We work at the threshold of what's possible, to close the gap between today's solutions and tomorrow's challenges.

Since time began people have been engaged in a complicated dance where our ingenuity, innovation and tenacity have usually kept us one step ahead of the problems that threaten to overtake us. The dance has now changed. And the problems we face are rapidly outpacing our ability to solve them.

The good news is that our problem solving "technologies" are also advancing. We can see and map more clearly the nature of complex problems; and, we're getting smarter about how to organize, collaborate and align for action in new and different ways.

Monitor Institute works with leading social innovators around the world to deploy these emerging tools and practices in order to make real progress on problems that matter. In recent years, we have worked in all the evolving opportunity spaces we discuss here—changing our steps as the dance floor keeps moving beneath all of us.

The dance of change is messy, complicated and hard. It's also the only one worth doing.


It matters how we create and use the strategies that guide our work on social challenges.

What many consider traditional strategic planning began in the military and has grown in use and power through widespread corporate adoption. But in the face of today's shifts—be they technological, political, or cultural—planning often carries a false sense of certainty. And when progress on entrenched social challenges requires exerting influence beyond the organization's walls, traditional strategic approaches can be ineffective at attracting the engagement of others.

Many still believe that strategy efforts are essential for doing the rigorous analysis that can save you from wasted effort. Others see strategy work as a waste of time in itself, because strategy can only emerge from taking action in situations that are dynamic and uncertain. We believe good strategy must be both thoughtful and adaptive, rooted in a clear vision but flexible in how to achieve it.

We also believe that strategy must be grounded in the human system that it is meant to shape. Many conceptually-elegant strategies are created without respect for two practical necessities: alignment within the team, and integration into the team's everyday choices. As a result, brilliant strategies fall down in execution, requiring extensive adjustment in the years that follow. We strive to design strategy that the team can—and will—begin using immediately to drive everyday decision-making.


  • Scaling Up and Strengthening Acumen FundWe worked with Acumen to scale up their work investing "patient capital" in enterprises that serve the poor, helping them articulate a broader vision and strategy and strengthening their commitment to their full complement of programs: investing in social enterprise, supporting leaders for social change, and sharing their insights with the growing impact investing field.
  • Revitalizing National Audubon Society We worked with representatives from across Audubon to transform the more than 100-year-old organization so it can meet the demands of unprecedented environmental challenges. The new strategy, which strengthens Audubon's powerful local, state, and national network by organizing around the birds and flyways it seeks to protect, is on proud display in its public plan for 2012-2015.

    Read their strategy

  • Startup Strategy for VIVA TeachersAt a point when this small startup team faced a wide array of choices for how to pursue their mission, we helped them see where there was already alignment within the team, focus on the most important decisions to enable the organization to move forward, and identify the most viable long-term path to impact.

  • FastForward®Create rapid-fire scenarios to explore and challenge your assumptions about what the future could hold.
  • Stakeholder and customer researchFind new ways to provide value by getting up close and personal with your stakeholders and their real needs.
  • Strategy AcceleratorBuild alignment around the choices you've made, and focus on the most critical open questions about your next steps.
  • Learning loopsSense immediately whether you're on track and choose how to course-correct with a minimum of friction.

    We see incredible potential in the growing movement of aligning action of many actors against tough social challenges.

    We are living in times when the problems we face are outpacing our current ability to solve them. But we are also living in times when intelligently-designed groups are joining forces to achieve significant progress together. Bound by a common understanding of a problem and fueled by a shared plan of attack, groups are aligning for action in new ways.

    This "alignment" is made possible in part by advances in digital technologies (wikis, texts, tweets, and a whole host of collaborative tools) and visualization technologies (concept and geo mapping, social network analysis, system mapping, and issue crawls). These tools let us see and intervene in the whole system, to address the root cause instead of only the symptoms. As equally important, this aligned action is being amplified by substantial leaps in the "human technologies" of shared leadership approaches, smart facilitation of multi-stakeholder groups, and whole-system strategic planning and visioning. What this all adds up to is a set of tools, processes and mindset shifts that let us reimagine how we can work together in new ways to drive real change.

    Nonprofits, social enterprises and networks of all shapes and sizes—from the local to the global—are now working together in a range of ways to amplify their impact on systemic issues. Philanthropic and government funders are increasingly interested in providing support at the ecosystem level. We believe the possibilities for making progress through aligned action are enormous, and groups that generate aligned action—creating them, strengthening them, working through them—are central to our work.


  • Facilitating the Network of Network FundersHow can funders support not only individual organizations but also networks? We helped a group of funders, including four of the largest U.S. foundations, explore this emergent space and share the results of their experimentation. Their insights and those of others in the field are now available as Catalyzing Networks for Social Change: A Funder's Guide.

    Read the network's insights

  • "Transformer: How to Build a Network to Change a System"This in-depth case study highlights the pathbreaking climate advocacy work of the Midwest's RE-AMP network as a new model for moving the needle on major issues: large-scale collaboration among funders and nonprofits that remains decentralized, efficient, inexpensive… and highly effective.

    Read the case study

  • "Working Wikily"Social media tools are driving more connected ways of working, characterized by a "network mindset" that embraces greater openness, transparency, distributed effort, and collective action. Read more in this cover article of the summer 2010 edition of Stanford Social Innovation Review.

    Read the article


  • Strategic conveningPut the problem at the center in a co-creative gathering of actors, thought-leaders, and stakeholders.
  • Network mappingMake the web of relationships in your group visible, in order to identify hidden resources and build greater connection.
  • System mappingTap the collective wisdom about how a complex system actually works, and find the highest-leverage places to create change.
  • Strategy Landscape™Visualize the flow of grantmaking in a place or an issue, making it easy for funders to connect and collaborate.

    There's a big difference between incremental improvement and innovation that reconceives what's possible—and we need to push for bold ideas now more than ever.

    True innovators understand that radical ideas don't spring from some lone genius's "Eureka!" moment as much as they're pursued through rigor, discipline and from the process of reconceiving and recombining the known in novel ways. Too often organizations approach the world through the lens of what they have to offer today. Innovation puts the problem—and the people who live the problem every day—at the center. It takes this as a starting point of discovery.

    With user-centered design, we help social sector organizations arrive at new insights about how to keep their organizations relevant and valuable to the people they serve. With our partner company Doblin, one of the world's leading innovation strategy firms, we work with leaders to reimagine what's possible across as many as ten types of innovation.

    We do this work with:

    • Leaders of established nonprofit organizations and social enterprises, to find and scale creative and effective solutions by intentionally identifying, nurturing, and sharing grassroots innovation, often within distributed structures.
    • Leaders of foundations and other funding entities, to build supportive cultures of innovation and to develop better ways to do their grantmaking that can improve their ability to find and fund innovative activities on the ground.
    • And, leaders of government agencies, to create the most helpful mix of incentives, rules, and programs that combine into an enabling platform for social innovation at the state or national level.


  • Strategy Refresh for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Pioneer PortfolioAfter eight successful years funding high-potential new ideas in health and healthcare, the Pioneer Portfolio was ready for the next stage of its evolution. We helped the team refresh its strategy and incorporate cutting edge innovation thinking into its approach to finding and supporting transformative breakthroughs.
  • "Intentional Innovation"As funders begin to apply innovation methodologies to solving pressing public problems, there is still little understanding of what it means to "do" innovation. This report, supported by the Kellogg Foundation, translates lessons learned from years of experience in the corporate sector and helps funders understand how they can intentionally improve the way they do their work.

    Read the report

  • "The Ten Types of Innovation"Ideas can break new ground on different levels, and pioneering innovations often work on several at once. Doblin has used this framework since 1998 and refined it continuously to help clients from every sector think systematically about how to improve what they do.

    Read about the ten types


  • Opportunity definitionIdentify high-priority pain points and opportunities where innovation is needed and surface key elements of potential solutions.
  • User researchFind new solutions by getting up close and personal with your stakeholders' real needs and behaviors.
  • Rapid prototypingHelp leaders to translate new ideas into action through a rapid-cycle process of envisioning, testing, and quickly improving innovations.
  • Diffusion and scalingDevelop adoption plans for an innovation that consider who needs to change, what they need to change, and why they would change.

    To meet the scale and complexity of today's most pressing challenges, philanthropy will need to raise its game.

    While the world changes at breakneck speed, most of philanthropy is still practiced as it was a hundred years ago when Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller created the first foundations. The identification of problems and the search for solutions tends to proceed in relative isolation, increasing the fragmentation, inefficiency, and inflexibility of many of today's approaches to social change.

    We partner with foundations, networks, donors and intermediaries to pioneer new models of philanthropy. We help rebuild organizations to make smarter grants, to learn and adapt faster, to use convening power, to tap market-based approaches and to combine forces seamlessly with other actors. And we work with innovators outside of the those institutions to build networks of organizations, develop new intermediaries, create new tools for grantmaking, and advance creative uses of financing such as impact investing, enterprise philanthropy, and social impact bonds.


  • Partnership with philanthropic innovator New Profit, Inc.Since 2000, our strategy consulting has been an integral part of the support that the venture philanthropists at New Profit offer to their portfolio of social entrepreneurs, as part of how they are reimagining philanthropy. We provide this pro bono support on behalf of Deloitte, to help these entrepreneurs develop a clear roadmap to growth and build the human systems to get there.
  • The Packard Foundation's Philanthropy and Networks ExplorationFor nearly three years, we worked in partnership with Packard Foundation leaders to develop network-centric methods for conducting philanthropy. We helped them understand the potential for using and supporting networks, test networked approaches with pilot projects, and to craft network-driven program strategies.
  • "What's Next for Philanthropy: Acting Bigger and Adapting Better in a Networked World"The turbulent environment today presents foundations with new opportunities and new imperatives. Supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Kellogg Foundation, this report looks into the future to outline ten "next practices" that can help foundation leaders step forward into those changes and achieve new levels of impact.

    Read the report


  • Scenario planningTap divergent perspectives to surface unexpected possibilities about what the future could hold for you and your field.
  • Advancing next practicesSurface, share, and develop "bright spots" in current philanthropic practice to increase funders' impact and effectiveness.
  • Strategy Landscape™Visualize the flow of grant-making across a place or an issue, enabling funders to connect, collaborate, and see where they fit.
  • Learning networksConvene other forward-thinking funders to explore an emerging area of practice, experiment, and share results.

    Scaling up has been the social sector's holy grail for two decades.

    Yet in that time, only a tenth of a percent of all U.S. nonprofits have reached $50 million in size, while the world as a whole has globalized and become increasingly interconnected. We must broaden our lens from scaling organizations and replicating programs to scaling impact. Moving the needle on tough problems requires nonprofits that are not only strong, but also have the external orientation to pursue change in partnership with others.

    We support our clients in choosing the right strategy through efficient engagements that cut to the heart of the questions at hand. We're able to help our clients see the full ecosystem in which they operate and identify collaborative strategies that deploy resources outside their organization in support of the systems change they seek. And we create flexible plans for implementation and human systems that reconcile the need for relentless execution with the dynamism of everyday decision-making. We help our clients make more effective and efficient use of their resources, enabling them to more easily raise funds, and increasing the return on investment for their supporters.

    We partner with nonprofit leaders to create solutions that are:

    • Bigger – rapidly growing in direct reach and impact
    • Better - re-inventing and revitalizing existing organizations and systems
    • Broader – using networks to increase the leverage of influential ideas and interventions
    • Breakthrough – accelerating entire fields or systems


  • Accelerating Growth at Teach For AmericaAs Teach For America developed its 2010 strategic plan and realized its current organization couldn't support its future growth, we designed the organizational structure necessary to support its 35-40% annual growth aspirations. Then its senior leaders once again turned to Monitor Institute to build their talent management system and the competency model at its core. Most recently, as Teach For America began to evolve its international network model, we helped design the country support structure for Teach For All.
  • The Social Capitalist Awards with Fast CompanyWho are the nation's most innovative and highest-impact social entrepreneurs? For five years, we partnered with Fast Company to find them and put them in the spotlight. The competition not only provided visibility for the winners and the field of social entrepreneurship but also provided a visible incentive for social enterprises to adopt clear metrics for their success.

    Read about the competition


  • Growth diagnosticDetermine where you are in your lifecycle, what capacities you've developed, and the strategic choices you currently face.
  • Social change modelClarify your underlying theory of change about where there are opportunities for impact on your chosen issue.
  • Scaling toolkitChart your path to scale using the tools of program replication, site expansion, organizational growth, and system-level impact.
  • Strategy AcceleratorBuild alignment around the choices you've made, and focus on the most critical open questions about your next steps.

    We see tremendous potential in the emerging models for blending profit and impact.

    The world of financing social change is undergoing significant innovation itself. Models are blurring traditional sectoral boundaries in important ways: Mission-driven organizations are earning revenue. Profit-focused organizations are adopting social missions. Traditional charitable organizations are benefiting from loan guarantees and other forms of financial support beyond direct grants. And social impact bonds mark a new direction for governments and private partnerships in the search for solutions to social challenges.

    Our history of corporate and social sector work has placed Deloitte at the forefront of work on innovative finance, valuing essential differences across sectors while bridging faultlines that constrain results. Monitor Institute's work with Rockefeller Foundation helped establish the term "impact investing" and examined what it would take for the industry grow and achieve social and environmental value in addition to financial returns. Our colleagues at Monitor Inclusive Markets have conducted pioneering research on new business models for scaling solutions that address poverty through self-sustainable enterprise. Market-based solutions are rapidly gaining traction, as witnessed by the emergence of incubators, impact funds, and the interest of increasing numbers of mainstream financial institutions—all of whom want to achieve social and environmental goals while pursuing profit. But as with any emergent opportunity, there are still more questions than answers.

    We partner with leading actors across the value chain to help leaders achieve ambitious aspirations, working with them to:

    • Develop adaptive strategies. We work with investors as well as leaders of social enterprises and nonprofits to craft new strategic roadmaps that identify when – and when not to – experiment with new forms of hybrid business models.
    • Launch investment vehicles. We help organizations find innovative ways to deploy and grow their capital through impact investments.
    • Build markets. We galvanize action at a market level by working with networks that include businesses, investors, and/or funders.
    • Strengthen the field. We support intermediaries and help build infrastructure that enables leaders to align action. We focus on increasing transparency, developing standards, and enabling leaders to work toward shared goals.


  • Adoption Strategy for the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN)After creating the first measurement system for impact investing, and achieving great success in its early uptake, the GIIN's leadership needed to find a way to accelerate adoption and reach a wider audience. We helped them refine the value proposition of the system and set it further down the path to becoming the common language of impact investing.
  • "From Blueprint to Scale: The Case for Philanthropy in Impact Investing"Impact investing has tremendous potential to help the global poor, but inclusive business start-ups face such extreme challenges that they must have philanthropic support to become ready for capital—even patient capital. We need "enterprise philanthropy" to help early-stage inclusive businesses flourish.

    Read the report

  • "Investing for Social and Environmental Impact: A Design for Catalyzing an Emerging Industry"A growing group of investors around the world is seeking to make investments that generate social and environmental value as well as financial return. This widely-cited report examines the emerging industry of impact investing, how it might evolve, and what can be done to catalyze it as a potent force for addressing global challenges.

    Read about the report


  • Stakeholder and customer researchTest and evolve new ideas about how to provide value by getting up close and personal with potential customers.
  • Strategic conveningDiscover common ground and build alignment in a co-creative gathering of actors, thought-leaders, and stakeholders.
  • Strategic choice-makingBuild alignment around the choices you've made, and focus on the most critical questions about your next steps.
  • Scenario planningTap divergent perspectives to surface important and unexpected paths that could shape impact investing.

    Public education is our single greatest collective investment in human capital, widely recognized as a powerful intervention point for addressing many of our systemic social challenges.

    Yet it continues to reinforce stark racial and socio-economic divisions. Students from the lowest-income families in the United States are ten times less likely to earn a bachelor's degree than those from the highest-income families; just 20% of African-Americans and 12% of Hispanics have completed a degree. These numbers would be troubling in any environment, but in a time of increased income inequality and global competitiveness, they are unacceptable.

    These concerns are not new – efforts to reform education have been around as long as education itself. But we believe that the system is at a tipping point where certain levers have the potential to create dramatic improvement. We see three significant opportunities:

    • Scaling up. Some organizations have achieved outstanding results, but their success is often disconnected, either from sufficient resources to scale their efforts nationally or from other actors who could build on what was learned. We can be much more intentional in building the infrastructure, funding mechanisms, and collaboration models to identify and rapidly scale what works.
    • Innovation. Public education has clung to a batch processing, seat time based, teacher-in-front-of-the-room model for a century, while every other sector of society has been transformed. We can rapidly accelerate the pace of innovation and experimentation across all dimensions of teaching and learning.
    • Redefining "student." Much policy and practice is based on an outdated definition of a student as a young man or woman who graduates high school at 18, proceeds directly to college, and graduates in four years. This is but one archetype among many in what is actually a highly dynamic and complex student ecosystem. We believe much work is yet to be done to investigate and articulate the different student pathways, and to more fully engage the voices of students, parents, and teachers in the debates on education.

    We believe that our tools can play an integral role in the hard work of turning those opportunities into real solutions that will reinvent what we think of today as public education. In our work, we seek to:

    • Use our skills as strategic conveners to strengthen connection and collaboration between K-12 and higher education, between the public and private sectors, between funders and actors, and between teachers, parents, and students
    • Apply Deloitte's extensive set of consumer insight tools to create a richer understanding of student archetypes and pathways, with an eye towards identifying and removing barriers to success
    • Increase the reach and impact of breakthrough social entrepreneurs, AND retool already at-scale organizations for the challenges of 21st century education


  • Transforming UNCF (United Negro College Fund)Building on its 68-year legacy of strengthening members colleges, providing scholarships, and advocating for the importance of college, we worked with UNCF to expand its impact and ensure more African-American students graduate from college. Over two years we helped UNCF validate its strategy, formulate a new approach to advocacy, assess its performance, and manage the organization's transformation from "good to great."
  • Implementation Strategy for "I Have A Dream" FoundationWhen the foundation developed a new initiative to significantly strengthen college access and completion, which involved aligning the efforts of multiple school and program partners, we helped its leadership team build out the new initiative and develop a plan for full implementation.
  • Growth Strategy for iMentorWe developed a 5-year growth strategy with iMentor that addressed how best to extend the impact of their work across multiple cities, with a close look at the optimal program and partnership model for expansion. We also considered the financial and organizational implications of building to that larger scale.

  • Student segmentationSegment students based on the unique opportunities and barriers they face and tailor interventions to meet their needs.
  • Strategic conveningPut the problem at the center in a co-creative gathering of education actors, thought-leaders, and stakeholders.
  • System mappingTap collective wisdom about how the education system actually works, and find the highest-leverage places to create change.
  • FastForward®Create rapid-fire scenarios to explore and challenge your assumptions about the future of education.