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Our Story

New Profit was founded in 1998 to help catalyze the nascent social entrepreneurship movement. Since then, we have backed and partnered with more than 150 social entrepreneurs who created powerful ideas, tools, organizations, and movements to turn the tide on entrenched social problems, advancing opportunity for millions of underserved people and communities. Here’s our founding story.

Scaling Social Innovation

In 1996, New Profit’s Founder Vanessa Kirsch, herself a two-time social entrepreneur (Public Allies, Women’s Information Network), was in the midst of a sabbatical trip interviewing social entrepreneurs around the world. She stopped in a rural village in Vietnam and met a mother who had developed a powerful way to decrease infant mortality by supplementing a baby’s diet with ground shrimp meal. The positive effects of this intervention on her village were dramatic. Kirsch then visited another village just miles down the road where the shrimp meal solution was missing and babies were dying at an alarmingly higher rate. Yet in both villages, Kirsch saw the iconic Coca-Cola logo across storefronts. The question that she couldn’t avoid was, “Why don’t the best social innovations scale like commercial innovations do?”

The question kept ringing in Kirsch’s mind as she returned to the U.S. where philanthropy was operating more or less the same way it had been for over 100 years – funding programs and services, rather than supporting the health of the organizations running them. As a result, only a few nonprofits had crossed the $1 million revenue threshold and entrepreneurs faced huge barriers to spreading their innovations, including lack of access to growth capital and expert strategic support.

In 1998, Kirsch founded New Profit to provide social entrepreneurs with just those catalytic supports – unrestricted capital and strategic advice – to help them strengthen their organizations, scale their impact, and take aim at changing the larger systems within which they operated. The idea was to bring some of the principles of venture capital into the social sector. And the results have been dramatic. Learn more about the impact we have had on more than 200 breakthrough organizations here.

Key Moments

New Profit's first Gathering of Leaders in 2003
New Profit community members at the 2006 Gathering of Leaders
Governor Deval Patrick launches the first-in-the-nation Pay for Success initiative to reduce chronic homelessness in 2014
Vanessa Kirsch and John Legend at the 2015 Reimagine Learning launch event
New Profit team and community members at our 20th Anniversary celebration
There is one underlying force that held us together in our early days and drives us still: our unbounded curiosity about people and ideas and history and the future.
— Vanessa Kirsch, New Profit Founder-in-Residence