Giving Compass’ Take:
• Stanford Social Innovation Review explores how emerging organizations, even the small ones, can help advance social progress.
• Systems change is never easy, but it makes sense that it would be good to seek outside perspectives in order to shake up the status quo. Are we doing enough to include new voices?
Conventional thinking tends to discount the possibility that new, small organizations have something to offer in partnership with established, larger organizations. Indeed, their models, evaluation frameworks, and funding strategies look very different. But recently, we have seen that early-stage organizations have an important role to play in systems change — that is to say, change to the interconnected elements such policies, program standards, regulations, and governance that define what a system actually produces.
Smaller groups are free from the ingrained expectations of stakeholders, beneficiaries, and funders. They aren’t burdened with workforces that deliver programs or services, and thus aren’t vested in an organization focusing on those activities. These groups can be catalytic, lighting a spark in a larger organization or bureaucracy that can otherwise be hard to ignite.
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We must figure out how to encourage new partnerships with established players and other partners, as well as new funding streams, to help them flourish.
Small but mighty
The field of K-12 education has been static for decades, but a wave of emerging organizations are beginning to change how things are done here as well. For example, during her maternity leave, former classroom teacher Maya Gat tackled a problem that had reduced her effectiveness: She lacked the insights and guidance she needed to personalize instruction for her students. The organization she founded to solve this problem, Branching Minds, developed a web platform that works to streamline, scaffold, and improve system-level, school-wide intervention practice.
The Branching Minds team creates bridges between special education and general education reform, proposing systems solutions that assume learner variability is the norm rather than the exception. The group has brought new energy to a stale conversation about “tiered support,” a data-driven problem-solving framework to understand and respond to academic and behavior needs of individual students.
What’s the message? Funders who care about systems change should look from the outside in, and shouldn’t discount the potential and influence of early-stage organizations. Today, disruptive innovation is bubbling up, rather than trickling down.
Read the full article about changing the nonprofit system by Jeff Walker, Vanessa Kirsch, and Jim Bildner at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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