: Poverty Alleviation, Public Health, Climate Change & Energy, and Human Rights & Peace. I can't wait to see what they come up with Thursday. And can't wait to continue working together well beyond the end of this semester. As the poet Tony Hoagland says, "What I thought was an end, turned out to be a middle." And we've only just begun!
This speaks to the critique of any effort in a post-digital age that could be digitized and thus made more accessible: would it be better to auction off that space and use the funds to expand the reach of individuals' commitments? Should we be concerned that much of what goes on at the Action Center can be accomplished to varying degrees on the Action Center website? OR, does the potential of collaborative social justice really take hold in a dedicated, physical space? Does the prospect of visiting a space dedicated to ending world hunger in fact make it more accessible to school groups, college students visiting the city, industry professionals, etc?
What do you all think?
Thursday, May 7, 2009
He emphasized two aspects we should keep in mind when we make our investment decisions: projects must be sustainable, and the proposals must reflect acumen. A major problem with grants is that they create dependency on a single source of income. If projects are unable to sustain themselves beyond the funding received from donors, the investment is often not justified. Therefore, when we evaluate the proposals that were submitted to us, it is essential that we see beyond the writing and try to gauge the practical ability of the social entrepreneurs.
The mission of the Fast Forward Fund is to transform young people into successful social investors. Similarly to the MercyCorps initiative, its aim is to educate youth to take action and make a positive impact in the world. The Action Center offered visitors the possibility to contribute as much (or as little) as they were willing to. If you have only one minute, you can sign a petition to promote gender equity in HIV/AIDS relief programs. If you have a month, you can volunteer overseas. If you want to dedicate your entire life to the cause, you can become a member of the MercyCorps team.
If you want to help the Fast Forward Fund, you can take only a couple of minutes and help spread the word in your social network. If you want to support initiatives of your peers, you can donate as little as $5 with just a few clicks on the FFF website. And if you have an idea yourself, you can submit a proposal to one of FFF’s pipeline organizations.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
The Action Center itself is a unique place because it collaborates with many other organizations. Many organizations out there see themselves as competition with other institutions that are trying to reach the same goal. The Action Center facilitates Mercy Corps actions and helps other organizations that are having impact in another area. Their system which asks you how much time you want to give (a minute to a lifetime) is also an amazing way to get people to read how they can make an impact. It works.
A key point to take away from the visit would be that addressing one issue will have a ripple effect on other areas as well. For example, if you want to end hunger, you don’t need to start a campaign to distribute free food. Helping an organizing or starting an organization that is helping war victims rebuild their lives or an organization that is trying to stop a disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people will also result in impact.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
I really believe that places like the Action Center should continue to exist and become more in number on a global scale because to really understand a problem and become cautious about it, people need to be well educated first. Education should come as a priori and then action. Therefore, if we want to make people active and eager to help towards making the world a better place to live, we should all first think about educating them and making them aware of places like the Action Center.
Great place, great ideas, great people, amazing work!
The details that make the
Friday, May 1, 2009
Surprisingly enough, the presentations last week reminded me of my grandpa’s story in early 40’s. At that time, a military commander for the Albanian king “Zogu”, he was forced to commute back and forth facing a tremendous responsibility of his actions and impacts that may have on his entire battalion, sometimes even their lives per se. Every so often, he would listen to his fellow arguments and then decide on the next steps that would have to be pursued. Indeed some of his actions were enormous success while some total failures.
Now sixty years after and in a total different environment, it is me who was sitting and listing to my fellow arguments/presentations trying to persuade me to take a particular action; specifically vote for their idea thT will improve some aspect of the social life.
Comparing to the last century, needs and people perspectives have been changed. Now we do examine offers in total different and new environment. For instance, for better off his nation, my grandpa tried to pursue the politics of listening and then acting sometimes with even fighting in the end. In this global time, me and my colleague directors focus on listening to the young entrepreneurs and take a specific actions such as deciding on which idea we’re going to invest in but performing everything through creative ways of questioning, talking getting external/ internal perspectives, researching. This happened last week during presentation pitch. Additionally, I tried to look on how young entrepreneurs position themselves, how do they promote, would that be something that is in demand looking from both fff mission and the idea per se. Overall, all the entrepreneurs showed a strong maturity, passion and frankly I was positively surprised about their abilities to step back, envision the future and in the same time knowing how to not jeopardize any percentile of their idea. Nevertheless, indeed just as in my grandpa case, have to admit that some of their idea will also face some breakdowns but I’m confident enough that this will only motivate these young entrepreneurs to be global agents for change in the future!
Thursday, April 30, 2009
This could clearly be seen in the pitches and the presentations. Those pitches, such as Out Against Abuse, which strove to accomplish so much (campus awareness, rape kit production, web resource, computer literacy training etc.) ended up not developing each idea to its fullest extent because it wanted to accomplish too much too soon. Other organizations, such as Public Stuff, which had a very narrow focus, was able to develop a strong well-rounded and confident idea because resources where funneled into developing one product and one service.
I believe this is an issue of utmost importance for anybody considering an investment in anything. In order to ensure that the absolute best decision it taken, an investor, or more specifically a social investor, must attempt to see the idea from as many different viewpoints as possible. Having this opportunity allows them to see what is present in every opinion, and what is ultimately just opinion. This will allow anybody to get to the heart of the idea which they are investing in, something which is clearly of utmost importance.
This is just another example of how being open to as many new and different ideas is very important regardless of what you are doing in life. It will allow you to work infinitely better with different people and cultures and will ultimately allow you to have a much thorough understanding of the world that we live in.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Clearly that skepticism was unfounded. Not only was it beneficial to add a personal element to each nomination, but indeed I think every group learned much more about each nomination, and gained valuable insight into the endeavors. Beyond learning about the initiatives, the entire exercise was beneficial and informative for us as Student Directors of FFF, and gave us a first-hand look at another part of the process.
Though Climate Change and Energy only heard from one of our nominations, it was a great experience for all. I encourage you all to check out Girl Guides USA.
Our last class, the FFF pitch session, was as important and educational as only a youth group meeting can be. I believe that all of us gained a lot in terms of new ideas and plans of action from the guests. I did not only enjoy the session, but I also learnt how young people can motivate other young individuals achieve their goals, dreams and ideas. The Q&A part was immensely helpful for our portfolio decisions, but at the same time it contributed to our better understanding of each project.
My take away memo from the pitch session was that everyone, especially young people, has their own personal ideas for which they live, dream and make plans. Natalia's interactive question that made us all stand up for having ideas and sit down for not being able to fund them is a vivid example that funding is a major obstacle. Quoting Buddha by his words that “An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea" tells us that no matter how interesting and fascinating an idea could be, if it is not put into action, it is not as important as it could be with a little more action, i.e. investing.
All I am trying to say is that Yes, we all have ideas and Yes, we all need money to make those ideas true. However, finding those money is the hardest part. I appreciate the fact that we, the FFF students directors, had the chance to meet with other young individuals that showed us their ideas and inspired us even more. Even though I am part of the health portfolio group I would like to see not only the health projects put into action. I would love to see ALL of them come true. But how??? All of us were deeply interested in the pitch session and that was proven by our questions, participation and interviews. On the other side of the story is the truth that none of us can practically (meaning financially) help those motivated individuals. I want to take an action, but I can't invest with money in all those great projects. It seems like our next step should be finding a way to make other people interested into those projects, people with money and a little more power. We, the FFF students and youth directors, might not be able to be the real investors, but we can take the initiative to involve other people into this great activity.
To me the pitch session was a meeting for youth to inspire other youth. Let's make youth inspire investors and thus invest in the success of others' great ideas. Funding should not be the reason why we should sit down, but the reason we would stand up and fight for.
Having had a chance to go through the investor pitch last week, I feel obliged to share my feelings on how one’s initial criticism toward an organization can be so effectively defeated by the ability of its representative to be capable of defending itself, while organizations that are well prepared for presenting yet do not offer the expertise to answer criticism, or are even offered criticism, frequently appear lackluster and disappointing.
It should come as no surprise that our group, when asked to consider Girl Guides USA, was nonplussed by the wide range of similarities the group seemed to have to the ages old and familiar Girl Scouts, including the very fact that they both shared funding in some respects. However, our criticism and skepticism proved valuable insofar as we never reached the point of completely dismissing the organization in our minds. Thus, when the presenter was asked to defend her organization in regards to the heavy criticisms we had been able to find, she was able to answer very harsh questions and prove her organization’s ideals to be resilient both in the face of close competition and investor criticism. We were, to say the least, impressed with her answers and all commended her for being so involved with her organizations goals.
Yet in another presentation that was not aimed to our group, I felt the a negative experience emanating. The presentation was given in a very wooden manner with well prepared, but static, responses that did not convey a feeling of actual belief on the part of the presenter. The questions asked were detailed, but not critical, and the answers given on the part of the presenter were accordingly free to just regurgitate more statistics and promises. I would have appreciated both harsher questioning on the part of my fellow directors, and an increased degree of personal input on the part of the presenter. The negative combination we saw in this incident had me imagining that we could have replaced the speaker with a computer with voice recognition software to read off parts of the website to the directors when questioned.
I feel that these investor pitch events are ideal situations in which we can put good potential projects on the defensive through our heated questions. When we demand answers to real criticism that is inherent in any organizational structure, we get farther as an organization and come to trust the people who are selling the idea to us more.
All the initiatives that were presented last week clearly reflected the passion, energy and consideration that their architects had already invested in them. Taken as a whole, they were diverse, and separately, all ideas were original and well-suited. Somebody had a plan to improve health primary health care in Mali, and somebody else was helping underprivileged Indian women to achieve higher education. What’s more, all entrepreneurs were young! Not only did they display confidence and ability, but also great potential for future growth. Before, the general mindset was to timidly wait for those more experienced to come up with solutions. Now, if you have an idea, you have the responsibility to take action yourself!
As a student director for the poverty alleviation portfolio I was very excited for the two projects we are considering, Illume and Early Earners. The pitch session provided us the opportunity not only to clarify some aspects of the proposals, but also to meet the people behind the ideas. Talking to the entrepreneurs gave me a better understanding of how the experience is for them as well, and I trust that we are now better equipped to evaluate the challenges and strengths of our investment choices.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Monday, February 23, 2009
Through FFF, social investment--how we give and direct philanthropic capital, is a new form of activism, and becomes a means of global civic engagement. To pursue youth social investment as action, we need a better handle on how we give today and how we can imagine giving in the future. So, take a moment of reflection and let us know: what is your current thinking about social giving? What are your associations with and assumptions about strategic philanthropy? What is your experience if any as a social investor? How do you see young adults and college students as philanthropists? Look around and tell us what you see as the most creative, innovative trends in youth giving. And stretch your imagination: if you could forecast youth social investment 10 years into the future, what would it look like? Paint a picture of the Fast Forward Fund on its 10th Anniversary.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Who inspires you? When we think about who inspires social change, great names come to mind: historic leaders and heroes, philosophers and visionaries, activists and martyrs, writers and artists. But when you consider who really shapes your personal approach to making a difference in the world, very often it’s someone far closer to home: a working mom or step-father, a 2nd grade teacher, a wise co-worker, a childhood friend, your first love. Someone who’s life has personally touched yours.
An old family friend and mentor of mine, Don Gould, “Uncle Donny” to me, was a huge figure in my young adult life, at 6’4” literally towering over my 5’1.75” frame (all people under 5’2” know their height to an eighth of an inch!). He used to talk about needing both “a push and a pull” to create real social change, whether that plays out in your personal life, your professional arena, or the wider world around you. The push for change comes from the challenges, trials, problems and unsolved puzzles that keep you up at night. The pull comes from the opportunities, dreams, visions, hopes, and possibilities that get you up in the morning. Of all the lessons he taught me, this “push-pull” dynamic is the one I keep recalling as I consider what it takes to be an effective social investor, what it might take to drive the global social agenda today.
I see this push-pull dynamic emerge as a common theme underlying the successful social change-makers profiled in Elkington & Hartigan’s book, The Power of Unreasonable People. These social entrepreneurs transform global challenges (that’s the “push”) into market opportunities (that’s the “pull”), corresponding to the U.N. Millennium Development Goals. Looking through a Fast Forward Fund lens, these opportunities cultivate the field of social investments we’ll be considering as FFF builds up its portfolios this year in four areas: climate change and energy, global health, poverty alleviation, and human rights & peace.
As you consider social investment opportunities, ask yourself this: what is your push and what is your pull? What keeps you up at night, and what gets you up in the morning? Let us know! We want to hear from you. How you answer these questions may serve to guide you well in deciding where and how to direct your social investments, and guide us as we shape the Fast Forward Fund and prepare to launch at CGIU.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) is a hot topic, made hotter by the vision of an Obama-inspired era of service coupled with the reverberating shock waves of devastating financial crisis. In case there was any doubt, the recent panel “Different Faces of Socially Responsible Investment” (presented by New York Women Social Entrepreneurs held at Columbia University) attracted a highly engaged, standing-room only crowd, even on an icy cold, January, NYC weeknight. Two thoughts linger from our discussion:
- there’s no substitute for integrity, and
- the best question was the one not asked.
Let’s start with the unasked question.
Funny thing is, while I loved participating as one of the “faces of SRI” on the panel, at times I wondered if I was in the right place, or if the panel had the right name. Why? Because our start-up, the Fast Forward Fund, isn't an SRI fund; FFF is a youth Social Investment venture. What’s the difference? SRI is a financial investment strategy; “social investment” is a philanthropic strategy. So, while I jumped in and enjoyed the provocative discussion swirling around the question of what is a socially responsible investment, here’s what we didn’t ask: what is a responsible social investment?
The distinctions between socially responsible investments and social investments may blur or overlap, especially as new investment models emerge and merge. But for now, I think the question of what makes a financial investment socially responsible is fundamentally different from what makes philanthropy responsible. It’s the latter that grabs me. How do you know if a social investment is responsible?
I suggest looking at three things: the soundness of social investment vehicle itself, compatibility with social investor profile, and (perhaps, most importantly and elusively) integrity.
First of all, know where your social investment goes. We have more capacity than ever today to assess the operational, financial, and social soundness of social investments. Online tools like Guidestar, Charity Navigator, and other hubs of nonprofit management information, offer good, though limited (and potentially contorted) snap-shots of organizations in the social sector. Responsible social investments consider available information from primary and secondary sources indicating how effectively the operation is run, how impact is measured, how finances are managed, how an organization is developed and how it is responsive to its mission and stakeholders.
Secondly, know who you are, or want to be, as a social investor. I say “social investor” rather than “philanthropist” here because I want to emphasize that the way we give, the way we direct capital to social causes, is a real investment with real returns and real impact. As social investors, we need to choose social investments reflecting our own investor profiles. Just as financial portfolios reflect investor profile in terms of capacity, style, risk threshold, financial goals, etc., so should social investment portfolios. Responsible social investments match investor interests, capacity, style, commitment, engagement, and philanthropic goals.
Finally, the heart of responsible social investment comes down to integrity. I raised this issue as the panel discussed governance and how we ensure that we’re doing the best work we can do as social entrepreneurs. While we talked about the challenges and importance transparency, leadership development, internal performance measurements, benchmarks and other governance metrics, I suggested there was another piece that may be even harder to address: we really need to talk about integrity. While perhaps immeasurable in quantifiable terms, integrity in governance is indispensable to doing your best work in social investment. Most of us recognize its quality when it is present, and notice when it is absent. Integrity is more than workplace ethics, though that’s essential, too. It’s about bringing a sense of wholeness to our work, and deriving a sense of respect, creativity, growth and fulfillment. The integrity of social investment establishes its reputation, enhancing its ability to recruit talent, attract investors, forge collaborative partnerships, and optimize social impact. Thinking about what is responsible social investment brings me back to my other key take-away: there’s just no substitute for integrity.