Two decades of learning

July 24, 2018

We’re at an interesting juncture in the history of civil society / social sector organizations.  Many innovative organizations that started 20-25 years ago have now reached a certain maturity, with lessons learned to share.

This interview with Mari Kuraishi of GlobalGiving and Dennis Whittle of Feedback Labs, the co-founders of GlobalGiving, sharing some of the stories about its founding and their learning in the years since its creation, is one of these interesting reflections.  It’s well worth a listen!  Some of my take-aways:

  • The concept of “innovation” in the social sector was new 20 years ago when they were asked to introduce this line of thinking in the World Bank, and it has taken almost two decades for the concept to become more mainstream, with (at least some) resources now available for organizations to try, fail, learn and adapt.
  • One of the seeds of crowd funding was the desire to also help those who didn’t win contests.  I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about the role of contests as the time put into unsuccessful applications can waste scarce resources that might better be used towards improving people’s lives.  It’s good to hear that helping some of those who ‘lost’ the contest was one of the motivators for GlobalGiving – helping to diversify resources to a broader range of good efforts.
  • Dennis also shares that one of his ‘lessons learned’ over the past decades is that in some ways generating new ideas is the easy part, it is the execution of the idea that is the hard part, and that having a good team and committing the time to work through the ideas can help lead to success. It has certainly also been my experience that we often underestimate the time and effort that implementation takes.
  • Mari shared that her experience in building and nurturing the growth of GlobalGiving has validated the theory that mobilizing people’s potential, with shared core values and minimal rules, can produce effective outcomes.

In many ways these lessons built towards Dennis’ more recent efforts with the broad based coalition that makes up Feedback Labs, and the creation we have seen over the past few years of other broad based alliances.  The reflections that CIVICUS, another organization now celebrating its 25th year is sharing, has similar themes.  Former Secretary Generals Kumi Naidoo and Ingrid Srinath both underscore

  • The important role in bringing disparate organizations together “even when organizations [may] prefer to work unilaterally” and the importance of
  • Working together with and learning from a new generation of organization and movements.