The Family Impact Canvas – a new tool for change makers

In about six weeks, CSSL will formally launch our new Social Impact Collective, a new community of high net worth families seeking insight, tools and connection to make their giving and impact investing more effective. Our inaugural group will gather for our Discovery Weekend in Half Moon Bay at the beautiful Miramar Farms.

In addition to the amazing people who are founding the Collective, we’re fortunate to have a tremendous group of faculty for the weekend to drive learning, reflection and action on social impact. The faculty includes:

  • Laura Tyson, our former Dean, and the Director of the Institute for Business and Social Impact here at Haas
  • Paul Brest, the former President of the Hewlett Foundation and Professor Emeritus at Stanford
  • Kat Taylor, co-CEO of Beneficial State Bank and signer of Warren Buffett’s giving pledge
  • Diane Parnes, Board Officer at SV2 and former ED of the Sobrato Family Foundation
  • Fay Twersky, Director of the Effective Philanthropy Group at the Hewlett Foundation
  • Paula Goldman, Global Director of Impact Investing at the Omidyar Network

And we’re still adding speakers. Continue reading

Too Much Regulation is Bad for Nonprofits

(credit: Reuters)

(credit: Reuters)

Given all the momentous news of late, even the most ardent follower of the social sector might have forgetten that this spring saw a torrent of journalism on corruption in nonprofits.

Early in 2015, news began to break that one of New York City’s largest social service agencies – Federation Employment and Guidance Service (FEGS) – was going bankrupt. FEGS had a budget of $250MM per year and served 120,000 low income New Yorkers per year.  The causes were many – with mismanagement and poor governance at the top of the list.

Following quickly on the heels of the FEGS story came something even more explosive – claims that the Red Cross built only 6 homes in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, despite raising a half billion dollars in relief aid.

David Callahan, the founder and editor of Inside Philanthropy, weighed in on these problems. Callahan made my heart sing as I read his op-ed calling for stronger regulation of nonprofit organizations in the US. I felt like I was reading the words of a kindred spirit as I read his excellent, thoughtful points on bolstering nonprofits through increased transparency, ensuring charitable intent, increased giving and increasing effectiveness.

He lost me quickly, though, with a call for the sector to be “policed” and his suggestion that we create “strong watchdogs” to oversee philanthropy and nonprofits. Mr. Callahan’s suggested solutions are very well intentioned, but fraught with perils that could severely limit the growth and effectiveness of the social sector. Nonprofits organizations are often the only entities willing to take on the risks involved in tackling society’s hardest problems that commercial markets cannot solve and governments cannot solve well.

We certainly need watchdogs and regulation – that much is clear from the stories I shared above. But we need to find a balance that encourages this risk taking in a responsible way. I believe we can govern nonprofits in a way that drives innovation in social impact and public good, while also demanding accountability. We need to be very careful stewards of the tax-free dollars at nonprofits that are imbued with our values and hopes – but not at the expense of the change we expect those values and hopes to produce.

A new “federal bureau to police” nonprofits, which Mr. Callahan argues we need, would almost certainly chill the responsible risk taking at nonprofits that we desperately need to solve intractable problems. Nonprofits have enough hoops to jump through as they navigate a deeply complex and imperfect philanthropic capital marketplace. Society would suffer if we added more of the wrong hoops.

In the coming months, I’ll be thinking more about what the right balance is in fostering accountability and impact from nonprofits. I’d love to hear your thoughts – here in the comments section of this blog, via twitter @impactmba, at or by email:

I look forward to sharing what I hear from you, and what conclusions I reach on a reasonable approach to this balance.

Why We Need Lean Principles to Scale Social Impact


Even if you are an optimist like me, it is challenging to look at the world and feel like we’re making progress solving the biggest problems facing people around the globe. Some of the problems people face are devastatingly fundamental and can feel paralyzing when we consider what they mean for the state of humanity. Two that really get to me are modern day slavery and illiteracy. Around the globe, 30 million people live in slavery today, and, nearly 800 million people around the world cannot read or write.

To solve problems like these, governments and for profit firms must play meaningful roles through policies that govern regulatory frameworks and business practices like supply chain management. Yet, I also believe that nonprofits and social ventures have untapped power to solve big social and economic problems. Tapping into this latent power, however, requires the social impact sector to embrace a new way of doing work – defined and anchored by the Lean principles.

If we expect to create breakthrough change through the work of social impact organizations, we need to foster breakthroughs in the way we do our work. In my opinion, social impact leaders should publicly and constructively push our field to regularly learn and improve in a way that is:

  • Relentless about staying close to our customer to design products and services that truly meet the needs of those we aim to serve;
  • Constantly aiming to increase measurable impact by iterating based on feedback, and;
  • Always stewarding scarce resources as prudently as possible to make the right investments to spark scalable change.

These are three core tenets of applying lean principles to social impact work. The principles offer a methodology in which social entrepreneurs and social innovators are forced to test critical assumptions  – about the way people may value their offerings, and the potential virality within a market – before major investments are made in these approaches.  This approach can help alleviate some endemic problems among nonprofits and social ventures – namely the phenomenon of major, premature investment in big ideas that seem promising but don’t have core assumptions tested in a structured, robust way. This can lead to years passing, and millions invested, before we realize that our seemingly good idea just didn’t work.

Our problems are too great, and our resources too scarce to accept this as the status quo. Instead, we should build minimum viable products that allows us to test our most basic assumptions about the value we believe we deliver to our customers. With this approach we get insight directly from seeing how target customers interact with a product or service. This is especially important when we aim to solve our most vexing problems – because quite often, those of us trying to help, live worlds apart from the people and communities whose lives we hope to improve – increasing the odds that our assumptions may be farther from the truth than we realize.

BerkeleyHaas is a true pioneer in the use of lean principles for social impact. We’ve woven lean principles into our social impact courses for years, and now offer a full MBA course dedicated to this approach, called Social Lean Launchpad, which I have the privilege of co-teaching this fall with my colleague Jorge Calderon, a Social Impact Fellow and Lecturer here at Haas. This should come as no surprise given our excellence in advancing social impact, and our defining principles – confidence without attitude, beyond yourself, question the status quo, and students always – each of which reflect the core tenets of this new way of pursuing large scale change. I look forward to sharing the breakthroughs we see in our class in this blog – stay tuned for insight!

(Photo: Steve Jurvetson, via Creative Commons)

The Surprising Complexity of Doing Good

race togetherEarly in my career, I served as an Admissions Officer at my Alma Mater, Vassar College. I was deeply passionate about my work recruiting and assessing admissions decision for the school. Going to Vassar had changed my life. It was an incredible case of serendipity that got me there – and it created opportunities that were life altering and cycle-breaking for me and my family. My mother had been hesitant to even let me apply because she couldn’t fathom paying for a private school. She did let me apply, though, and through a generous financial aid package, I was able to attend.

As an Admissions Officer, I had a personal mission for doing good and I took this very seriously. I aimed to visit as many schools as I could that had students like me – hard working, smart, poor kids who had no idea that a place like Vassar was within reach.  I was assigned an oddly gerrymandered territory – New York City, Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. As a product of NYC public schools, I understood the NYC ecosystem well and knew where to go to find students I hoped to bring to Vassar.

I also felt certain that I understood the best way to fulfill my mission outside of New York. I had studied Native American history in college, and have a little bit of Native American heritage. A few years out of college, I was still seething at the injustices suffered by Native Americans and the long odds they face in achieving economic mobility in the US. My response was to create a Vassar recruiting program for Native American students starting in the Pacific Northwest.

The statistics on educational and economic achievement among Native Americans were (and still are) catastrophic. I was certain that I could be a force for good. I just needed to tell my own story, of how a poor kid who felt Vassar was out of reach, had a world of opportunity opened for him. I shared my plan with my boss, Vassar’s Director of Admissions. He shot it down immediately. Continue reading

Was the Walmart Pay Raise Real Leadership?

Walmart made waves last week announcing  pay increases for their workers. The Wall Street Journal cast this as a pure labor market move – prompted by an increasingly competitive environment for retail workers. Walmart, of course, promoted this as a double-bottom line move that reflects the needs of their workers as well as something they need to do to remain competitive.


So, which was it?.

This shift provides an interesting lens through which to explore what leadership really is, and what meets the test for different types of leadership.

What is effective business leadership when you run one of the largest employers of low wage workers in the world and serve primary segments that are low and moderate income?

What is moral leadership in this context?

Can the two intersect when groups of large shareholders might believe a wage hike to be a violation of managers being fiduciaries? (It’s notable that WMT’s share price took a hit right after this was announced).

I actually believe it was an authentic expression of both effective business leadership and moral leadership. Walmart has taken a beating from the left for years because of the way it treats workers – and rightly so. They have traditionally paid very poorly, and have had a business model with incredibly high attrition rates for workers – signalling that they have a view of their workforce as heavily commodified, perhaps at the expense of being as humane as needed.

To me, the pay increase is a signal of an authentic shift. I believe this for three primary reasons: Continue reading

Obama’s SOTU? It’s His Post White House Agenda

President Obama with students

It has been fascinating to observe public and pundit reaction to Obama’s State of the Union address. The President clearly relished delivering this speech – and the agenda he outlined for domestic policy in particular. His enthusiasm and authentic delight reminded me of Obama’s 2008 campaign for President – we haven’t seen much like it since he won office.

The enjoyment he took in boldly proclaiming an unabashedly progressive agenda led some to frame this as a “drop the mic” moment of extreme comeuppance – throwing his achievements in the faces of a Congress made up of many who have lived solely to obstruct any of Obama’s plans.

Others viewed this as a legitimate go-for-broke moonshot, akin to a stratospheric opening bid in a deal that you know will land in far more pedestrian territory.

And of course, many conservatives simply see this as confirmation of Obama as a full-throated tax and spend liberal who is bent on using his last two years in office to do his best to turn the United States into France or Norway. Glenn Hubbard, Dean of Columbia’s business school wrote a thoughtful retort to Obama’s plans, with specific policy alternatives, in his recent op-ed in the New York Times. 

But after digesting his speech for a few days, I have a different view. I believe Obama used this SOTU to begin playing a long, long game for change he believes will benefit the country. I believe people will look back and realize that this speech was actually his first post-presidential speech – that he very strategically delivered while still in office. In my view, this particular SOTU kicked off what I imagine will be a life-long campaign to shape the country according to his values, and he’s decided to start building momentum now, for a life-long campaign for change once he leaves the White House.

Here’s why I believe this:

Continue reading