Ten years ago, a social entrepreneurial effort that provided an innovative and effective solution to a pressing social need could eventually find appropriate support, funding and recognition for their work. Foundations and investors slowly recognized the power of these new opportunities and the creative thinking out of which they emerged. Once this new model gained traction, acknowledgement and dollars flowed. This access to capital allowed these organizations to reach more people, do even more effective work and grow the potential of their efforts.
Social Enterprises Compete for Scarce Investment Dollars
Today, things have changed significantly. Many of those now maturing organizations, who are still doing brilliant work, have been affected to an even greater degree. What has changed is the sheer number of social enterprises now competing against them for an overwhelmed investment pool.
Measuring impact and its accompanying impact investment protocols have not clarified the situation, but muddled it even more. Part of the reason is that we are often demanding measurement of activities that require evaluation rather than mere quantification. But more on that and the resources and long-term perspective needed to make such evaluation meaningful, in another post.
For now, a growing community of social entrepreneurs vying for a tightly held investment and donation pool has meant that mature efforts are continually forced to cut through the chafe to keep doing the work they have done so successfully.
The work IBJ is doing is extraordinary. Ending torture as an investigative tool and implementing due process of law as a systematic part of the criminal justice system is not just a noble pursuit. It is a human necessity to create societies in which fear and aggression are replaced with the rule of law, and principles of behavior are adhered to that protect all of us. IBJ has been leading these efforts in over 30 countries, and it is work that is truly making our world better.
But like other social entrepreneurial organizations that have spent the last decade effectively developing their skills and sharpening efforts, the way forward—toward reaching more—is not a foregone conclusion.
Targeting the most vulnerable and unsympathetic people, living in the most underdeveloped and precarious economies in the world, and continuing to provide them with resources and services year in and year out is not a model destined to build vast wealth.
But then, Karen Tse didn’t found IBJ with the goal of starting an NGO that would evolve into an economic powerhouse. She founded it to solve a problem. And IBJ has been focused on doing just that. Now, her competition for funds means that not only does her organization have to persevere through the cultural, bureaucratic and governmental red tape to end torture, but she has to compete in a marketplace that has been flooded with well-meaning, yet often untested programs.
IBJ Social Entrepreneur’s Challenge
In an effort to provide greater public access of funding to organizations like IBJ, the Skoll Foundation and Huffington Post have partnered to set up a dynamic competition. It includes donation-matching, up to $750,000, special bonus “challenges” for the competitors, and (most importantly) the opportunity for committed individuals to leverage their own social networks to help out the participants.
All the money raised by an organization goes directly to it, which means efforts like IBJ’s can expand its programming and ensure the protection of due process rights for more people than ever before.
This isn’t simply another fundraiser. It’s an innovative opportunity to reach a wider network of both new and old supporters. The amount of exposure is entirely dependent on how much is raised by an organization, and that starts early in the competition.
This group crowd-funding event is a great way to support an IBJ or, for that matter, other organizations in similar straits. This unique offering from the Skoll Foundation and Huffington Post can be found at www.crowdrise.com/internationalbridges1. Full instructions can be found on the site, and your participation can make a significant difference in the lives of some of the most desperate people in the furthest reaches of our globe.
Rising Above the Competition
Perhaps, it shouldn’t be too surprising that some of the best run and most effective social enterprises are constantly struggling to raise funding, especially during this economically challenged time. But the issue remains. In this particular marketplace that is saturated with worthy organizations, all vying for the same limited resources, creating good work means you have to rise above the competition. This is as much about what an organizations does, as how it reaches and develops a supporter base. The swirl of impact investment confusion hasn’t made this task any easier.
The challenge facing organizations like IBJ that are working in places where no one else will go, is not only to tap into the consciousness of a broader donor base, it’s about shifting cultural thinking. We don’t have competitive models that both break the mold of fixed ideas to solve social problems and address work that most would prefer was kept hidden.
The answer may come in a willingness to deliberately disrupt the design of the organization itself. Refresh the model in a way that is not simply adding a new coat of paint, but recharges and revitalizes the organization from within.
It took great courage to launch an operation like Karen’s a dozen years ago and perhaps even greater courage is needed to re-emerge from the crowd. But when the objective is to end torture in places where the practice is deeply entrenched, it should be all of our responsibility to see to it that Karen and her colleagues have everything they need to do their work. This is more than just making a difference in the world; it’s about demonstrating the depth of our humanity.
With that as the call to action, we should all easily ask, “How can I help?”