I was invited to speak at the Central Texas Education Funders monthly meeting about social innovation yesterday morning. It was an honor to talk to this engaged, savvy, thoughtful group of philanthropists who are passionate about making education better in Central Texas. Some of the foundations present were: Webber Family Foundation, Aragona Foundation, RGK Foundation, KDK Harman Foundation, Applied Materials Corporate Giving, United Way, Impact Austin, Still Water Foundation, among others.
My presentation provided an overview on social innovation (social entrepreneurship, growth and capacity capital, social investing, etc.) occurring nationally and here in Austin. After the presentation there was a great discussion among the group that covered exciting experiments in growth and sustainability in our region, why Austin seems to be behind other cities in social innovation activity, the impact of the recession on growth, and the need for collaboration and mergers, and much more.
Ellen Ray from the Still Water Foundation announced an experiment that she and a few other local foundations have launched to grow the scope and capacity of arts education organizations in town. I hope to have more information on this exciting project in a later post. In addition, Jessica D’Arcy from the Webber Family Foundation explained how the Central Texas Education Funders group is putting together a funding matrix so that the group can understand which of their membership is funding which projects in town. Compiling this knowledge could be the first step in understanding how to leverage the resources of the group to make a greater impact. And Chris Earthman from the Aragona Foundation shared some interesting data about how hypercompetitive Austin really is in terms of foundation funding for our nonprofits. Austin has one of the highest nonprofit to foundation ratios in the country, which furthers the argument that we have to expand the social capital market here.
So much money exists in Austin, yet at the same time those organizations working towards solutions to our social problems are tripping over each other to get enough capital. That is a huge disconnect. If we can learn from other cities about the new financial vehicles that are emerging to help social entrepreneurs, we might begin to see more of Austin’s wealth transfer into the social impact space.
This was a great gathering of funders talking about how to move the needle forward and get Austin more prominently in the social innovation game. I’d love to see more discussions about how we do just that.