March 2011

With support from the Rockefeller Foundation, I spent the better part of a year exploring the scaling of innovation with an eye towards developing a new kind of tool kit to assist those looking to create large-scale social change. I admit that the challenges are formidable with the backdrop of “evidence-based practice”, proprietary ownership, and a paucity of research and development capacity within citizen sector organizations.

Introduction: The Water Supply
In 1996, chef, author, and grand dame of California cuisine Alice Waters began a simple and modest program at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King, Jr. middle school: a one-acre organic garden and kitchen classroom harvested and run by students.i MLK’s young gardeners will likely pick their first potato or carrot from the Edible Schoolyard’s fertile soil, but what is more remarkable is the velocity with which her idea has entered the national consciousness. Less than fifteen years since Waters planted the first Edible Schoolyard, its grounding ethos — of expanding access to local, fresh, healthy, and “slow” food — has grown to maturity. Michelle Obama, at Waters’ urging, created a 1,500 square foot garden at the White House that produced more than 1,000 pounds of food last year. Social and traditional media outlets are also promoting a vision of putting innovation into the water supply through blogs, organizations such as Slow Food International, and popular best sellers such as Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

The burgeoning growth of the slow food movement and its related tributaries — locavorism, sustainable agriculture, and organic farming raises questions about scale and impact. In the case of Alice Water’s inspiration, it is clear that issues of local context, adaptive potential, and alternative methods to scaling and riffing on an idea fueled one another to create impact. This paper draws upon the notions embodied in the Edible Schoolyard, exploring innovation from a variety of vantage points, and culminates with suggestions for organizations reflecting on scaling and impact. It is motivated by the belief that social innovations often grow differently from private-sector corporations, they are directly intertwined with relationships and local adaptations, and that social innovators must rely on a unique and flexible toolkit to bring their ideas to life and allow them to flourish in new and unimagined ways.

A Look at Today
Social innovators, and American ones in particular, spend an inordinate about of time and resources building institutions and too little time nurturing and testing powerful ideas. Practitioners have relied on the language of growth provided by the private sector, and have emphasized protocols and accountability rules, often at the expense of adaptability. Ironically, most successful for-profits have a build-in and funded research and development team; for the nonprofit sectors, this is a luxury rarely in place.

During this time of reduced funds and resources, donors — both private and governmental — have seemingly institutionalized the mantra of evidence-based practice, stunting fresh ideas that emerge from outside the status quo. Competitive federal grants, for example, require strict adherence to guidelines from “experts”, reward rote and tested models with little regard to geographic or cultural nuances, and set the agenda for measuring impact. Social innovators, on the otherhand, are more likely to think about alterations or improvements. How can existing processes or programs be altered? How can we tap existing social capital of those needing support or services? Should we sever some programs in an effort to fortify those that will likely lead to impact related to our mission?

There is growing evidence that social innovations have the most potential to grow when they are put into the water supply and allowed to percolate from below.ii For example, in the disability community in Vancouver, Canada, families are creating their own solutions about planning for the care of their disabled children upon their illness or death. They organized, helped pass legislation, and used principles from a variety of innovations to frame a financial and emotional support network. They looked for similar patterns within other communities to create larger strategic alliances, a powerful network, and ownership of their issues. iii

While the concept of “the water supply” may be as diffuse as it is evocative, it highlights the importance of organic evolution and cultural connectivity. Putting innovation into the water supply takes shape around a few basic ideas: that social innovations should be context-driven, asset-based and, to the extent possible, motivated and resourced by local communities; that practitioners should encourage riffing and dialogue, learning from each other rather than building silos; and that risks should be harnessed and exploited by forward-thinking donors and their partners in practice. These principles are not easy to implement. But emerging tools such as design thinking, crowd sourcing and user-led growth promise an auspicious start.

Design thinking enables a creative learning environment that brings local solutions to the surface by searching for positive deviance — rare examples of sustained outliers in the local community.iv Positive deviance can come in many forms. It can be a single healthy child in a community that suffers from chronic childhood illness or a single school in a school district that continually outperforms others. Design thinkers find these positive deviants, learn from the causes of their success, and find ways to implement social innovations that make use of these insights. Some social problems are best combated with the advice and action of a few experts; many more, however, require broad-based engagement from multiple stakeholders. Crowd sourcing is a way for social innovators to engage self-selecting stakeholders quickly and effectively, and at little cost. Through the interconnectivity of social networking platforms, crowd-sourcing innovators can build reliable databases, develop large and disaggregated funding bases, and generate action-oriented knowledge that cuts through institutional bureaucracy.v

Beyond learning from the wisdom of crowds, social innovators can engage users directly in the provision of services, sometimes even creating completely user-led organizational structures. Whether editing a page on Wikipedia, lending $25 to a Senegalese mother through, or sending road conditions to a Twitter feed, the aggregate impact of the free labor of millions of engaged citizens can be enormous. But user-led organizations (ULOs) need not be based solely on social networking. They can operate on a smaller scale, as does Parent Leadership Action Network (PLAN) and Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard. Most importantly, they engage people in something they want to be doing, and build connections between

A Glance into History
The challenge of turning successful local interventions into broad-based social movements has confounded and inspired researchers for decades. As Lisbeth Schorr writes: “We have learned to create the small exceptions that can change the lives of hundreds. But we have not learned how to make the exceptions the rule to change the lives of millions.”vii

The pursuit of scale has been a feature of philanthropy and social investment for more than a century. When Andrew Carnegie, for example, pledged forty-one million dollars for the construction of 1,600 public libraries across the country, he did not just spend the money and wait for the cranes and work hands to start building. Rather, he established rules for accepting donations that would ensure scalability and long-term impact. Each town that received Carnegie’s support was required to provide a site for the library as well as tax revenue equal to ten percent of his donation to be used for building maintenance, book purchases, and staff salaries.viii By thinking about how to ensure future revenue streams, Carnegie was able to ensure his libraries remained functional long after his gift had subsided.

In the mid-20th century, as the railroad tycoon philanthropists of Carnegie’s era were supplanted by government, the scaling mantra shifted towards bundling policy-making with funding and research. In their book, High Performance Nonprofit Organizations, for example, the authors note that “many of the signature programs of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society agenda, administered through the War on Poverty Initiative, were developed and tested in demonstrations funded by the Ford Foundation.”ix The synergy between private donors, non-profits and government still operates today, but within a more diffuse and flexible context, and with different emphases. Whereas Carnegie and Johnson framed their efforts in concrete language of systemic change, contemporary innovators use a more step-wise, back and forth vocabulary. Schorr, whose career has spanned both paradigms, once again captures the moment: “No single, circumscribed program can turn things around in an entire community for a whole population…The interventions that turn around inner-city schools, strengthen families, and rebuild neighborhoods are…sprawling efforts with multiple components, some of which can be proven experimentally, but many can’t because they require midcourse corrections and adaptations to fit local circumstances.”x

This miniature history reinforces a single point: despite lessons learned from the past and miles of published research findings, the obstacles to achieving Schorr’s vision are numerous. No two communities are alike, and the best social innovations almost always emerge from their local context with its imprint apparent. Programs based on the charisma of a local leader will often witness the dilution of that leader’s influence as they grow.xi Organizations built around long-standing trust relationships between disparate members of a community will struggle to maintain those relationships in different places or periods of time.xii Governments and donors rarely have the capacity to learn intimately about the local context of the programs they fund; the information at their disposal is always incomplete.xiii Finally, all growing organizations must somehow maneuver the challenge of maintaining adaptability to local context while striving towards their founding goals. As organizations expand, it is common for incentives to become muddled, even perverse, eliciting a barrage of challenging questions: How do you grow while continuing to remain flexible enough to deliver high impact products or services? How do you integrate new technologies amidst fickle fiscal and political winds? The decisions organizations make while traversing these challenges will shape their ability to sustain themselves — or better yet, sustain their ideas for the long term.

Rethinking the Toolkit
In addition to the inherent challenges of growth, social innovators have been hindered by an ineffective toolkit — a set of working principles that are proving inadequate within new global and technological contexts. Three, out of many, pose the most challenge:

Proprietary Ownership: American social innovators are married to proprietary models of product distribution — too often, they believe that patenting and charging money for use of their tools and services is the only way to remain competitive. Clearly, for some, this is the case, especially as they explore internally what particular elements are creating success and deciphering which components have universality. For example, the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) in New York engaged consultants to conduct a formal evaluation and work with a steering committee of the Board of Trustees to learn how to improve outcomes and specifically, job placement retention, before defining a scalable method. CEO clearly understood the inherent value as well as the challengexiv of preserving the core while innovating at the same time.xv Engaging consultants can be very costly; few innovators have access to such large sums of money or time as they struggle to fund the right match of services and products.

In trying to maintain ownership of their ideas, many have forfeited their best opportunities to expand. The parable of Voxiva and Ushahidi, as told by Timothy Ogden on the Harvard Business Review website, is a telling example.xvi Voxiva is an American-run, socially oriented corporation that uses cell phone technology to streamline health delivery systems in 14 countries around the world. Their data collection system is inherently proprietary, and, according to Ogden, can cost as much as one million dollars to operate due to its complexity. Ushahidi, which is based in Kenya but relies on technologies developed in the United States and Europe, performs a comparable service. Its data-gathering platform, however, is nearly free to operate, simply using text messages from anyone to transmit time-sensitive information. In the language of the day, Ushahidi sources from the crowd, whereas Voxiva sources from a self-limiting user base. Ushahidi was instrumental in the response work following hurricanes in Haiti and Chile; so far, Voxiva’s reach has been shorter and its impact seemingly less significant.

Institutional Tunnel Vision: Social innovators often adopt the private sector’s penchant for institution building over idea building, manifest in franchising, licensing, and fee-for-service models. Allowing the institution to take center stage in an innovation’s growth ignores the fundamental heterogeneity of the way in which social innovations interact with communities and their citizens. The tale of a Pittsburgh learning center, told by Dees and Anderson in their essay, “Scaling Social Impact,” clarifies the point.xvii

In the 1970s, Bill Strickland, a Pittsburgh native and expert potter, found great success using the arts to rehabilitate at-risk kids in his inner city neighborhood. His compassion, skill, and intimacy with the community found expression in a high-impact after-school program. What began as a modest school program quickly grew into a community vocational training center, and, in 1987, a state-of-the-art, 62,000 square-foot facility boasting a jazz concert hall, several classrooms, and hi-tech scientific laboratories. Buoyed by ambition, Strickland envisioned a nation-wide network of 100 franchises based on the same model. According to Dees and Anderson, none have materialized to this date, despite great efforts. Strickland’s community art center was a perfect match for Pittsburgh, but was ill-suited elsewhere. Further, the intimate knowledge of Pittsburgh and its youth that Strickland was able to leverage in the pilot project was of little use at other project sites.xviii

Strickland’s case is not unique. As Mulgan et. al note, social innovation requires a combination of push and pull factors.xix Replication through franchise focuses on the push and often neglects the pull. The international development consultancy, Dalberg, for example, recently released a report arguing that “there are too many formidable obstacles to successful business format franchising in the frontier markets we researched.”xx Those obstacles make up the contours of local context – the pull factors – often forgotten in replication models. Local, family, and institutional cultures, economic class and diversity, and the unspoken politics of power are pull factors likely ignored. Yet it is the integration and acknowledgment of these factors that are critical to the creation of sustainable change and real impact.

Evidence-based Practice: A common practice in the non-profit sector, and one related to the institutional tunnel vision discussed above, is to fund “what works,” or, more accurately, what has been shown to work in the past.xxi While the gold standard is transparent evidenced based practices, there is an emerging middle bucket, promising practices, that recognizes good ideas and intentions.

Understandably, donors regularly base their funding decisions on past evidence, and practitioners routinely shape their proposals accordingly. It is worth noting that evaluations may be able to prove that something has worked in a particular context but that does not guarantee it will work elsewhere. And what worked in the past, may not necessarily work in the future. At best, strict evidence-based funding leads to consistency; at worst, it leads to stagnation and the silencing of fresh ideas. An important example and test case for the evidence-based doctrine is President Obama’s Promise Neighborhoods Initiative (PNI). This effort is directly based on the measured and sustained success of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), a novel education and development program based in the community that bears its name. Obama’s plan, in essence, seeks to replicate the HCZ by creating twenty Promise Neighborhoods in cities nationwide — and in so doing will shape the future use of replication as a means to scale.

In the case of HCZ, finding out what works is particularly difficult. In his New York Times column, David Brooks gushed that with the HCZ, “we may have found a remedy for the achievement gap.”xxii Brooks’ optimism comes from Harvard economist Roland Fryer’s research findings that a typical student entering the Promise Academy middle school will perform in the 39th percentile in verbal arts, but by eighth grade, the “typical student was in the 53rd percentile.” Further, the learning gap between black and white students is almost imperceptible.xxiii Taking these findings and translating them into a replicable model of “what works” in education reform, however, is an elusive challenge. “What is remarkable about the collection of activities that the Harlem program comprises,” writes Lisbeth Schorr, “is that they build on one another; each is shaped to add to and multiply the impact of others.”xxiv In other words, separating the aspects of the program that work from those that do not, and identifying those parts that will only work in Harlem and not in other communities, is a considerable and important challenge.

Just as evidence-based practice assumes that successes can be accurately and easily measured, it produces an institutionalized fear of failure. “The private sector talks about failure freely and candidly,” says Aleem Walji, practice manager for innovation at the World Bank, in a recent New York Times profile of FailFaire, a social gathering where high tech social innovators discuss their least successful ventures over finger food and cocktails. The non-profit world, he says, has to “worry about donors who don’t want to be associated with failure and beneficiaries who may not benefit from admissions of failure.”xxv The fear of failure, combined with the inherent challenge of identifying why some innovations succeed and others don’t, makes evidence-based practice more difficult than its name suggests.

Failure, especially when discussed in an open environment like FailFaire, provides a healthy set of incentives for innovators. Nonprofits, as much as for-profit organizations, must attempt to implement new approaches when faced with new challenges. Those that do not take risks and learn from what does not work will have trouble scaling from 1,000 beneficiaries to one million; the process of growing itself requires the flexibility to fail. This does not mean that risk taking should occur casually — taking risks that work requires careful analysis and planning as well as a willingness to reward innovative thinking and punish obsolescence. As Stephen Goldsmith notes, it is critical to see opportunity where others see liability, and to borrow financial and political capital to actualize an intervention strategy.xxvi Even when a carefully planned initiative does not work, a potential partner organization may be in a better position to implement an alternative or identify others with the potential to generate greater impact.

This paper is not unique in bringing attention to these problems, nor is this list exhaustive. Heather McLeod Grant and Leslie Crutchfield compiled a similar list, highlighting perfect management and high ratings on conventional metrics as two of six common myths about what distinguishes high and low-impact non-profits. They suggest that impact comes in many forms, sometimes through national recognition, as is the case with Teach for America, and sometimes in near obscurity, for example Self-Help.xxvii “We had assumed that there was something inherent in these organizations that helped them have great impact,” they write. “Instead, we learned that…high-impact non-profits work with and through organizations and individuals outside themselves to create more impact than they could have ever achieved alone.” In a similar vein, Gregory Dees and Beth Anderson lament the obsession with replication and institution-building among social entrepreneurs: “While neither of these concepts is inherently ill-conceived, failure to place them within a broader strategic framework can blind social sector leaders to promising options and bias them towards a limited set of strategies.”xxviii Jeffrey Bradach argues that it is actually donors’ predilection to fund “innovative, ‘break-through’ ideas” that acts as a barrier to impact.xxix Simple, commonplace interventions, he argues, are often overlooked in place of more complex ones, reinforcing the bias towards building institutional structure over the effectiveness and long-term sustainability of the intervention.

Social innovation research has made great progress in helping us understand the systematic challenges facing innovators, donors, and their clients during the process of scaling. So far, the visibility of these challenges has driven the scaling agenda, producing a reactionary toolkit that places too much emphasis on evidence, institutional structure, and internal rules, and control. The water supply offers a hopeful alternative, and its basic rudiments are palpable.


A Relational Paradigm
When Al Etmanski’s second daughter was born with Down Syndrome, he was a successful British Columbia social worker with experience organizing communities around social and economic justice issues. Her presence pushed him in a different path: organizing businesses and families to improve the lives of those living with disabilities. The result was the Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN), a community network that engages and supports disabled people before and after the time of their parent or guardian’s death.

Told as chronology, Etmanksi’s Ashoka fellowship-winning innovation seems intuitive: PLAN was the result of a skilled social entrepreneur following his own life’s challenges with reflection and drive. Contrasted with the status quo, however, PLAN proves its uniqueness. Sixty percent of its operating budget comes from parents of the disabled, placing them in majority control of the organization and limiting its dependence on outside funders. Further, PLAN has grown effortlessly and without aid of a robust infrastructure. From its origins in British Columbia, it has spread across Canada and is in the process of expanding to the United Kingdom and Australia. In each case, PLAN has partnered with organizations already on the ground, a practice that both solidifies its community base and enhances the effectiveness of its partners. Most striking is PLAN’s product: not a handout or direct service per se — though in some instances they do offer counseling and intervention services — but a constellation of relationships that form a community network to last its members a All members of the network experience mutual assistance — clients, donors, and the organization. All share power and thus all are comfortable with new variations of relationships. In this way, PLAN is a relational model.

Crucially, the PLAN approach eschews many of the scaling traps mentioned above. Exploiting the unshakable bond between parents and their children, PLAN’s organizational structure is inherently flexible and asset-based; it is driven by an idea, not by a set of organizing principles. And because the network participants are invested emotionally and financially, PLAN’s ability to grow is rooted in its ability to engage its participants, not in access to large, one-shot funding from donors or governments. PLAN is a textbook water supply innovation: it is community-based, idea-oriented, and maintains the pliability to reshape itself in different communities around the world.

Another, more visible example of the water supply in practice is Mohammad Yunus’s Grameen Bank, the standard-bearer for the micro-finance movement. A professional economist and financier, Yunus stumbled upon the micro-finance concept during the Bangladesh famine of 1974, the country’s worst in decades. The idea was not new: communal lending was fundamental to Ancient Greek society, and credit groups have existed for centuries in places as diverse as India, Ghana, Sri Lanka, and Bolivia.xxxi Yunus’s twenty-seven dollar loan to forty-two Bangladeshi families to purchase craft-making supplies during the famine — the impetus for the Grameen Bank and its subsequent offshoots — was thus a re-interpretation of a very old tradition.xxxii

Again, what is distinct about the Grameen bank and its offshoots is variation and flexibility. Yunus did not patent or claim propriety on his idea; he, like Etmanski, he merely followed it to its logical conclusion, allowing others to interpret the micro-finance innovation in other ways.xxxiii Consequently, micro-finance has taken root differently in the various places it has been practiced. In Kenya, for example, micro-financiers have often been affiliated with commercial banks, with micro-loans forming a significant portion of the finance sector. By contrast, in countries where finance has long been centered around international money transfers and remissions (many Central American countries fit this description), the micro-finance industry has partnered with money transfer agencies instead of the traditional banking sector.xxxiv Micro-finance has also seamlessly integrated into the international non-governmental organization (NGO) community., for example, offers a web-based platform where individuals in the United States and elsewhere can donate small amounts of money to individuals or groups around the world, grafting the micro-finance concept onto a state-of-the art social networking platform. Bornstein contends that all these iterations of the idea share a common fabric: “Like Grameen, they view people as clients, not beneficiaries, and they seek to provide them with the means to support themselves through dignified self-employment.”xxxv

Though distinct in place and spirit, Yunus’s micro-finance prototype, Etmanski’s PLAN, and Waters’ Edible Schoolyard carry shades of resemblance. Waters started with kids, engaged with elites, and used her fame to ensure her program’s success. PLAN used existing networks to identify interested parties and used families to solidify success. From this base, PLAN was able to navigate disability law to create a sustainable business model. And Yunus began humbly with a relational model of mutual assistance, and through vigorous community work and the power of his idea built a global network. They are all water supply innovations, and while there are clearly many more out there, they remain exceptional for their wide impact. Each of these examples reverse the trend of demonizing poor people and the neighborhoods to which they are connected. They recognize that people are experts in their own lives and have social networks and social capital to leverage, albeit, sometimes scant. And they leverage respect and consistency in the interaction between clients/participants and staff. Turning the lessons learned from these innovations into common practice will require a new toolkit for social innovation, including new ways of designing innovations, identifying impact, and procuring funds. We must engage everyone in solutions and ownership by affirming their expertise and knowledge. Three inter-related ideas offer a way forward: asset based program design, creative client/provider relationships, and space to innovate.

Asset based program design: Identify assets or strengths of your client population or context and leverage these to build upon or enhance a product or service. Doing so assures a means to leverage existing social capital and provides a means of early engagement and ownership by a variety of potential clients. Alice Waters began with what she knew (food and food-sourcing), used her own assets as well as those of her client base (students, farmers, and educators) and generated publicity through her engagement with policy makers, writers, and high profile politicians. Asset program design takes into serious consideration the strengths of staff and participants on any side of the equation — the context in which the service is being delivered — and designs flexible system structures that ensure ownership, growth, and experimentation. It does so by using creative, affirming questions, showing utmost respect, and being comfortable with ambiguity.

Creative client/provider relationships: It is critical that we encourage thinking outside of the normal client and provider relationships and recognize that a balance of power creates powerful and positive relationships. The voice and expertise of both clients and staff, should be at the fulcrum of a service or program, and efforts should be directed at supporting mutual assistance efforts with clients. Even when the power relationship is clearly not equal, as in the case of non-voluntary conditions (i.e. prisons, probation, parole, and child welfare), efforts must be made to respect and include the voice of those involved, both staff and clients. PLAN is an example where existing networks were engaged to identify interested parties — and clients quickly became providers while providers became clients. Mohammad Yunus, too, based his micro-finance practice on peer support and mutual assistance: women supported each other and were thus able to support their families and grow a healthier community. In both examples, all members of a network share its ownership.

Space to Innovate: Governmental and nongovernmental institutions and programs must place a premium on adaptability and creativity. Context, circumstances, partners, and technologies are all changeable and variable, making it necessary to allow for riffing and space to test and learn about new applications. Ideas must flow in all directions, and capturing them and trying new interventions is challenging, but necessary. Yunus didn’t patent his micro finance model; he generously noted the context of his experience and those of his clients in Bangladesh and freely talked with others interested in supporting small business enterprises. Finding and testing new methods to meet growing demand was encouraged, as shown by the diversity of forms the micro-finance model has taken.

Recommendations: A Platform for Self-Reflection
The examples discussed above all share features that social innovations can integrate into their work to expand scale and impact. Doing so requires serious self-reflection in every stage of development and a willingness to depart from our received notions of how to scale innovations. The following recommendations, followed by questions, should encourage this kind of reflection from both seasoned and novice social innovators, as well as members of the donor community. None are unique in and of themselves, and many authors, some of which are cited in this paper, have explicated numerous examples with components of the following:

1) Fund more small grants to incubate ideas, calibrate demand, and develop effective supply

  • How has your funding recipient/organization identified early adapters?
  • What relationships has your funding recipient/organization developed with other providers on the ground?
  • What relationships can you leverage with your client base?

2) Collaborate on funding projects to share expertise and improve governmental effectiveness

  • What can you or your recipients learn by sharing information with partners?
  • Are there membership organizations or governmental programs that can integrate your practice as early adopters?
  • How has your organization learned from for-profit organizations in terms of product development and client interaction?

3) Reduce risk of failure through national, collaborative challenges that force government and other donors to proactively learn about what is going on at a local level

  • How are you identifying and building upon the assets or strengths within your context?
  • What learning mechanisms exist within your recipient/organization?
  • Would you be willing to fund an organization a second time after an unsuccessful first attempt?

4) Place a premium on learning within your organization, possibly by giving out performance-based bonuses, to encourage the powering of ideas, flexibility, and adaptability

  • Are your staff hours convenient for your clients, or are they convenient for your staff?
  • Are staff remunerated for creative ideas and risk-taking?
  • Are your funding recipients encouraged to take risks?
  • Who can you ask about whether a project or program is working in their lives?

5) Cluster highly localized learning to test new applications on a larger scale

  • How has your funding recipient/organization been influenced by local learning elsewhere?
  • What information sharing channels exist between you and partners in other locations?
  • Are you actively using social networking technologies to share your expertise?

There are very few new ideas or pure innovations. Most sustainable social change derives from a combination of use of self, risk-taking, creativity, with healthy doses of humility and failure. Imagine if good ideas were able to morph into meaningful, sustainable positive impact without the constraints of ownership. Imagine if staff and community residents worked jointly on problem solving and sharing in a change process. Imagine if ownership and power were appropriately parsed. Clearly, not all innovations will appropriately fit this imaginative scenario, but in the voice of Peiro Morosini, “we can create the future by imagining the unthinkable and delivering it”.xxxvi


Bornstein, David, The Price of a Dream, University of Chicago Press, 1997

Bradach, Jeffrey, “Going to Scale: The Challenge of Replicating Social Programs,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, Spring 2003

Brooks, David, “The Harlem Miracle,” The New York Times, May 2009

Brown and Wyatt, “Design Thinking for Social Innovation,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2010

Dees, Gregory and Beth Battle Anderson, “Scaling Social Impact: Strategies for Spreading Social Innovations,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, Spring 2004

Farmer, Paul, “A Loyalist’s Critique of Social Entrepreneurship,” Speech given at the Skoll World

Forum, March 2008, Said Business School, Oxford

Goldshmith, Goldsmith with Gigi Georges and Tim Glynn Burke, The Power of Social Innovation: how civic entrepreneurs ignite community networks for good, Jossey-Bass, 2010.

Grant, Heather McLeod and Leslie R. Crutchfield, “Creating High-Impact Nonprofits,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, Fall 2007

Howe, Jeff, Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business, Crown Business, 2008

Letts et. al, High Performance Nonprofit Organizations: Managing Upstream for Greater Impact, Wiley, October 1998

Mann, Floyd, “The History of Microfinance,” Global Envision, April 2006

Morosini, Piero, “Seven Key to Imagination: creating the future by imagining the unthinkable and delivering it”, Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2010.

Mulgan et. al, “In And Out of Sync: The Challenge of Growing Social Innovations,” NESTA Research Report, September 2007

Ogden, Timothy, “U.S. Lagging, Not Leading, Social Entrepreneurship,” Harvard Business Review, The Conversation Blog, June 2010

Racine, David P., “Investing in What Works,” Replication and Program Strategies, November 2000

Schorr, Lisbeth, “Innovative Reforms Require Innovative Scorekeeping,” Education Week, August 2009

Schorr, Lisbeth, Common Purpose: Strengthening Families and Neighborhoods to Rebuild America, Doubleday, 1997

Social Care Institute for Excellence, “At a Glance 15: Personalisation Briefing,” October 2009

Strom, Stephanie, “ACORN Working on Deal to Sever Ties With Founder,” The New York Times, October 2008

—Strom, Stephanie, “In Twist, Nonprofits Honor Technology’s Failures,” The New York Times, August 2010

The Ford Foundation, “Asset Building for Social Change: Pathways to Large-Scale Impact,” 2004

Urbina, Ian, “ACORN on Brink of Bankruptcy, Officials Say,” The New York Times, March 2010

Yunus, Muhammad, “Poverty Alleviation: Is Economics Any Help? Lessons from the Grameen Bank Experience,” Journal of International Affairs, September 1998


i Chez Panisse Foundation website:

ii I first heard the phrase “putting innovation into the water supply” from Al Etmanski, Ashoka fellow and founder of the Parent Leadership Action Network (PLAN). He was happy to lend it to this paper.

iii Conversations with Al Etmanski over several months

iv Brown and Wyatt 2010

v See: Howe, Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business, Random House, 2009 for an explanation of the concept.

vi Another example of the potential for user-led organizations is the personalization movement in the UK; one of the recommendations of the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit report, Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People, was to have a ULO in every local authority area with responsibility over social care. See: “At a Glance 15: Personalization Briefing,” SCIE, 2009

vii Schorr, 1997

viii Ford Foundation, 2004

ix Letts et. al, 1998

x Schorr, 2009

xi See Dees and Anderson, 2004, for example, and the case of Bill Strickland described later in this paper.

xii The recent history of ACORN is an example in which power struggles within organization, combined with outside pressure, led them to dissolve. See: NYTimes, October 15, 2008, “ACORN Working on Deal to Sever Ties With Founder,” and March 19, 2010, “ACORN on Brink of Bankruptcy.”

xiii The “Invest in What Works” paradigm described by Racine (2000) and others is sometimes considered an alternative to incomplete information in the donor community. But there is no way to know whether the specific, often unmeasured, conditions that allowed a program to work in one area will exist in another.

xiv Interview with Mindy Tarlow, CEO of the Center for Employment Opportunity, April, 2010

xv Ibid.

xvi Ogden, 2010

xvii Dees and Anderson 2004

xviii Mulgan et. al, 2007

xix Mulgan et. al, 2007

xx Dalberg, 2009

xxi Schorr, 2009; Racine, 2000

xxii Brooks, 2009

xxiii Brooks, 2009

xxiv Schorr, 2009

xxv See: NYTimes, August 16, 2010, “In Twist, Nonprofits Honor Technology’s Failures.”

xxvi Goldsmith, 2010

xxvii Grant and Crutchfield, 2007

xxviii Dees and Anderson, 2004

xxix Bradach, 2003


xxxi Mann, 2006

xxxii Yunus, 1998

xxxiii Fittingly, David Bornstein calls the micro-finance movement a “bubble up” innovation. See: Bornstein, The Price of a Dream, 1997

xxxiv Mann, 2006

xxxv Bornstein 1997

xxxvi Morosini, Piero; Seven Keys to Imagination; creating the future by imagining the unthinkable and delivering it.