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1 Million Livelihoods by 2020: Aspiration or Commitment?

Posted by shubha

(Guest Post by SVP International Board Member Larry Fox following his recent visit to SVP India)

SVP International Board Member and SVP Portland Partner Larry Fox draws from his SVP Portland experience to analyse the impact that goal setting of ‘1 million livelihoods by 2020’ can have on SVP India.

Is SVP India’s goal of “1 million livelihoods” a directional orientation or an urgent and accountable objective. If the former, it at a minimum inspires and helps ensure that all the investment activity is relevant to a particular issue. If the later, it demands a more intentional approach/strategy/plan.

Bottom line: taking a committed goal is a big thing and a game changer. (SVP India’s goal is largely the former, which, given a mere 2.5 years of existence, is remarkable in itself. From a personal standpoint, I also strongly sense that, with the calibre of partners, the depth and ubiquity of issues to address, and India’s pervasive theme of disruptive and transformational change, SVP India has a unique opportunity to foster, promote, and relatively quickly adopt an even more ambitious mindset as well as many of the innovative and demanding features of venture philanthropy that can accompany it.)

Keeping in mind both SVP India’s “newness” and (what I believe to be) unique potential, we have to address the nature and organizational implications of the different kinds of goals. As a step towards that, I’ll just summarize the history of the Portland experience.

THE PORTLAND STORY

Five years ago, SVP Portland decided to focus on kindergarten readiness, with a very audacious goal of ensuring that in ten years all kids in Portland would enter kindergarten ready to succeed in school and life. That focus has slowly matured from an aspirational goal to an increasingly specific idea, with the intent being to have a truly measurable and accountable goal.

Adopting a goal of that nature was a game changer. It rapidly forced the daunting question: How are we going to get this done? It forced us objectively to understand the limits of our influence in the community……and the possibilities for increasing it. It forced us to wrestle with how to measure success overall; and in such a way that we could meaningfully feel accountable for. It forced us to be proactive and aggressive in identifying requirements: greater staffing; a more flexible partnership model for attracting recruits; large injections of funding; and a more efficient and predictable management of a largely volunteer culture. And because this was a very ambitious goal, it forced us to think about what kinds of alliances, partnerships, and collaborative work in the community may be required.

But apart from those issues, we had to shift our traditional mindset from relying on individual investments (that might scale sufficiently at some point), to a more ambitious, strategic, and aggressive planning mindset.

We had to develop a clearer understanding of our rare (though not unique) strengths in the philanthropic community–business-like objectivity, action orientation, reliability.

We had to get clear on the full potential of our toolset–capacity building, system innovation, mobilizing outside resources, connecting and advocating.

Within the reality of our strengths and capabilities, we had to evolve an increasingly strategic perspective: clearer priorities, criteria for strategically vetting investments, and an understanding of the utter complexity of the problem and the potential paths forward.

In addition we had to collaborate with key players in the community. We cultivated trusted relationships , through investments and otherwise; we role modeled (and practiced) leadership in a large community collaboration; and we actively participate in a broader initiative to move Portland’s philanthropic funding from its often rigid and reactive format to a more intentional, goal oriented, problem solving, and change making approach.

Operationally, we realized (and were advised, thank you Seattle!) that if we wanted to succeed, we needed to invest heavily in ourselves. With the help of community foundations and individuals who saw the possibilities in our new directions, we grew our staff substantially.

We took on the additional resource potential of the “Encore Fellows Program” in the hope of leveraging the expertise of the retirement community. We invested in funder management. We made adjustments in our grant processes, instituting co-created grant proposals (a change which made for more efficient and effective partnering with our investees). We also realized that a long term effort like ours needed to position itself for future success so we adjusted our partner models, ramped up recruiting efforts, and cultivated our future with a “Rising Leaders” program to create and hopefully enrol “up and coming” philanthropists. (Our first year had a cohort of 25 RL’s of whom 5 became partners. We have just launched our second cohort of 25).

Finally we transformed the structure and the expectations of the Board to be consistent with the new and more complex demands on the organization.

THAT WAS A LOT OF CHANGE!

All the things we went through make a pretty good checklist for challenges that come with setting a tough and accountable goal. What SVP Portland has gone through took five years and is still evolving. The good news is that as a network any affiliate wanting to go down this path can leverage learnings from Portland and others for quicker progress.

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