May 9, 2016
Later this month, the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) will be held in Istanbul, Turkey. The summit is a “call to action” by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to create collective solutions to address the growing, global human suffering caused by conflict and natural disasters.
WHS is focusing on a theme of transformation through innovation. In their words, attendees will be discussing topics that can apply to any growing enterprise:
These are the very questions that we hear every day from social enterprises, NGOs, and other organizations speaking with TaroWorks about how they can create social change at scale.
So we thought we’d outline three key requirements of turning “transformation through innovation” from a vision into a reality: (1) good data (2) collaboration across sectors and (3) sustained funding.
Transformation through innovation requires good data.
Good data is essential to growing, iterating, and scaling operations, whether you’re dealing with a humanitarian, development, or for-profit mission.
Unfortunately, many of us don’t have access to good data. Recently, the UN launched a partnership to address the “data crisis at the heart of development“. Targets such as the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are based on decades-old information, metrics are known to be wildly inaccurate (i.e., one-third of births and two-thirds of deaths and causes are unregistered), and unstandardized data prohibits aggregation between partners and countries.
In a similar vein, a recent Forbes article titled “Can Silicon Valley’s Big Bet On Agriculture Help Small-Scale Farmers In Developing Countries?” noted that entrepreneurs in developing countries all “face a common set of challenges around how to better gather, analyze, and disseminate data to inform decision making.”
Every entrepreneur needs good data to accurately set goals and monitor progress, analyze trends for operational insights, and have the information needed to make decisions on how to best develop, pivot, and scale. As one UN partner put it, “We need to know what we’re doing, where we’re doing it, how we’re doing it, and what we’re planning to achieve” in order to transform, innovate, and implement.
While the technology exists to provide data, analysis, and communication, more often than not, it isn’t adapted for the realities of working in rural areas across the last mile. That’s why TaroWorks and other service providers are focused on ensuring that any organization working in any context can get the good data that’s critical for innovation.
Transformation through innovation requires collaboration across sectors.
The WHS isn’t the only forum emphasizing collaboration in response to humanitarian crises – DevEx recently featured Airbnb’s disaster response program.
They have a team dedicated to building relationships with city, regional and national officials, as well as NGOs, in preparation for disaster response to match relief workers with empty beds (such as after the Nepal earthquake in April 2015). In addition, Airbnb has joined Silicon Valley companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to create a Silicon Valley Disaster Group to come up with the core components of support that each organization can provide for disaster relief.
While it’s great that the tech community is coming together to provide global support, this type of collaboration isn’t enough – collaboration across sectors is required for transformation through innovation with a social impact.
A great example of cross-sector partnership to create social innovation is The Girl Effect Accelerator.
Wanting to change the unfortunate reality that there are still more than 250 million girls living in poverty, the Nike Foundation and Unreasonable Group partnered on this accelerator program. They identified existing social ventures who were locally driven, aid-independent, financially sustainable, already quantifiably benefitting girls in poverty, and had the potential to be scaled globally. They provided these entrepreneurs with mentorship, financing, and a global network of support to scale their operations and impact to the next level.
We need more examples of sharing skills, connections, and funding across sectors – otherwise, we’ll never be able to achieve transformation through innovation nearly as quickly in our own sector/industry silos.
Transformation through innovation requires sustained funding.
The WHS site contains white papers addressing the “transformation through innovation” theme. One of the selected submissions is entitled “Scaling: Innovation’s Missing Middle”; it addresses the humanitarian’s sector failure to scale innovations and identifies one reason as the short-sighted view of most funding grants.
Funders have their specific investment “sweet spots” – and don’t get me wrong, it’s ideal (from both sides of the aisle) to have this focus. But because many funders like to support new, sexy innovations…and many others like to support well-established, mature operations, there is a gap in the funding community for those who are willing to back organizations moving beyond pilots and initial scaling.
In a past life, I fundraised for an organization emerging from a start-up scaling mode and had repeated conversations with funders to explain that we’d matured. While we were no longer growing at 150 percent year-over-year (the law of large numbers), we were having more of an impact at a lower cost than ever before. Many funders attracted to the idea of helping spark new initiatives thought we didn’t need them anymore…but they were actually pulling their investment at a critical growth point for our organization and when the social return on their investment was at its highest point to date.
For growth to push past innovation into scale into maturity, we need funders who are willing to sustain their investment through all growth stages.
So there you have it – our take on the three key ingredients to take “transformation through innovation” from a vision into a reality: good data, collaboration, and sustained funding.
Questions or comments? Feel free to reach out to Brenda directly via brenda [at] taroworks.org!
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