One of the most sought-after goals in philanthropy is finding effective solutions to society’s problems. Foundations are well positioned to accomplish this. Free from the pressure of pleasing customers, voters, and shareholders, foundations can focus their money and knowledge on supporting people and organizations testing new approaches to pressing social and environmental issues.
As many have said, philanthropy can be thought of as the research and development arm of our society. Foundations doing R&D are usually portrayed as supporting start-up programs, social entrepreneurs, and research of various kinds.
But what if some powerful solutions have already been invented, and are waiting to be used? What if some solutions don’t need development; they just need more people knowing about them and using them?
In a recent article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy called Regional Grant Makers Hold the Key to Containing Health-Care Costs, Mark Kramer argues just this—that powerful innovations created in local communities can be spread with promotion and networking—and that small foundations have just the skills and resources to make that happen.
Focusing on health care, Kramer describes a two-minute presurgical checklist that dramatically reduces post-surgical infections and deaths. Despite its low cost and simplicity, this innovation had difficulty catching on, in part because of the weight of long-standing practice. Kramer argues that a regional foundation would be the perfect organization to spread the word, using its local connections, reputation and neutrality, and voice.
In another example: Many asthma-related emergencies among children can be prevented by simple practices at home such as using vacuum cleaners, and using inhalers more effectively. In one community, a coalition of local foundations and other organizations helped hospitals and insurers overcome barriers, and spread word of these practices.
Has someone creative in your community thought of a great solution, only to see it languish? How could your foundation develop its capacity to uncover and promote small but powerful innovations? What questions would you ask to find them?
Down your street, or around the corner, a great idea may be waiting to be noticed.
Senior Program Director Andy Carroll writes resources, designs workshops, and facilitates seminars for funders. Andy also dedicates a significant portion of his time to managing our Leadership Initiative that defines, validates, nurtures, and celebrates the many ways philanthropists lead. Andy has 25 years of experience in nonprofit organizations, and he enjoys talking with funders about their questions, interests, passions, and plans for making a difference. Follow Andy on Twitter @andycarrollexpo.