Giving Compass’ Take:
• Writing for Forbes, The Bridgespan Group’s William Foster discusses the role philanthropy plays in driving social change, citing the organization’s $20 million investment Global Trans Initiative as an example of a “big bet” with a high-minded goal.
• How do civil society, human rights and other movements play into your philanthropic objectives? If history is any guide, we must think big in order to make a difference.
Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. Chinese student activists stand defiantly in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square. Pro-life advocates rally under the dome of the US Capitol. When we think of social movements, these are likely the kinds of images that come to mind—not those of well-heeled donors writing very big checks.
So, in late 2015, when Jon Stryker’s Arcus Foundation and Jennifer and Peter Buffett’s Novo Foundation announced a $20 million big bet on the Global Trans Initiative, which aims to improve the lives of transgender people worldwide, some might have wondered: is such an audacious goal achievable? Unlike donations that result in something tangible, like a new museum wing, this gift instead attempted to change pervasive attitudes toward one of society’s most marginalized groups.
Does philanthropy really have a useful role to play in transformative social movements?
History says, “yes.” For a recent research project on big bets, which The Bridgespan Group defines as gifts of $10 million or more, we examined a number of recent, successful social movements, such as: in the United States, the rejuvenation of conservatism in the 1970s and 80s, and LGBT rights in the last decade; and, globally, the Green Revolution of the 1940s — 60s. More than 70 percent of the social movements we studied received at least one pivotal big bet.
How can a big bet propel a social movement? Wherever the movement falls on the political spectrum, the answer’s basic elements are remarkably similar:
- Big bets can provide the critical infrastructure required for movements: materials, people, transportation, legal services, research, and more.
- Big bets represent a vote of confidence, especially when the odds against progress are high.
- Big bets offer leaders the time they need to create change. In retrospect, same-sex marriage in the United States looks like a fairly quick victory—fewer than fifteen years have passed since Haas’ initial gift to Evan Wolfson.
Read the full article about betting big to change society by William Foster at Forbes.
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