Let me suggest five insights about social mobility and the role of big bet philanthropy that continue to strike me as especially significant:

Ultimately, it’s about public work. If philanthropic investments do not engage the public sector, it is hard to see how they will lead to population-level change.

Business can play a transformative role. Despite the success of engaging businesses in achieving big goals globally (e.g., global distribution of vaccines, increases in agricultural productivity to address poverty and hunger), US philanthropy typically ignores the potential of for-profit companies to help create, implement, and scale innovative solutions to domestic challenges. There are signs of change, however, that need to be built upon. Social impact bonds, performance contracts, public-private housing and community development partnerships, and other models are rewarding companies for reducing recidivism, connecting youth with employment opportunities, preparing young children for kindergarten, and building affordable housing. But this is just a start. There needs to be more effort and investment to engage the private sector in creating effective social solutions.

Place-based progress matters but is elusive and demands systemic and comprehensive solutions. Where you grow up matters profoundly to your prospects of achieving a higher economic status. Efforts at community redevelopment have historically been fragmented, often pushing out the people intended to benefit from them, or including them only superficially. To enable current residents to benefit from community redevelopment, strategies and systems must be aligned to the critical milestones in people’s lives so that they can thrive where they live.

To reach entire populations, target those with great needs. Change strategies often begin with the populations and communities where change may be easier so that philanthropists can demonstrate success before moving on to the tougher challenges. But to improve the prospects of entire populations of people, we may need instead to target tough challenges with the potential to unlock solutions to more universal problems.

Donors have to ditch the bad habit of making big bets on their own. Uncoordinated individual investments may not get us very far in changing the systems that have failed to address big social problems.

Read the full article about population-level change by Jim Shelton at The Bridgespan Group.