Full circle for SVP worldwide: where we are different

Paul Shoemaker

Paul Shoemaker

This is the second of two posts in which Paul Shoemaker of SVP Seattle reflects on a recent trip to new SVP groups in Asia, in Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing. Click here to read the first post.

And yet …

While the things we hold in common tend to be a little more visceral, philosophical, right-brained, our differences are a little more tangible, technical, left-brained. Some of the differences create a rich mosaic of creative, sometimes better, ways to approach social challenges.


In Japan, they are very bought into a collective, full group decision. Over 50 people spent a full day working through their grant decision making (and they weren’t done yet). There is no way that happens in the States.

Our last session in Tokyo was a half day at Entrepreneurial Training for Innovative Communities. Their founder, Haruo Miyagi launched his endeavour when he was in college. In a country that, by his words, has structures that can sometimes make entrepreneurship challenging, ETIC has launched hundreds of social entrepreneurs over the last 20 years.

Their NGO leaders had every bit as much passion, chutzpah and creativity; but it’s hard for these social entrepreneurs to succeed in a country whose ecosystem for social change is still developing. The ‘fuel’ to drive their ideas to fruition is not sufficient yet. The entrepreneurs are ahead of the philanthropists and social investors. This isn’t a put-down of Japan, I’m relating what was said many times in all three countries over two weeks. Another important reason for models like SVP is to help develop emerging social ecosystems for positive change.

South Korea

On the drive into Seoul from Incheon Airport, I asked one of their founding partners why he is in SVP and he said it ‘refreshes me’. Sixteen years ago, Paul Brainerd created SVP to engage a ‘new generation of givers’. Today, SVP Seoul is helping catalyse ‘the first generation of givers’. In their own words, they are building the ‘donation culture’ in their country.

Social Economy Center in Seoul

Social Economy Center in Seoul

We toured the new Social Economy Center, which felt a lot like our Seattle home. There is a vibrancy and sense of openness and the integration of the social and market economies is far ahead of what I’ve seen anywhere in the States.

We are exploring how to add impact investing to SVP Seattle’s toolkit. In Seoul, they’ve already made two investments in for-profits with a social purpose. One is www.letsplayplanet.com. The organizational form (for-profit vs non-profit) and the kind of capital given (grant vs equity vs working capital) was almost an afterthought. They’ve leapfrogged us, using whatever form of capital makes sense that will create the greatest impact.

The mayor of Seoul

The mayor of Seoul

SVP Seoul is also ahead on their relationships with community and public sector leadership. We met Mayor Park Won-soon. He has a wall full of post-it notes with dreams and complaints from citizens and two sets of bookcases askew to remind him of the inequalities in society. He believes social entrepreneurship and the work organizations like SVP are doing are the ‘main force to change the world’.


The first morning in China we trekked to the 4th ring in Beijing to Thousand Trees Equal Education Partners, founded by Gan Wang in 2001. She couldn’t find early education for her little boy, so she started her own school with three teachers and six kids that first year. Today, they are developing curriculum, and training teachers on and off line. She is working on true system change.

One is struck by the scale and scope of challenges in China. One of the first six kids in the school from 2001 was there during our visit. She’s in college now, and her mom is an SVP Beijing partner who is going to start their first Social Venture Kids group … life comes full circle.

The leadership team there has an expression: they plan to ‘go slow to go fast’. They realize they need to build really good infrastructure and partner connections, have a great first investee, etc before they accelerate their growth. The quality bar for what they launch seems to be a little higher in China, because they might not get as many chances.

This is still a great experiment, with awesome new colleagues around the world (including India, Australia and the UK), and the ultimate outcome is still very much to be written. Now is not the time just to keep doing what we’ve been doing; instead we must stay bold, unafraid of challenges, risks and failure.

In Asia, the sense of possibility and potential is astounding, especially in China. Our SVPs in Charlotte, Boston, Bangalore, Calgary, Austin, Los Angeles and 29 more cities helped make Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing possible … and in turn the rest of the world is giving each of us new ideas and connectedness and an even greater sense of possibility. I can’t wait to get back in the spring for the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network conference … full circle, again.

Paul Shoemaker is executive connector at Social Venture Partners Seattle.

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Full circle for SVP worldwide: what binds us together

Paul Shoemaker

Paul Shoemaker

This is the first of two posts in which Paul Shoemaker of SVP Seattle reflects on a recent trip to new SVP groups in Asia, in Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing. The second post will be published tomorrow.

It’s easy for an American, like me, to say things aren’t that much different around the world. They are quite different: cultures are different, languages are different, the way people live is different. And yet, I can’t help but walk away from a two-week trip to Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing feeling there is just as much that we have in common, that binds us together, especially when it comes to wanting to help change the world.

After 12 years of growth across North America, Social Venture Partners’ (SVP) model of engaged, networked philanthropy has been ‘imported’ over the last three years by Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Melbourne, Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai, and now London. I say imported because in every case a group of leaders came to us. We didn’t ‘export’ SVP any more than we could have exported it from Seattle to Portland. Engaged philanthropy has to be locally owned and driven.

For the purposes of this blog, references to SVP are more about the idea of engaged philanthropy than about one specific organization. The point isn’t to sell SVP, it’s to chronicle what is emerging around the world and to share those stories to help inspire others.

In June, I was walking down the street in Tokyo with a new SVP partner on our way to dinner on the last night of a 4-day, 15-hours-a-day visit. We’d finished up an all-day grant decision meeting and I asked him how it felt, since it was his first extensive philanthropy experience. He told me it was ‘an ‘opening of me’. He was new to this world of social change and explained it was ‘very special’ because he had never been with a group of people like that and had no idea how complex so many social challenges were. He said he had his mind opened up in a way than he never had before.

Tokyo SVPAt dinner, someone else spoke about how they can ‘raise their voices’ through SVP and another suggested that SVP is a ‘seed that each partner takes out into the world with her/himself’. I remember feeling the same myself when I started with SVP Seattle in 1998, and now here were young men and women halfway around the world having that experience in 2014 in Tokyo. For me, it was full circle, 16 years later.

I don’t hear the phrase ‘philanthropy’ as often as expressions like ‘building civil society’, ‘helping my fellow humans’, ‘giving back’. As close as I can interpret, the reasons people are responding like this all over the world is similar to why people in Vancouver and Portland, each a few hundred miles from Seattle, did so nearly 15 years ago:-

  • The desire to use more than financial capital; to also put professional skills and social networks to good use
  • The value of learning and doing alongside hundreds of like-minded, caring, smart people
  • The leverage and knowledge from pooling resources and sharing mistakes and lessons learned
  • The fundamental belief that we can each do more together than we can on our own

I love to just ask someone ‘why are you in SVP?’ I asked it dozens of times over the two weeks. Often their voice noticeably rises and their body language changes. In Beijing, one partner said, ‘it is the test of my life.’ I asked what that meant and she said it is ‘about finding out who I am and what I will be in this world’.

SVP Beijing partners

SVP Beijing partners

Before I flew out of Seattle in June, I didn’t realize that the attraction to the engaged philanthropy model, the way people across cultures, ethnicities, geographies and philosophies talk about ‘philanthropy’, is quite common around the world. It’s inescapable that where you live makes a lot of things different. But talking to people about what they hope for in their communities, why they want to give of themselves, makes it clear that where you live is irrelevant to other things that we hold in common across our world. They may say it in different words and languages, but our hopes and dreams are much the same.

Paul Shoemaker is Executive Connector at Social Venture Partners Seattle.

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Disruption? Yes, please!

Mia Bunge

Mia Bunge

A little while ago, I attended an event with Simon Willis, CEO of the Young Foundation, on civil society and social change. I had just started my new position at the Maecenata Institute in Berlin, which was hosting the event in collaboration with the Young Foundation and the Anglo-German Society. The first thing that struck me was the title: ‘Disruptive Innovation’. I had never heard that before and certainly not within civil society.

I learned that it is often used in business to describe strategies which improve a product or a service in an unexpected way. Through strong network building and a very practice-orientated, bottom-up approach, new value systems are established, and obsolete ways of thinking are disrupted and replaced. The Young Foundation is applying this method to the social sector, and Simon’s talk presented their approach and some of the challenges.

Disruptive vs sustaining innovation

Sustaining innovation evolves in existing markets, allowing the companies within to compete against each other’s sustaining improvements.

Disruptive innovation is an attack from outside, which happens quite often in the private sector. According to Simon, small companies’ ability to destroy large ones through the process of disruption is based on their short decision-making processes, which give them a crucial advantage over large organizations with large teams and long processes to figure out what the next innovation might be.

So, the idea of social innovation is to take successful innovative strategies that are used in the market and adapt those tools to tackle social problems. Sounds simple, but how does it work exactly? And how can we actually apply business strategies to a social impact project?

Leaving established paths

First of all, we need to disrupt the traditional approach to tackling social problems, which is mostly to plan for a couple of years, and to start projects that are top-down orientated and expensive. By the time the project is working, the problem has often changed. A better strategy to deal with social problems is to engage with communities, sit down with the people and design a service that actually addresses their needs and interests. The method in itself is social.

Second, innovative ideas in any sector do not fall from the sky. Social innovation is constantly hard, persistent work; above all, it is mostly collaborative work. You need different people with different ideas at different stages of the process. Simon pointed out that a team of specialists, particularly from the same field, is very unlikely to innovate, because they tend to stick to the approaches they already know. Most innovations emerge in multidisciplinary environments with low hierarchies. In fact, having strong leaders is incredibly narrowing for any innovation culture. Every team member should constantly be open to correction within the process.

The major challenge, however, is that socially innovative projects may be slow and can fail, which is a barrier to them getting funded. Funders want to know the outcome at the beginning of the process. In social innovation, the outcome of the process is unknown by definition.

Disruptive innovation may be a way out of a whole range of dilemmas that social innovation is facing. Interestingly, combining social impact and entrepreneurship with democratic values like participation and inclusion offers the best chance for continuous improvement.

Click here for a full report of the event.

Mia Bunge is a research associate at Maecenata Institute.

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Why philanthropy should take note of a new social and environmental index for the Amazon

Elaine Smith

Lots of people talk about conserving the Amazon rainforest, which harbours one-third of the worlds tropical forests and the planets largest hydrographic basin. The forests of the region retain vast amounts of carbon and play a strategic role in the regulation of regional and global climate. Many fewer people mention the 24 million people – the ultimate guardians of this important ecosystem – who live in the Brazilian Amazon.

A recent study found that 98.5 per cent of municipalities in the region perform worse in areas like access to education, clean water and information than Brazil as a whole. That is an alarming finding, but it also presents a great opportunity for philanthropists and foundations. The major recommendation of the study is that Brazil and the wider world take this new social and environmental data – rather than just economic growth or forest data – into account when making decisions about social investment in the region. If the people living across this vast region were given access to things like better education, sanitation and personal rights, the study concludes, they would be more empowered and better equipped to manage this important global resource.

The index, called Índice de Progresso Social na Amazonia – or IPS Amazônia – measures social and environmental performance at both the state and the municipal level. It measures social performance directly because economic development alone does not lead to social progress outcomes. Findings of the new study include:

Education On measures of access to basic knowledge, the region scores 10 per cent lower than the Brazil as a whole. Illiteracy in the Amazon is twice as high as in Brazil as a whole, while only one third as many people are enrolled in tertiary education.

Water and sanitation For water and sanitation, Amazonia scores over 50 per cent lower than Brazil as a whole. 20 million Brazilians in the Amazon are worse off than Brazilians as a whole for access to clean water. There is a critical situation related to clean water and basic sanitation in Amazonian houses: 99 per cent of municipalities don’t have decent sanitation facilities compared to the national average.

Gender On overall measures of opportunity, measuring the capacity of individuals to reach their full potential, 99 per cent of Amazonian municipalities are below Brazil as a whole. This is in part because of the situation for women, which is significantly poorer in this region than across the rest of Brazil. Maternal mortality is nearly three times higher than the country average; more young women become pregnant; twice as many women have to take care of their families alone; and Amazonian women don’t have the same access to education as Brazilian women have elsewhere.

The new index is based on the global Social Progress Index, a holistic framework consisting of three broad dimensions (Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellbeing and Opportunity), which drills down into 12 distinct components. For example, Nutrition and Basic Medical Care; Water and Sanitation; Shelter; and Personal Safety are the components of Basic Human Needs. Each component consists of several indicators. Some of the 43 indicators used in the Amazon index are globally relevant, such as maternal mortality rates, access to piped water, and secondary school enrolment, but others are used because they are particularly relevant to the Amazon, such as deforestation rates, the incidence of malaria, and violence against indigenous people.

The IPS Amazônia website has an interactive tool with comprehensive scorecards for each municipality in addition to detailed, interactive maps, which together reveal both specific needs in different communities and success stories that shed light on what works in one municipality that might be leveraged to advance social progress in others.

The report was conceived and supported by #Progresso Social Brasil, an emerging network of partners that convenes different sectors of society in Brazil around the shared objective of improving social progress, under the leadership of Fundación Avina and Deloitte Brazil. The project was led by the Amazon Institute of People and the Environment (Imazon) with technical support from the Social Progress Imperative.

Elaine Smith is a Young Global Leader from the World Economic Forum; she helps organizations in their development process, focusing on innovative approaches to social issues.

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Social value networks join up to create ‘international force for change’

Alliance magazine

Alliance magazine

Two of the most established and respected social impact organisations are joining forces to create the largest international social value network in the world.

Social Value International is the result of a merger between the international activities of The SROI Network and the Social Impact Analysts Association (SIAA).

The SROI Network in the UK will become Social Value UK and the SIAA will become Social Value International. Both the international and UK organisations will continue to be member-led and to offer training, accreditation and assurance on SROI and impact measurement.

Jeremy Nicholls, CEO of The SROI Network and Chair of the SIAA, will remain as CEO of Social Value UK and also take on the role of CEO of Social Value International.

Nicholls said: “In forging Social Value International, we are creating an international force for change that brings increased knowledge and resources to our members and to all those who want to see a world where decision making, ways of working and how we allocate resources lead to increased equality and well-being and reduced environmental degradation.

Social Value International will provide a clear and unified message about the importance of accounting for value, within and beyond its membership.

Tris Lumley, Trustee of the SIAA and Director of Development at NPC, said: “At this crucial stage in the development of the social impact field, I’m delighted that two such important networks are coming together to speak with one voice. As a field we need common principles, clarity on approaches, and shared learning. This development will help us get there much faster.”

For more information on the collaboration read the full press release here or visit www.siaassociation.org and www.thesroinetwork.org.

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