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.
If you are looking for more articles and resources for Impact Philanthropy, take a look at these Giving Compass selections related to impact giving and Impact Philanthropy.
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