Monday, 14 April 2014

3 things philanthropists can do to support innovation

This blog is based on an article that I co-wrote with my Numbers4Good co-founder Bertrand Beghin in Philanthropy Impact Magazine.

Philanthropy is at an exciting place on the world stage; it is at the forefront of solving some of the world’s global issues, yet people are realising that individual governments, businesses and voluntary sector organisations – or philanthropists – don’t have the whole answer. Conversations at Davos earlier this year were peppered with the role of philanthropy in working with government, civil society and business and the World Economic Forum has recently created a Foundations Community. In 19th and 20th Century Britain, pioneering social innovations came to the fore such as the ragged school movement, new models of childcare developed by Barnado, social housing pioneered by Peabody and Joseph Rowntree transformed social care.

More recently – from the Teach First/Teach for All models to microfinance – social innovation has changed the lives of millions of people trapped in poverty around the world. However, with youth unemployment hitting pandemic levels globally and climate change racing out of control, there is a real need for innovations to come to the fore to tackle some of our world’s greatest challenges. So how can we ensure that innovations don’t just remain ideas but are piloted and have sustainable business models moving into the future?

Here are a few ways philanthropists can support social innovation:
  1. Run a challenge prize: Challenge prizes – financial awards for ideas that aim to solve specific challenges – have a long history; the Longitude Prize helped pioneer the chronometer 300 years ago to the more recent Ansari X Prize on space travel. Over the past decade, there has been an increased amount of challenge prizes in social innovation; ranging from the excellent work by Nesta and their Centre for Challenge Prizes to the Hult Prize and the D Prize.
  2. Support a social incubator: Social incubators are organisations that offer intense support to social enterprise start-ups. The UK Government has been very active in this space by providing match funding through the Social Incubator Fund. We are working with Healthbox and UCLB (UCL's spin out organisation) spin out  to set up an incubator in health. Other incubators include the Young Academy’s work on education, Social Incubator North and UnLtd-Wayra – a collaboration between UnLtd (the UK’s Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs) and Telefonica/O2’s technology innovation unit.
  3. Build a venture philanthropy fund: Venture philanthropy takes concepts and techniques from the venture capital sector, such as finance and business management strategies and applies them to achieving philanthropic goals. It works to build stronger social purpose organisations by providing them with both financial and non-financial support in order to increase their societal impact. Outstanding examples of venture philanthropy funds include Impetus-PEF focusing on education and employment. 
If you're interested in thinking through how to judge how powerful a social innovation could be, do check out my 8Ps of Powerful Social Innovation.

I'd love to know your thoughts on how philanthropy can support innovation. Do get in touch with any ideas!

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