03 Nov

Life Outcomes: The Black Male Achievement Dashboard

In our pursuit of social change, we often get caught up in all sorts of fancy phrases and jargon: logic model, theory of change, capacity building — and at Root Cause we admittedly have our own, such as social impact market. But what about the actual results of all of our work and the people whose lives we are committed to helping improve? Funders and programs have gotten so focused on the jargon that we have lost sight of the simplicity of understanding "to what end"! 
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15 Oct

Performance Insights: My Vision for the Next 10 Years

It has been 15 months since my last blog post, more than three years since I joined many of my colleagues at the White House for the launch of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, and close to 10 years since I founded Root Cause.  As I reflect back on all that I have seen, experienced and learned, I wanted to share three insights that I hope will guide Root Cause along with other organizations seeking to improve peoples’ lives over the next decade. 
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10 Apr

What the social innovator needs

Earlier this year, I asked everyone working within the social innovation field why we were not spreading proven approaches faster. I also said that the answer lay in linking resources to performance. When we efficiently connect resources to the highest performing organizations, we can truly start to spread approaches that work. Today, I ask: How? How can we equip today's leaders in nonprofits, philanthropy, government, and business to lead high performing organizations? Better yet, how can we help them optimize their role in spreading social innovation? 
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04 Mar

The role of the funder in building social impact markets

When it comes to accelerating progress on difficult social issues, I believe that we must focus singularly on directing resources towards programs based on performance. I also believe that the funder is the central driver of this process. With limited resources trying to make progress on unlimited needs, “doing more with less” must focus on sound data to direct financial and non-financial resources toward high performance. However, this does not mean that funders should only direct resources to the “best” programs or to the ones that can “scale.” The limited number of high-performing organizations can neither grow fast enough nor do they have the critical community relationships to meet current demands. Therefore, funders must be willing to both devote their resources to high-performing programs and help the other million-plus programs improve their performance. 
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12 Feb

From The Gathering of Leaders - A Conversation about Collaboration with Cities

Last week at New Profit’s Gathering of Leaders conference, I had the privilege of facilitating a session with Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Jim Anderson, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. The conversation revolved around collaboration between mayors’ offices and private and public sector organizations.  More specifically, it presented lessons on how mayors today are reaching out to partner with the private and nonprofit sectors to drive change in their cities. It was particularly exciting for me for two reasons. First, it represented one of Root Cause’s core ideas – public innovation: the idea that driving systemic change on any social issue is most successful when government leaders and their counterparts in foundations, nonprofits, and businesses form strategic partnerships.  Second, it was the best display of twenty-first-century public leadership I have seen since I met Mitch Landrieu in 2007 when he was Lt. Governor of Louisiana. Landrieu, now the Mayor of New Orleans, was the first elected official in the country committed to advancing social innovation and entrepreneurship. 
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29 Jan

A Milestone for Social Impact Markets

Last week marked a milestone for social impact markets. Massachusetts became the first state in the U.S. to issue an RFR (Request for Response) for Social Impact Bonds or ‘Pay for Success’ contracts as dubbed in the RFR. While not as sexy a term as ‘Social Impact Bond’, ‘Pay for Success contract’ serves as a more appropriate title, as it orients government towards the need of allocating resources based on performance. This orientation towards linking resources to performance will in turn further solidify the infrastructure and tools for social impact markets. In the past few months, the concept of Social Impact Bonds or Pay for Success contracts has garnered an enormous amount of attention. While I have already written about Social Impact Bonds, and Root Cause has also hosted a forum featuring Kennedy School Professor Jeffrey Liebman – an advisor for the state – it is important to mark this milestone. It represents enormous change, and signifies the hope I have of being able to continue this momentum. 
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22 Jan


Why is it that in a country with so many resources, and government and nonprofit programs devoted to education, economic prosperity, and health and well-being—social issues we know to be essential to our success—are we unable to spread what works faster? As of 2008, nearly one-quarter of the American population failed to finish high school, 21 percent of American children lived below the poverty line, and the U.S. health care system ranked 37th in the world—lower than any other developed nation. With 1.4 million tax exempt organizations in the country working towards these social issues, why are we not spreading what works faster? 
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24 Oct

What social impact bonds mean for nonprofits and performance measurement

Starting with the Obama administration including Social Impact Bonds in the FY12 budget to the Rockefeller Foundation’s recent $500,000 grant to Social Finance US, Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) have become the newest frontier of public innovation and an excellent way to further build social impact markets. To better understand SIBs as a form of public financing, I sat down with Harvard Kennedy School Professor Jeffrey Liebman, Social Finance US CEO Tracy Palandjian, MHSA President Joe Finn and MLMC Director Lisa Goldblatt-Grace for a panel discussion last month hosted by Root Cause’s Social Innovation Forum. What is so promising about this approach is not the SIB itself, which as you will read is going to take quite a while to pilot and see results and may be very difficult to scale. Rather the emphasis being put on allocating resources based on performance could be a game changer to the relationship between government and nonprofit service providers. This relationship accounts for billions of taxpayer dollars. 
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17 Aug

Social Innovation: The Next Chapter

With the establishment of the White House Office of Social Innovation, the announcement of the Social Innovation Fund awardees earlier this summer, and last week’s article on social innovation in the Economist, social innovation is now officially the hot term of the day – so hot that there is a danger that it will end up meaning nothing. 
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