Radical Collaboration, Cautions for Philanthropy, and Inspiration: 3 Themes from SWF 2019

Skoll World Forum Panel on Government PartnershipsAt the 16th annual Skoll World Forum, social entrepreneurs, funders, government officials, and others from across 81 countries gathered to explore the theme of Accelerating Possibility.  It was an inspiring week discussing what we have accomplished in social impact and all that remains to be done.  As I reflect on the panels, keynotes, and conversations had during walks around Oxford, three themes continue to resonate:

 

1. RADICAL COLLABORATION WITH GOVERNMENT PARTNERS:

Radical collaboration opportunities have the power to drive large-scale change. And we know that partnerships between social enterprises and government are one of those critical pathways to scale, but also so challenging to get right. So I was thrilled to lead a session on “Scaling Health Solutions through Government Partnerships” highlighting collaborations between Lesotho’s Ministry of Health and Partners in Health as well as Liberia’s Ministry of Health and Last Mile Health.   These powerful partnerships are rejecting the status quo in which half of the world’s population lacks access to essential health services.  Key insights included:

  • The importance of clarifying partnership goals, whether those include having government outsource to the social enterprise to deliver goods and services, getting government to adopt and implement solutions themselves, or working together to change policy.
  • The social enterprise’s role in piloting and de-risking. For example, Partners in Health first piloted and proved that a community health worker model could work in some of the most isolated areas of Lesotho. With this evidence (of impact and cost feasibility), the risks were lessened for the Ministry of Health and so PIH and the Ministry embarked on national health care reform efforts to scale the work nationally.
  • The criticality of co-creating solutions. As Raj Panjabi, founder of Last Mile Health, quoted: “It’s amazing how much you can achieve if you don’t care who gets the credit.” Last Mile Health realized that promoting their specific model and getting credit wasn’t as important as co-creating solutions with government to meet aligned goals and get to the ultimate outcome of universal health coverage. The government representatives echoed this time and again – the social ventures that they partner with are those that come in with a collaborative mindset, not narrowly tied to their specific solution.

For tactics and advice on effectively partnering with government, check out CASE’s latest paper in the Scaling Pathways series, “Leveraging Government Partnerships for Scaled Impact.” For more takeaways from the Skoll World Forum session, read here.

 

2. THE CATALYTIC ROLE OF PHILANTHROPY – WITH CAUTION

Co-Impact – a collaborative funding partnership that supports proven health, education, and economic opportunity initiatives – recently announced its first funding round, allocating more than $80 million to five initiatives.  Olivia Leland, founder and CEO of Co-Impact, and Sally Osberg, former President of the Skoll Foundation, talked about the powerful role that collaborative philanthropy can play in bringing partners and stakeholders to the same table, listening intently to these parties, and providing risk capital early and often throughout a scaling journey rather than going after “safe bets.”

But – in the wake of the recent book, “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World” and other criticisms of philanthropy – there were also cautions shared about philanthropy’s role. Safeena Husain, founder of Educate Girls – an Indian NGO working to increase enrollment and attendance for girls as well as improve learning outcomes for all children – spoke of her experience working with philanthropists and investors to implement the world’s first Development Impact Bond (DIB) for education.  The results were incredible – 92% of out-of-school girls were enrolled and learning results moved 160% by end of year 3 (equating to roughly an additional year of schooling)! But Safeena cautioned that “DIBs are really sharp tools that can chop your fingers off!”  She noted that results-based focused funders can unintentionally drive money towards things that are easily measured, and away from less measurable outcomes like social justice or larger systems change.

Safeena’s concerns were echoed by Edgar Villaneuva, author of “Decolonizing Wealth,” who asked: “Who gets to make the decisions about how wealth is distributed? Who gets to allocate the money and to whom?” In a session called “Is Philanthropy Part Of The Solution Or The Problem?,” Villaneuva described philanthropy as often “top-down, closed door, and expert driven” and encouraged funders to show up, listen, and truly understand what a community needs to drive systems change.

To read more about the Skoll World Forum session on philanthropy, read here.  For ways funders are trying to overcome implicit bias in funding decisions, read here.  For more about Educate Girls’ DIB experience and other tips on funding the scaling journey, check out “Financing for Scaled Impact.”

 

3. FEELING INSPIRED

Of course, no Skoll World Forum would be complete without celebrating the new Skoll Awardees for Social Entrepreneurship. Five organizations received the award along with $1.5 million in core support investments from the Skoll Foundation. These organizations are tackling broken systems, seemingly intractable problems, but truly “accelerating possibility” by surfacing scalable solutions.

Nicola Galombik and Maryana Iskander of Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator are revolutionizing the South African youth labor market – facing one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world – with 100,000 job placements and 500 business partnerships to date.  Harambee is continuing to innovate as they scale, with Iskander reminding us to, “keep falling in love with the problem and keep not staying in love with our own solutions.”

In a world in which 1 in 3 to 1 in 5 young people have contemplated suicide, Nancy Lublin and her team are changing the outlook on mental health. Crisis Text Line has built a 24/7 mental health support service through 100 million text conversations and Lublin assured all listening, “You are stronger than you know. And if you ever doubt that, we got you.”

Gregory Rockson, founder of mPharma, which fixes the broken drug supply chain in Africa to make medicine accessible and affordable, reflected on the challenge his organization faces: “Knowing that millions of Africans have to make a daily choice between buying their insulin or providing food for their family; between paying to see a doctor or paying for their child to see a teacher – these should not be the choices people make in a just society.”

But his rallying call was one for all of us to heed in our ongoing work to scale solutions to the world’s greatest challenges: “Sometimes a life appears broken, a challenge unsolvable. But our world is too beautiful to give up on our dreams for it.”