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Arne Duncan

10 Great Social Innovation Reads: August

Since I was on vacation for a couple of weeks in August and pretty much unplugged, I’m probably not qualified to list the 10 greatest reads in social innovation for the month of August, but I’m still going to give it a shot. As always, please add what I missed to the comments.

You can also read the lists of Great Reads from previous months here.

  1. Guest blogger on the Tactical Philanthropy blog, Jed Emerson, a pioneer in the impact investing arena, argues that impact investing is at risk of missing a key opportunity to move the field forward.

  2. Strategic finance is one of the hardest things for many nonprofit leaders to master, but also one of the most critical. Nonprofit Finance Fund explains how to approach it.

  3. Sea Change Capital Partners and Lodestar Foundation are partnering to create a new fund to pay for nonprofit collaboration and mergers. A pool of merger money is a great new addition to what is a pretty big hole in the nonprofit capital market.

  4. From the Harvard Business Review blog comes the argument that sometimes it can be good for business to fire some customers. This concept should apply to nonprofits’ donors as well.

  5. One of the biggest hurdles to nonprofit performance measurement is a lack of money to make it happen. On the Social Currency blog, Angela Francis explains how nonprofits can find the money for evaluation through capacity capital.

  6. The biggest news in August was nonprofit Jumo’s merger with for-profit GOOD. Antony Bugg-Levine (who was just announced as the new CEO of the Nonprofit Finance Fund yesterday) explains how this merger is just the beginning of a real blurring of sector lines to come.

  7. On August 24th, US Secretary of Education @arneduncan held a Twitter Town Hall to answer questions about America’s public education system and his ideas for reform. You can see the Tweets at #askarne or read the highlights here. He plans to hold another Twitter Town Hall soon.

  8. The Future Generations blog offers a great framework and examples of that often touted, but rarely understood, concept: “scale.”

  9. In the wake of Steve Jobs’ resignation from Apple, Cliff Kuang offers a reflection on Jobs as a supreme innovator and great user of technology.

  10. From the tech blog, A Smart Bear, comes a lesson for entrepreneurs (and social entrepreneurs too) when being an expert is harmful.

Photo Credit: afunkydamsel

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A New Direction for American Public Education

I’ve written before about the potential for some serious education reform in America because of the Obama administration and their appointment of Arne Duncan, former Chicago Public Schools superintendent, as Secretary of Education.  Arne has a great track record and some exciting ideas and experience with education reform.  There is more insight into his ideas for how he will reform the American education system in his recent interview on Charlie Rose:

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Here Comes Some Real Education Reform

As President Obama signs the economic stimulus bill into law today it is interesting to analyze what this means for nonprofits, social entrepreneurs, and crumbling American institutions like our education system.  I have written many times before about the opportunity that this financial crisis offers.  When systems are crumbling the time is right to build something stronger, better, more effective.  So it is today, particularly in the realm of American education.

Arne Duncan has taken over as Secretary of Education.  He is a young, bright, energetic innovative former superintendent of Chicago Public Schools.  He’s seen as a consensus-builder with a similar governing style to Obama’s, which has allowed him to push through some key reforms while keeping teacher’s unions happy.  In his 7+ years as CEO of CPS he:

  • Increased elementary test scores in Chicago from 38 percent of students meeting the standards to 67 percent
  • Increased the graduation rate by 6%
  • Increased the number of master teachers who’ve completed a rigorous national certification process from 11 to 1,200
  • Spearheaded merit-pay incentives rewarding school leaders and teachers for gains in student achievement
  • Championed good charter schools
  • Shut down failing schools and replaced their entire staffs
  • Opened 53 new schools

Another less talked about thing that Arne Duncan has done is to encourage the success of the Chicago Public Education Fund.  This corporate-backed venture philanthropy fund is in its 9th year and has invested over $25 million in innovative programs in Chicago’s public schools.

The Fund invests significant capital and management expertise in a limited number of well-managed, high-impact programs that improve school leadership, drive policy change and make system-wide impact. The Fund has invested in programs like Teach for America and New Leaders for New Schools and only invests if Chicago Public Schools signs on as a co-investor.

It’s a fascinating model, much like a city-sized, education-focused version of the social investment fund that America Forward, the Obama administration and others have been discussing where government and private dollars are pooled and invested in high-impact social innovations.

So Duncan brings to the table success in education reform paired with an understanding and experience with new models of social innovation (both social entrepreneurship and venture philanthropy). Now, add to that the $100 billion in emergency aid for public schools that he will have at his fingertips with the stimulus plan, and you have a pretty exciting combination of factors that could mean a transformation of the public school system based on social innovation.  $54 billion of this money is largely at Duncan’s disposal. According to a New York Times article, Duncan said he intends to reward:

  • “Islands of Excellence:” school districts, charter schools and nonprofit organizations that demonstrate success at raising student achievement
  • Programs that tie teacher pay to classroom performance
  • Training efforts that pair new instructors with veteran mentors
  • After-school and weekend tutoring programs

So, perhaps what we are starting to see is the large-scale education reform that Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, argued last month wasn’t happening with social entrepreneurs.  As I argued in response to him,

Perhaps we needed social entrepreneurs like Teach for America and others to point out the problems within the system and offer a theory of change.  Now that they have demonstrated that there are programs that work and new ways to do things, we can now create policy around those ideas.  And with a new administration and a new Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who has a history of reforming the Chicago Public Schools and implementing new models like Teach for America, perhaps policy reform has a chance.  It will be interesting to watch.

Yes it will.


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Education Reform vs. the Social Entrepreneur

Isn’t creating significant change in society what the social sector (nonprofits and the philanthropists who fund them) is all about?  A person starts a nonprofit organization when they recognize some disequilibrium (poverty, homelessness, failing schools) and they have a theory of change that will result in righting that disequilibrium.

I think at times, however, the structures that we create in the social sector get us away from that fundamental goal.  It’s interesting to take a step back and evaluate whether or not activity within the social sector is significantly changing broken systems.

Marc S. Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, in Washington, DC, wrote a thought-provoking and controversial opinion piece at the Chronicle of Philanthropy about how social entrepreneurial programs like Teach for America, Green Dot and KIPP are not really solving the problem of the crumbling American school system.  He argues that these programs, which are beloved by funders and proponents of social entrepreneurship, “don’t have a prayer of dealing with the problem at the scale that is needed.”  It is not the quality of the innovative programs or the ability to get results that he is at odds with.  Rather, it is the lack of scale of these programs.  They just can’t address the entire system:

But as exemplary as they are, small programs like these are not equal to the task. Teach for America accounts for just two-tenths of 1 percent of the new teachers entering our schools every year. The entire enrollment of the Green Dot schools is no larger than the enrollment of one typical high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District. KIPP schools, the object of enormous attention in the national news media, has an enrollment equal to three-hundredths of 1 percent of the 92,000 public schools in the United States.

He argues that instead of funding these “handful of small, disruptive interventions” we need to emulate the most successful countries’ educational systems by:

  • Recruiting teachers from the top one-third to one-fifth of college graduates by paying them as much as the other professions they could just as easily choose to go into: medicine, law, architecture, accounting, engineering.
  • Giving them the same kind of control over the way their services are delivered to their clients as the other professions have over theirs…turning virtually all of the decisions as to how the schools are run over to them.
  • Adopting high-quality board examinations like those the most successful countries use, which can measure a student’s grasp of the concepts underlying the subject, the student’s creativity and capacity for innovation, as well as the student’s knowledge and ability to apply what he or she has learned to real-world problems.
  • Shifting the school financing system away from a reliance on the local property tax and toward a system that makes sure each and every student has the resources needed to get to internationally benchmarked standards.

He recommends a complete overhaul of the American education system at a cost of $60 billion a year in initial investments.  These costs would eventually be offset by expenses saved.

He argues that to get this kind of systemic change donors to educational programs must “shift their attention from financing cameo programs to putting their money into groups that influence public policy. That’s where the payoff is.”

It is an interesting, bold idea.  I’m not sure, however, that I completely agree.  I think we’ve seen over the past several decades that education policy is broken.  There are so many special interests in the field of education policy, it’s unclear to me where we would pour the money.  Perhaps we needed social entrepreneurs like Teach for America and others to point out the problems within the system and offer a theory of change.  Now that they have demonstrated that there are programs that work and new ways to do things, we can now create policy around those ideas.  And with a new administration and a new Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who has a history of reforming the Chicago Public Schools and implementing new models like Teach for America, perhaps policy reform has a chance.  It will be interesting to watch.

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Wednesday, January 14th, 2009 scale, Social Entrepreneurship 1 Comment