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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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 Monitor 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:
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:
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: