Giving Compass' Take:

• In an excerpt from Dan Heath's book Upstream, the author explains the "push for zero," a strategy for change-makers to eliminate issues entirely, starting at the micro level.

• How can we learn from others' successes to eliminate societal issues in our communities? How can we apply the "push for zero" to our coronavirus response efforts?

• Learn about Mutual Accountability for Social Change, another innovative approach to philanthropy.

In 2014, Larry Morrissey, then mayor of Rockford was asked to join the Mayor’s Challenge, a campaign promoted by the federal government with the goal of ending veteran homelessness in communities around the nation.

Less than a year later—on December 15, 2015—Rockford became the first city in the United States to have effectively ended veteran homelessness.

The city changed its approach in many ways, and it began with a mental shift: They were not going to “deal with” homelessness anymore, or “work on it” or “combat it.” They resolved to end it. Jennifer Jaeger, Rockford’s community services director, and one of the key leaders in the work on homelessness, called it her “I believe in fairies moment.”

In my new book Upstream, I analyze the work of leaders such as Jaeger and Morrissey who have escaped the cycle of reaction that so often characterizes our work: putting out fires, responding to emergencies, “taking care” of problems. These leaders were determined to push upstream to prevent those problems from happening.

One of the most surprising patterns I discovered in this upstream work was the push for “zero”—the desire not just to mitigate problems but to eliminate them. I found groups all over the country who aspired to zero: An effort in Detroit to eliminate suicides. The Vision Zero network, which aspires to eliminate all traffic fatalities. And the Built for Zero network, a methodology and movement for ending homelessness—and one that played a major role in Rockford’s success.

The lesson for upstream leaders is clear: You can’t help a thousand people, or a million, until you understand how to help one.

Read the full article about the push for zero by Dan Heath at Stanford Social Innovation Review.