Posts from the ‘Business for Good’ Category

Nonprofit leaders are getting help from an unlikely place – robots!

by: Leah Haynesworth

Robots are here and they are transforming how we solve complex problems, including those in the social sector. At the University of Southern California (USC) Viterbi School of Engineering’s Robotics Open House this past spring, we caught up with some budding changemakers whose robots are helping to create positive social change.

Changemaker #1: Jens Windau, a Ph.D student, Jens Windaufounded AIO Robotics. His company prints 3D hands and wrists in Los Angeles. Typically, prosthetics take approximately four to six weeks to be delivered and cost over $5,000. These 3D-printed prosthetics, however, can be printed in 24 hours and cost $20, significantly reducing the wait time and cost of prosthetics.

Jens has used his work to create a better Southern California by donating 3D-printed prosthetic hands and wrists to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA). In the future, he said, 3-D printed prosthetics could expand to include other body parts, like feet.

Changemaker #2: Rorry Brenner has developed a vision-based system that allows robots to guide blind people through the grocery store. In his study, Rorry blindfolded 45 participants to see if they could find a box of Lucky Charms with this system. He witnessed 100% accuracy and is now trying to incorporate a high-definition camera into the system to increase speed.

Robotics has already started to combat pressing social issues, even though it is not necessarily the most obvious complement to social change. “There are problems that people don’t even consider tech being able to solve,” Rorry said.

Can robots help you? Where to start:

Curious to know if robots are in your future? Brenner recommends carefully examining artificial intelligence (AI) as a tool when looking to solve social problems. In order to capitalize on, or at least recognize, how robots can help affect change, those of us in the social sector should:

  1. Stay aware of the advancements in robotics and artificial intelligence
  2. Realize that there will be an increasing number of partnerships that can be created between the social sector and the field of robotics
  3. Start to understand what we do not understand; robots do not have to be seen as scary

To get you started, we wanted to share three resources that we have found about the cross-section between robotics and the social sector:

  1. Information about e-NABLE, a Google-sponsored community that prints 3D hands
  2. A story about how Jens and CHLA are using prosthetics to help children thrive
  3. Background on OpenAI, a recently created non-profit AI research company associated with Elon Musk whose objective is to advance open-source-friendly AI in a way that benefits humanity

We’re “geeking out” (and hope you are now, too!) about how robotics will impact the social sector in the future. Do you currently use robots in your social change work? Let us know how by commenting below.

The Top 10 Ways to Do Good with Data

by: Leah Haynesworth and Sithu Thein Swe

The Top 10 Ways to Do Good with Data

Data Scientists: The Unlikely Storytellers

As a team of social impact geeks, we love hearing about new, effective ways to create social change. Consequently, we recently sent two of our team members, Sithu and Leah, to the Do Good Data Conference in Chicago. The Conference, which took place from April 28-29, 2016, brought together over 800 individuals to learn about the present and future of data usage in the social sector. The conference sessions encompassed a wide range of topics, from “Pay for Success: Funding programs that measurably change lives” to “Unlocking the ‘So What?’: Better Data to Advance the Social Mission of the Arts” to “Dashboards and Databases: How Google Can Help.”

After taking time to digest all of their learnings, here are Sithu and Leah’s top 10 takeaways from the conference:

  1. Share learnings from your work – both positive and negative – to support the social sector’s development.
  • The next steps for foundations are managing information as well as producing and sharing knowledge, according to Bradford Smith, President of the Foundation Center. While there are great resources for the social sector, such as IssueLab, foundations should discuss their learnings with their grantees and peers.
  1. Move beyond Excel.
  • Excel is an oft-used tool in organizations’ analytical toolkits. However, there are other solid options to collect, store, report, and analyze data, including Tableau, R, and Python.
  1. Much of project feasibility is the ability to evaluate the project.
  • When launching a pay for success program, some key elements to consider are: outcome, populations, the organization’s quarter by quarter expenses for the next six to seven years, and accessing data for evaluation. Key term: “evaluability.”
  1. Use data to drive narratives.
  • Understanding and clearly communicating data are crucial in creating impact. “Your next role in life as a data scientist is a data storyteller.” – Steve MacLaughlin, Director, Analytics, Blackbaud
  1. Data is only useful if it is relevant.
  • “Data analytics and visualization are great and much needed, but if your data are bad or incomplete, or your outcomes are inappropriate, then all you have are pretty graphs.” – Fluxx
  1. Data is not a panacea.
  1. Start with the ends in mind.
  • When using data, it is critical to clarify the problems on which to focus, determine the right questions to ask, and understand the aim in using the data. Otherwise, it’s far too easy to become overwhelmed by the data.
  1. Create mindshifts in how your organization talks about data and its purpose.
  • Creating a data-driven culture isn’t easy, but Erika Van Buren, Director of Learning & Evaluation at First Place for Youth, takes a great approach. She works with team members almost like clients by supporting them from the initial program development phase and collaborating with them throughout the process.
  1. Are you ready and willing to make the tough decisions needed to be a data-driven, impact-oriented organization?
  • During the conference’s first keynote session, a leader from a prominent foundation said: “In 20 years, I’ve never seen data change anything. It takes courageous leaders to make the changes.”
  1. “Data science is easy; the ethics of prediction is hard.” – Tom Schenk, Chief Data Officer, City of Chicago
  • As Stephen Goldsmith, Professor of Practice at Harvard Kennedy School, mentioned, there are soft biases in all of our decisions. With data algorithms, however, we can make the biases explicit, transparent, and open for public feedback and iteration.

The conference sessions revealed the vast implications for data use in the social sector. Judging by the continual growth of the conference, the social sector as a whole is aware of the importance of data. What does this mean for your organization? How do you use data to inform your work and further your impact?

Does your (legal) form follow function?

by: Way-Ting Chen (with Giselle Timmerman and Taylor Chamberlin)

Deciding on the right legal structure for your social purpose organization or social enterprise can be a taxing process (pun intended), with many trade-offs to consider. Figuring out the differences between a Low-Profit LLC, Social Purpose Corporation, Benefit LLC, or traditional exempt organization is difficult enough to untangle, much less being certain of making the right choice for what your organization needs.

When considering legal structure decisions, start with the end in mind

Before deciding on a legal structure, consider your ultimate “ends”: your impact.

We’d like to help make this decision a little less tangled and a little better informed for you, and the first step is to answer the question, “legal structure for what?” Remember that in the world of social impact, your legal structure is just another means to achieving your ultimate ends: your impact. Simply put, your “ends” is your long-term organizational strategy, or intended ultimate impact. With the end in mind, you will have clarity about which legal status will help you to achieve your intended impact.

Let’s look at two client examples to put this approach into practice.

A supportive housing organization and a start-up apparel company both want to increase their financial sustainability while also growing their services. The supportive housing organization (let’s call it “Safe Haven”) is presented with the opportunity to develop a real-estate property adjacent to its building. The apparel company (we’ll call it “Sustainawrap”) is presented with the opportunity to create and sell products. How does each organization move forward with assessing the merits of these opportunities and their legal implications?

Safe Haven weighed the pros and cons of leasing market rate rental units or providing permanent supportive housing for homeless individuals. Their discussions landed on a critical question: Real-estate property for what end? They needed to define their intended ultimate impact in order to get clear and unified on what purpose the real estate property needed to serve. Ultimately, they realized they did not need a “cash cow” to generate unrestricted cash flow, so they committed to using this real estate for permanent supportive housing (using a hybrid legal model to minimize legal liability) to directly further their mission.

Safe Haven’s impact statement provided strategic direction: By 2023, North County homeless population will be reduced by 50%.

Sustainawrap weighed the pros and cons of launching a social enterprise to sell baby products. They struggled at first with defining how the social enterprise would contribute to their overall organizational strategy. After agreeing that their “ends” must be women’s self-sufficiency, they used their impact statement to help filter and guide decision-making.

Sustainawrap impact statement: By 2025, 100 homeless women living below the poverty line in LA County will be on the path to financial self-sufficiency. The means to their ends became creating jobs and selling unique baby products, so that impoverished women were employed. With this strategic goal in mind, business planning for their social enterprise was much easier, and they decided that a for-profit legal structure provided the simplicity and flexibility needed to achieve their ends. 

Organizations with similar mission statements may have very different impact statements. But, with clarity on their long-term strategic direction, the legal structure decision (along with many other critical choices) becomes simpler.

Finally, the expectations and perceptions we have of various legal structures is evolving. Based on the most recent Edelman trust barometer report, a full 80% of people agree that business must play a role in addressing societal issues.

"Scrooge McDuck"

A “for-profit” legal structure doesn’t make you a Scrooge McDuck

A for-profit structure doesn’t make you a Scrooge McDuck, just as a nonprofit status doesn’t put a halo over your head.  So, setting aside any expectations or stereotypes, make the hard decisions to figure out your intended impact and strategy, then make the legal structure decision that follows.

Click here for our briefing on what an impact thinking mindset is, and here for how you can become a better ‘impact do-er’. For further help with your social enterprise’s legal structure, check out Sustainable Law Group, and the webinar series we presented together with the Society for Nonprofits.

What do you get when you mix international development, problem solving, and a love of dance?

Blue Garnet is proud to introduce our newest pragmatic idealist, Leah Haynesworth! Leah is joining us as an Analyst, which means she’ll be rolling up her sleeves on the research and analysis that fuels our client work and on building our firm culture. Giselle Timmerman, a BG team member for almost nine years, sat down recently to welcome Leah and help you all get to know her. Here are some highlights from their conversation…

Giselle: Let’s start with your “why” – Why did you choose Blue Garnet?

Leah: For two reasons. One: I love solving complex problems and I’m very analytical, which draws me to consulting. Two: I’m passionate about social impact – I’ve worked in international development in both Uganda and New York and interned in corporate social responsibility (CSR) at NBCUniversal and The Walt Disney Company. So I feel that Blue Garnet offers me the perfect opportunity to apply my skills and experiences to help organizations better achieve social impact.

Giselle: Perfect combo indeed! What kinds of projects are you hoping to dig into?

Leah: Well, I’ve just started working with one of our corporate clients on Board leadership, so I’m eager to expand what I know about CSR. Blue Garnet also works with quite a few arts organizatinos, and I am also a trained ballet, modern, and jazz dancer, so it would be great to work with them. And I really am analytical by nature; it’s my default state. So I’m excited to apply that strength.

Giselle: The BG team takes developing our strengths seriously and we help clients do the same. You’ve taken a few strengths assessment surveys—apart from being analytical, what other strengths do you frequently rely on?

Leah: I loved taking these strength assessments and found them really interesting. Perseverance is one of my top strengths and I definitely am very goal-oriented. When I get involved in something, I have every intention of completing it.

It was a bit surprising to see that humor was my top VIA strength. I definitely like to be goofy and I tend to get along with different types of people, but it’s not always something I share right away. Fairness and judgment are also big ones for me. When I initially meet someone, I usually give them the benefit of the doubt.

Giselle: Where do you think your fairness comes from? Does your upbringing play a part?

Leah: I hadn’t really thought about it, but yes! My siblings are twins, so I had a front-row seat to an emphasis on sharing and fairness. 

Giselle: I’m curious to know more about your experience in Uganda. What was that like?

Leah: It’s a difficult experience to put into words. I really loved learning about international development in the field. And I learned something everyday, personal or professional—ranging from how to communicate in Luganda, the local language, to the sensitive issues surrounding working with commercial sex workers.

Giselle: So how did you shift from being an English major at Princeton University to being passionate about social impact?

Leah: While in undergrad, I studied in South Africa and volunteered as a teacher in a township that was in a poorer area of the city. I was deeply impacted by the dichotomy between rich and poor, blacks and whites. So then I was inspired to go back to Africa after I graduated and my passion for working in the social sector snowballed from there. That’s why I pursued work in Uganda and it’s also what eventually led me to USC’s Master of Public Administration program.

Giselle: I know that you collaborated on consulting projects with several local organizations while pursuing your MPA. A large part of Blue Garnet’s work is helping organizations make the shift to an impact thinking and doing mindset. In your own words, what does it mean for an organization to have a longer-term focus on impact?

Leah: I think it means that an organization is always looking to make its desired vision and strategy real. In other words, instead of only concentrating on social impact for specific projects, programs, and initiatives, an organization with a long-term focus on impact attempts to incorporate social impact into its organization overall and searches for ways to push the limits of its organizational capacity for social change.

Giselle: Finally, I have to ask, what’s your honest first impression of BG’s culture?

Leah: My third interview was with the entire team, which cemented my feeling that BG was the right place for me. I feel welcomed and part of a community of people who are smart and work hard, but don’t take themselves too seriously – that can be hard to find!

Click here to learn more about Leah and the rest of our team.

 

 

Effectively visualize your impact using these 6 principles

Through their masters course at Pepperdine, Way-Ting and Jenni are teaching social entrepreneurs to think about, measure, and evaluate their organizations' impact. I recently had the opportunity to sit in on a class session, which focused on data visualization.

By following these six principles, whether you are communicating about a foundation, nonprofit, or, in the case of this course, a budding social enterprise, you’ll be primed to effectively marry "the head and the heart" to communicate your value and tell your impact story.

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Balance Realism and Idealism by Embracing Your Inner “Corporate Idealist”

Our "BFF" Christine Bader shares her thoughts on Corporate Idealists in an adapted excerpt of her book The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil.

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Beyond Satisfaction, Learn What Your Clients Value

Who really does client surveys these days? Well, we do! And most other learning organizations. Find out what we learned from ours, and how we are using it to help serve our clients and the sector better.

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