It is almost impossible to believe as I sit here writing this message that it has been two decades since we launched New Profit in 1998.
With a mandate from social entrepreneurs around the world, aided by an energized volunteer Idea Team, we hatched an idea for a new way to support breakthrough social innovators. Still operating from a closet at City Year, at first we called it an action tank, then renamed it New Profit to express our intent to bring the best ideas and practices from the nonprofit sector and the for-profit sector together in a new way to drive change.
Like all the leaders we have supported over 20 years, we started with burning determination to transform the way things work in America. Our focus was on getting young, visionary leaders access to capital and expert strategy advice to catalyze innovation and take on large scale impact. At that time only a handful of social entrepreneurs had ever received a $1 million grant, much less the unrestricted, multi-year support we provided for them to grow their innovation.
Today’s context is testing our will, our commitment, and our ability to innovate, but when I look at the leaders in our community and see the flowering of activism across the country, I feel confident that the next 20 years are going to be even more transformative than the last 20. Here are three thoughts on keys to success as we look forward:
WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER
In our efforts to be trusted, valuable partners with our grantee-partners, we acknowledge both the interdependence and the formal asymmetry of power that a funding relationship creates, and we intentionally work to break through the typical barriers that can come as a result of this dynamic. One of the ways we do this is by modeling powerful vulnerability. We understand that as funders, we need to first look inward and be aware of our biases, triggers, behaviors, and ways of thinking that do not serve our individual or shared interests. After all, how could we ask our grantees to jointly and openly assess their assets and liabilities if we are not willing to do the same ourselves?
OUR MOST VALUABLE ASSET IS RELATIONSHIPS
Relationships accrue over time and the value of them is often under-appreciated and under-invested in. A social entrepreneur we invested in early on, John Rice of Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT), is now on our board helping lead our thinking about diversity, equity, inclusion, and systems change. The bond we have with him, and the deep respect we have for him, comes from the ways we have challenged each other throughout our relationship. We have to continuously nurture our long-established connections while building new ones. It is important to take a long term view of investing when it comes to people more distant in your network as well.
Finally, stay open and engaged. We can’t grow unless our networks and relationships challenge us, inlcuding (and, maybe, expecially) in ways that are uncomfortable. Continually ask hard questions: How diverse in all ways is your network? How much are you doing to open your aperture, and see talent and relationships that have traditionally been beyond your view?
STEPPING INTO THE FUTURE
Listen, learn, stay curous, and, finally, care about each other.
I’m filled with energy and a sense of possibility about the future, which is grounded in deep gratitude for all of the people who have made the past 20 years possible. From big insitutional partners who believe in our approach and individual donors who have joined us on a profound learning journey, to our amazing staff team and our grantee-partners whose work inspires us every day, we are fortunate to be surrounded by a community of big thinkers and doers who are deeply committed to social change.
Thank you for everything you’ve done to support us, partner with us, and believe in us. Strengthening the relationships we’ve built, and forging new ones with people who share our conviction and curiosity, will define our future.