The SSIR’s webinar, ‘Catalytic Philanthropy: 
A New Approach in Uncertain Times’ really got me thinking a lot about leadership in the social sector.

A catalytic philanthropist, as described by Mark Kramer in his article Catalytic Philanthropy is an individual who takes responsible for achieving actionable results, mobilizing a campaign for change, uses all available tools and creates actionable knowledge. Kramer argued that there was a need for philanthropists to take on a more catalytic role. In other words, according to Kramer, philanthropists need to take a more active role in their philanthropy work. This is a great model but does it work for everybody? Perhaps there is still a role for other forms of philanthropy alongside catalytic philanthropists rather than one or the other.

We have an incredible paradigm of level five leadership given to us by Jim Collins in his book, “From Good to Great” which involves a leader humbly bringing out the best in his/her subordinates. This is a fantastic model for leadership that I believe more and more people are considering as a viable alternative for guiding an organization. I have been considering whether or not there is a tension between Kramer’s model of a catalytic philanthropist and a humble and empowering leader.

The webinar discussed how traditionally the effective leader is the ‘lone ranging maverick’ who is so convinced of his/her own views that he/she will not let anything or anybody stand in his/her way. In traditional businesses, these individuals are often successful. However I wonder to what extent it is possible for successful leaders to have firm convictions and yet at the same time humbly empower others.

Another issue that was brought up in the Webinar was collaboration. Again the problem of ego in leadership arises. It always seems bizarre to me to think of “ego” in the world of social entrepreneurship as it seems so contradictory to the ideals for the well-being of humanity that is at the core of the work. Even just the practical considerations of fundraising and competing with like-minded organizations seems to create collaboration problems.

It seems that there are two distinct types of people coming into social entrepreneurship. There are those people that have a deep passion and concern for certain issues in the world that they desperately want to address but don’t necessarily have the methodology to know how to. Then there are the business people who have a clear methodology and also have a conscience and desire to apply their knowledge to something worthwhile. However this latter group of individuals may sometimes work with much haste without a thorough consideration of all of the social implications.

Both types of people wanting to get involved with public service could benefit a lot from collaboration and learning from the other. The first group could do with a bit more strategic thinking and the latter group with a bit more reflection. But the question is: in what forum does this conversation take place? Are their languages so different that finding common ground proves to be a major challenge?