Photo: GLG 2016 Social Impact Fellows
Everyone has access to information — but true insight can be harder to come by. Many organizations face this challenge, especially when their work addresses social problems or advances important causes. Whether they are non-profits, mission-driven for-profits, or hybrid organizations, they tend to work on particularly complex issues. They often operate in environments that make it difficult to gather accurate data. They can be smaller than many for-profits, with goals that sometimes outpace their resources. All of which can make it harder for social sector organizations to get exactly the insights they need, when they need them.
Nearly five years ago, GLG launched our Social Impact practice to help address this problem. We wanted to apply the one-to-one learning model GLG pioneered in the private sector — matching the best teachers with the smartest students for short- and long-term learning engagements — to socially conscious, mission-driven clients. In 2014, we followed that up with the GLG Social Impact Fellowship, which gives Fellows and their teams two years of no-cost access to GLG’s membership of over 500,000 subject matter experts.
The Fellowship is highly competitive. This year, we had over 500 applicants for just six spots. But competitive does not always mean effective, so this May, to formally evaluate our assistance to Fellows and their organizations, we commissioned a thorough review by independent consultancy Social Strategy Associates LLC. Through candid, anonymous interviews, their assessment found that the GLG Social Impact Fellowship is as meaningful to our Fellows as we hoped — because one-to-one learning is even more valuable to social sector organizations than we realized.
In particular, we’ve gained three key insights into how one-to-one learning at its best supports effective social sector work.
1. Our Fellowship model works best for organizations at an inflection point
We want to make the maximum positive impact, so we look for Fellows from organizations that have reached what we call “inflection points.” They’ve established proof of concept, but they need a boost to scale their model. It’s a fine balance. If an organization is too small and too focused on day-to-day survival, they’re unlikely to have enough breathing room to really be able to use GLG’s resources. On the other hand, if an organization is well established, the Fellowship might not be the right approach.
Our Fellows need to meet a few criteria. They need to have clearly defined their product or service and have begun delivering it to initial markets, users, or beneficiaries. They need to have an established team. And they need to be led by a Fellow eager to learn and to integrate that learning into the organization.
Organizations sometimes ask us how we describe the inflection points we’re looking for in our partners.
We look for explosive growth. Compass Working Capital, led by Sherry Riva, a 2015 GLG Social Impact Fellow, is a nonprofit financial services organization that serves low-income families. When Sherry first connected with GLG, Compass served 700 clients at three locations around Boston on a $1,400,000 budget, and was ready to explore bringing their coaching model to new markets.
So Riva and her team connected with GLG Council Members. They investigated different scenarios for licensing or franchising their model. They got smart on the regulatory variables they faced. They beefed up their data security infrastructure as their client base grew. Today, Compass’s budget has more than doubled to $3.5 million. Their 27 full-time employees serve 1,200 clients at ten locations in three states. And they’ve added five partner organizations at six locations in Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and Missouri.
We look for organizations that are reaching new stakeholders. Nest, led by 2015 Social Impact Fellow Rebecca van Bergen, is a nonprofit that helps local artisans partner with major global brands. Their mission is to build a new handworker economy to generate global workforce inclusivity, improve women’s wellbeing beyond factories, and preserve cultural traditions of craft.
Identifying a need to create a standardized compliance program, Nest sought the support of GLG Council Members who are former and current executives at major global apparel brands. Together, we deployed a comprehensive brand survey on current supply chain compliance practices. The survey was fundamental in the development of Nest’s revolutionary compliance program and Seal of Handworker Wellbeing, which Nest will launch with brand partners like West Elm, Target, and PVH at the United Nations in December 2017.
And we look for organizations that are developing new products. D-Rev, a medical device nonprofit led by 2016 Fellow Krista Donaldson, sought GLG’s help as it prepared launch an accelerator program for Brilliance, a device that treats newborn jaundice, in under-served states in India. D-Rev’s newly hired director of sales needed to better understand the procurement cycles for new medical devices in Indian hospitals, where needs and processes can vary widely from place to place. GLG experts helped the D-Rev team gain an increased understanding of the procurement cycles in their focus states in India. Today, D-Rev is working towards growing its product portfolio from two to five.
2. Just like businesses, social innovators need expertise to succeed
We’ve found a broad need among social sector organizations for expert help in defining, refining, and achieving their strategic and operational goals. As they grow and encounter new challenges, organizations run up against the constraints of their existing networks, which are unlikely to be broad or deep enough to answer every question or shed light on every problem.
Our Fellows have said that their boards, their own professional networks, and even their personal networks of family and friends have served as vital sources of expertise for them. But GLG’s membership of experts is the largest in the market and curating their knowledge is our specialty, and our Fellows report that access to our Council Members is extremely valuable to them. As Minhaj Chowdhury, 2016 GLG Social Impact Fellow and Co-Founder and CEO of Drinkwell, said, “Without GLG, we’d spend significant time and capital on expert consultants. At this stage… expertise is more difficult to find than funding and GLG has been a game changer for us.”
The value of expertise is especially critical for organizations engaged in issues with serious regulatory components.
Team Rubicon (TR), led by 2016 Fellow Jake Wood, maintains a roster of nearly 50,000 volunteers, including 45,000 military veterans, standing by to respond to emergencies in the United States and around the world. TR applied to GLG as they prepared to hire a Chief Information Officer, who would be responsible for overseeing TR’s obligations around protecting its volunteers’ private information. To help Jake and his team learn what to look for in CIO candidates and get the entire organization more data-savvy, GLG connected them with a number of high-level information security professionals at banks, universities, and other major institutions. As a result, TR was better informed in its assessment of CIO candidates. They developed information security policies to present to their board of directors.
City Health Works (CHW), led by Manmeet Kaur, a Fellow from our inaugural 2014 class, extends the reach of overburdened clinics by serving as a bridge and trusted partner to clinicians and patients in Harlem. CHW scales teams of locally hired Health Coaches who help patients with chronic illnesses achieve better health outcomes. CHW needed help understanding how a change in federal Medicaid rules could affect them. Under the new rule, CHW could potentially bill Medicaid for community health worker-delivered services if the services were recommended by a licensed primary care practitioner. CHW wanted to understand what this meant for them — was it an opportunity to grow? To improve? To answer these questions, GLG connected them with several experts, including the vice president of a nonprofit health insurance company in New York, the director of medical economics for one of Medicaid’s largest managed care organizations, and the director of strategic analytics at a New York hospital. Through these conversations, CHW was able to understand how the new rule would be enforced by New York’s Medicaid office.
And GLG’s Council Members aren’t only helpful in bringing social innovators up to speed on new subjects. They’re also a critical tool for professional development. A survey of over 200 groups cited in the Stanford Social Innovation Review article “Three Things Every Growing Nonprofit Needs to Scale” found that “the lack of a high-functioning team can pose significant risks to an organization.” That’s why our Fellowship supports not just the founder or CEO of an organization but the entire team.
3. Learning adds value across the social sector ecosystem
Finally, we’ve learned over the last five years that it’s not just Fellows at inflection points who benefit from the one-to-one learning model.
Just like GLG’s for profit clients, nonprofit consultants like The Bridgespan Group engage with our Council Membership to connect with the world’s best teachers on the world’s most complex subjects. Impact investors like Blue Haven Initiative benefit from GLG’s service the same way our private equity clients do: by turning to our Council Members for help making the wisest decisions about investments they’re considering. For some of the world’s leading foundations, our Council Members help them maximize the impact of their philanthropic dollars by supporting their diligence on potential investments and helping them understand the context in which their grantees are working.
In short, the effect of GLG’s Social Impact practice extends beyond the direct services we provide through our Fellowship. It’s all part of our ethos: professional learning accelerates progress for everyone.
Learning is exponential. It builds on itself. But there’s a huge difference between typing a phrase into a search engine and talking to an expert. The former tells you what you think you need to know. But the latter helps you ask the right questions. One is a closed loop; the other’s a dynamic process.
And learning’s benefits are durable. In the nearly five years since we launched GLG’s Social Impact practice, we’ve been privileged and gratified to observe the impact of our one-to-one learning model deployed in the service of the common good. We’re excited to continue to expand our role. We’ve learned a lot in the last five years. We’re excited to learn even more in the five to come.