I just loved this headline in last Sunday’s NYT Magazine.

So I was seduced into reading the piece, even though I have no special interest in education philanthropy. The format was an edited transcript of a conversation amongst several leading lights in the education field.

Setting aside the education I received on the topic at hand (one-fourth of all foundation giving goes to education, etc.), I was most struck by some observations that apply in any arena of social change.

1. How slow both funders and practitioners have been to focus on and measure outcomes, versus process or inputs.

2. How inexplicit all the players can be about their theory of change … what is it and how will we know if we’re right … before just plowing ahead?

3. The fundamental classic choice that often must be made between strategies built upon reforming from within through progressive leaders, versus challenging "the system" through disruptive outsiders.

4. The critical role played by truly successful social entrepreneurs … in other words, the importance of finding and betting on exceptionally talented individuals. They are worth their weight in gold … far more valuable than your most successful hedge fund manager!

If both funders and practitioners would give a lot more careful, systematic thought to these four areas, whatever their substantive areas of focus, before the money gets spent, maybe the world would become a better place faster.

Tom

 

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