10th Anniversary Essays
Sixteen special essays on how the field of social innovation has evolved and what challenges remain ahead.
When Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) was first conceived in Silicon Valley a decade ago, newly wealthy, problem-focused entrepreneurs had seized the opportunity to use their knowledge, networks, and finances to advance the social good globally.
They were both the architects and the beneficiaries of the information age and the technology-driven globalization it enabled. They wanted to see its dangers mitigated and its benefits more equitably shared. They formed learning communities like the Global Philanthropy Forum (GPF), built consultancies like FSG and Bridgespan Group, explored novel market-based methods like “impact investing,” employed the tools of information and cellular technologies, and soon coalesced around standards for evaluating impact.
Their question was not whether, but how.
It was a moment of invention. And SSIR emerged quickly as both a player in and documenter of “new philanthropy’s” evolution.
Ten years later, “new philanthropists” are no longer an isolated few. And although philanthropy and civil society have long held a special place in American society, they are also forces for good within societies throughout the Global South.
Take Africa, where—through a combination of good fortune and smart economic policies—27 out of 30 of its largest economies have experienced great growth, raising the collective GDP by 4.9 percent per year between 2000 and 2008 and enabling a new generation of successful African business leaders to emerge.
Global demand for commodities is one source of Africa’s growth. But according to the McKinsey Global Institute, the majority of the gain is attributable to choices made: the ending of civil conflicts, the opening of economies to trade and investment, the privatization of state-owned enterprises, the strengthening of regulatory and legal systems, and the provision of critical physical and social infrastructure.
Although growth is robust, however, it is not yet broad-based. And although development is rapid, it is far from inclusive. So newly affluent beneficiaries of this new economic order—like their Silicon Valley counterparts—are using their capacity for giving, investing, and influencing as a tool to reward good governance, to stimulate economic activity at the bottom of the pyramid, and to import or invent novel solutions to the persistent problems of poverty, disease, and discrimination.
In the decade ahead we may find that SSIR’s authors hail as often from Manila, Guangzhou, Lagos, Johannesburg, or São Paulo as they do now from Palo Alto, Cambridge, London, Seattle, and Durham.
In their search for lasting solutions, they are strengthening the capacity, transparency, and accountability of the governments they partner with. They are building the resilience of the nonprofit organizations and small enterprises they support. Moreover, these highly connected, tech-savvy leaders are strengthening philanthropy itself, by building an African Philanthropy Forum and embedding it in the GPF’s larger global network, where they are likely to teach, to partner, and to persevere.
Their bold goal: an Africa able to meet its own development needs.
A similar dynamic is visible in fast-growing economies in Asia and Latin America, where creators of new wealth are seeking to reduce disparities, right injustices, remove indignities, and grow the middle class. They too are employing all the tools of strategic philanthropy, including “shared value” corporate strategies, often putting their companies to the service of social goals by sourcing locally, labeling transparently, and changing operations in ways that reduce their carbon footprint.
Like their Silicon Valley counterparts, they are investing in the capacity of the social sector, importing some models and creating others. China’s Foundation Center replicates the products and services of its namesake and mentor in New York City. Guidestar India has emerged as an important part of the landscape. Some of Asia’s social entrepreneurs join the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs or are seen at SOCAP’s annual meetings. And philanthropists from throughout the region joined in the Philanthropy in Asia Summit, convened by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre, the Resource Alliance, and GPF. Brazil’s philanthropic leaders have done the same, hosting I Fórum Brasileiro De Filantropos & Investidores Sociais.
Through such learning communities, philanthropists connect not only with their American and European counterparts, but—importantly—with strategic philanthropists from throughout the Global South. The south-to-south transfer of knowledge that results is likely to be the source of the world’s next wave of philanthropic innovation and impact.
SSIR will be at the heart of this knowledge transfer. In the decade ahead, we may find that its authors will hail as often from Manila, Guangzhou, Lagos, Johannesburg, or São Paulo as they do now from Palo Alto, Cambridge, London, Seattle, and Durham. And the names Lien, Chen, Elumelu, Masiyiwa, Dangote, Civitas, Mwangi, and Ibrahim will be just as familiar to its readers as Gates, Carnegie, Rockefeller, MacArthur, Hewlett, Packard, Omidyar, Ford, and Skoll.
And that—as Bill Clinton might say—is a very big deal.