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Private philanthropists have helped propel some of the most important social-impact success stories of the past century: Virtually eradicating polio globally. Providing free and reduced-price lunches for all needy schoolchildren in the United States. Establishing a universal 911 service. Securing the right for same-sex couples to marry in the U.S. These efforts have transformed or saved hundreds of millions of lives. That we now take them for granted makes them no less astonishing: They were the inconceivable moon shots of their day before they were inevitable success stories in retrospect.
Many of today’s emerging large-scale philanthropists aspire to similarly audacious successes. They don’t want to fund homeless shelters and food pantries; they want to end homelessness and hunger. Steady, linear progress isn’t enough; they demand disruptive, catalytic, systemic change—and in short order. Even as society grapples with important questions about today’s concentrations of wealth, many of the largest philanthropists feel the weight of responsibility that comes with their privilege. And the scale of their ambition, along with the wealth they are willing to give back to society, is breathtaking.
For the types of social challenges targeted by audacious philanthropists and other change makers, adaptation informed by robust measurement is key.
To fuel progress, funders need to make sure that both their attitudes and their funding reflect that reality.