Since Bridgespan’s founding, the heart of what we do has centered on deep collaboration with leaders of mission-driven organizations and philanthropists, advising them on their organizations’ strategies, and from that work as well as complementary research, gleaning insights and developing tools that could help much larger numbers of organizations accelerate their impact. That remains the essential core today—a core we have been building on with new approaches designed to effect large-scale, sustainable social change. In 2016, several of those strategies began to show results.
Multiyear Initiatives. In 2014 we decided to focus in a deep, sustained way on a few key topics. This decision was a product of recognizing the distinctive importance of certain issues where we felt well positioned to make a difference, and the fact that change in the realm of ideas and shared beliefs almost always requires persistent attention. While one article might spark an important shift in thinking, it typically requires much more to catalyze a real change in practice. We have come to believe that a close interaction of advisory work, idea development, and the engagement of a broader community of leaders grappling with the issue—over a multiyear arc—offers the best hope for accelerating impact.
Today, we have three of these efforts, which we call our Multiyear Initiatives (MYIs): Transformative Scale, Big Bets, and Pay What It Takes. In 2016, we saw encouraging progress in each one. In our Transformative Scale work—which seeks to understand how to achieve impact at the scale of the need for true population-level change—we worked closely with a group of nonprofit and philanthropic leaders from around the world to help them propel such change. We also conducted the research that informed the just-published (September 2017) piece in Harvard Business Review called “Audacious Philanthropy.” In Big Bets, we have been studying how ambitious donors can increase the quantity and quality of large philanthropic commitments made to advance social change—combining a series of significant consulting engagements with ongoing research, including a new Forbes list of the prior year’s most promising major gifts to social-change causes. And in Pay What It Takes, we developed an article (published in 2017 in the Stanford Social Innovation Review), rooted in our work with major foundations, which calls for a new grantmaking approach that provides enough money for nonprofits to pay for their core operations, not just programs and services.
Leading for Impact® (LFI). LFI is a powerful way we are blending consulting and our content to reach and influence a much larger number of nonprofits. LFI is a city-based, two-year, consulting program, which helps executive teams of ambitious nonprofits pursue strategic opportunities and build capacity to improve their performance. In 2016, we launched a new LFI site in Boston and in 2017 we opened in Chicago (for a total of five cities: Boston and Chicago, plus Atlanta, Seattle, and D.C.). In our inaugural city, Atlanta, we are wrapping up four years of Leading for Impact that ultimately engaged over 200 leaders in 39 nonprofits. Beyond the numbers, we are heartened by the feedback we have received from nonprofit CEOs who have participated in the program. They speak compellingly of the value it has brought in such critical areas as achieving strategic clarity, setting priorities, and helping their teams work better together.
Bridgespan India. We are pleased to provide an update on progress in Mumbai, India—our first office outside the United States, which we launched in September 2015. Our model in India is built on the same principles as in the US: that deep work with clients informs relevant, practical knowledge work that combine to become a powerful path for impact. Over the past year, we have been privileged to work with outstanding NGOs and philanthropists on a variety of consulting projects in such areas as adolescent girl empowerment, rural livelihoods, and health challenges. We also have published a major piece on scaling NGOs in India. Perhaps most significantly, though, we are starting to see the cross-country sharing of ideas—such as “what can the US learn from India about scaling”—which we believe promises to accelerate impact and spark entirely new ideas for making a difference in the world. We are exploring how Bridgespan might engage with leaders in other parts of the world to foster even greater cross-country sharing of ideas.
We feel incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to work and learn alongside some of the most innovative organizations and ambitious social leaders that are working to scale solutions to break cycles of poverty around the world. We are continually awed by the amazing work done by so many who aim to make the world a better place.