Sunday, September 13, 2009

Social Innovation while wrestling w/new Blackberry

Last week, Fast Forward Fund had its final interview with Social Venture Network judges and professional staff for SVN's Social Innovation Award. Except for my mortification at not being able to figure out how to mute my new fancy schmancy Blackberry during the interview, I enjoyed and valued the experience immensely. Totally impressed with SVN's process, caliber of judges questions & engagement, stellar roster of fellow finalists. Thrilled, honored, humbled to be selected as finalist, and in such good company, for this award. One of the best parts of the interview was a fun & provocative question posed at the beginning: what's the most surprising thing that's come up for FFF in past 2-3 weeks? My answer: seeing how many cool SoCap09 people already knew about Fast Forward, that we've come so much further than I'd realized while simultaneously have so much further to go, and that there is even greater demand and opportunity than I'd imagined to build the pipeline for Next Gen social investors!

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 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?


  1. I see that CGI's annual meeting will be focused on "investing in girls and women." That really excites me! My big question is how accessible and/or relevant the discussions and decisions that will happen among world leaders on this issue at CGI can be to me? I care a lot about this issue, and I'm curious if part of their discussion will include how (young, female) activists can be involved in achieving the goals and commitments that they set out at the conference.

  2. What advice would you give to a university student who's seeking to create a project eligible for CGIU recognition? Where should she start? What helpful suggestions do you have that she might not figure out on her own?

  3. I see that under the topic "Harnassing Innovation for Development", one of the four "Action Areas" that the Clintong Global Initiative have compiled for the 2009 conferent, is the subtopic "Driving disruptive innovation from the base of the pyramid." My main question relates to whether this is in fact an oxymoronic objective or, more accurately, whether it is an oxymoronic objective when addressed from the perspective of the CGI conference which is so far from the base of the pyramid. I would like to see more constructive consideration of the many aspects of trying to drive innovation from an outside perspective, where this can be a counterproductive endeavor (failing to bring about the ability of that segment of the pyramid to drive its own innovation), and how this can be avoided. So, I suppose my question is: Is this really possible? And, if so, how?

  4. "I see that there are many commitment ideas involving education, and those that mobilize college students into activities. In my own activism, I have come to experience that a very powerful tool in addressing social issues is peer awareness. Are there any opportunities, or can you provide for a space in which a commitment to peer education can take place? What comes immediately to mind is a workshop scenario, and lecture series that teach about different systems of oppression (such as racism, classism, patriarchy, homophobia, etc.). Because many of the issues being brought to the table stem in a history of oppressive events and system structures, understanding where we stand in respect to the past seems like an ideal starting point to mobilize college aged students as well as society at large."

  5. I love the path that the CGI U is leading to; because it saws that there are lot of students who cares about the Global South and their lack of opportunities. I am glad that CGI's annual meeting will be focused on "investing in girls and women." I think they should focus more on women and young girls’ education, because as a girl who grew up in Senegal, West Africa, I know that education is not the number one priority for most of the young women in the Global South. I believe that the CGI U can help make a difference in these girls and women’ lives by providing them educational opportunities. Sir Francis Bacon states, “Knowledge is power.”

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  7. Stephanie UrugutiaOctober 13, 2009 at 8:04 PM

    question for CGI: How do we reconcile cultural preferences with services that encourage reproductive health and family planning? Is teaching young women traditional health health practices an option? What demographic is CGI targeting for young women's health?