About Allyson Hewitt

Allyson Hewitt is the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation's Senior Fellow in Social Innovation at MaRS Discovery District

Opening Pandora’s Evaluation Box

“Revolutions in science have often been preceded by revolutions in measurement.” Based on the premise from Sinan Aral of the MIT Sloan School of Management

Jason Saul presented to a full-house as part of the MaRS Global Leaders series in April 2016 on his latest venture – the Impact Genome Project (IGP). A public-private partnership to code and quantify the “genes” of what works in social science. The audio of the presentation can be found below.

If you spend 5 minutes in the social impact sector you are sure to be asked, how do you know you are making a difference?

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Jason Saul and Nolan Gasser present the Impact Genome Project at the Skoll Forum in 2014

Jason and his colleagues at Mission Measurement have been tackling this question by taking us from the current state: we are spending $400 billion to achieve social outcomes without any standard way to accurately measure ROI; the evaluation industry is in disarray; evidence is unstructured and unintelligible; and yet evidence is growing exponentially – it is just not readily accessible. We have no common language; no benchmarks that allows us to compare social programs; and ultimately no predictive data meaning we can’t forecast before we invest. This is what Mission Measurement calls the black box problem.

Yet other sectors have predictive data and use it to increase their impact: think credit scores, the human genome or even Netflix. The music industry has cracked this code with Pandora and their Music Genome Project, the original inspiration for the Impact Genome Project. Jason approached Nolan Gasser, the architect of the Music Genome Project, and together they embarked on a journey of discovery asking one question:  Can we not do for social programs what Pandora did for music?

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You can watch a short documentary on the story of Pandora and Nolan Gasser on FiveThirtyEight

As it stands the Impact Genome Project comprises 11 total genomes: education; economic development; public health; youth development; international development; human services; criminal justice; sustainability & environment; science & technology; arts; and culture & identity. With 132 common outcomes. The goal of IGP is to produce new benchmarks such as efficacy rate; expected outcomes; and cost per outcome. It is an open data project with advanced analytics available via subscription.

The IGP intends to create a more level playing field by:

  • Democratizing evaluation
  • Replacing guessing with data
  • Learning systematically across the sector
  • Unleashing innovation and creating twice the impact with half the cost

It is an audacious goal and yet the future is here. The UK government is already moving to pay for outcomes and have created a What Works Centres, a network of centres to “support more effective and efficient services across the public sector at national and local levels.” Our own governments are not far behind with the Centre of Excellence for Evidence-based Decision Making Support at the Government of Ontario, which was part of Minister Deb Matthews’ mandate letter.

The UK government released a report in 2014 providing an overview of the What Works Centres.

The UK government released a report in 2014 providing an overview of the What Works Centres.

Why Canada? We have supportive genetic infrastructure:

  • Un-entrenched philanthropic institutions
  • Integrated and collaborative philanthropic sector
  • Government prioritizing evidence and value for money
  • Institutions willing to lead
  • Access to top talent/academic institutions
  • Systems-thinking expertise

We are interested in what you think. Does this seem like a way to get ahead of the inevitable move to pay for outcomes? Can we work with funders to make this approach the standard, not the only way forward but one that is “directionally correct”? What are your concerns, if any?

Please let us know and help us determine how we can get to a better place around demonstrating our impact in a world that needs us to use all our talents to tackling our complex challenges.

Reflections on the Social Enterprise World Forum

Now, I may be a bit biased given that it was hosted in Canada, but I honestly believe that this was the best Social Enterprise World Forum I have ever had the pleasure of attending. The forum built on the tradition of social enterprise, recognizing in particular the historical leadership of the United Kingdom, and moved us to think about the links between social enterprise and the broader social change imperative—a uniquely Canadian positioning.

The organizing team worked so hard, by design, to ensure inclusion. If you were just discovering the field of social enterprise, you had the opportunity to learn the essentials from terrific leaders in the field through sessions like Social Enterprise 101, which was offered in both English and French.

For those of us who have been around this game for some time, it was terrific to see the engagement of new players. I heard an elder state that this was the first conference of this type in his memory to have a stream and keynotes reflecting the experience of indigenous peoples, and the session on rural realities was critical, especially given the increasing focus on urbanization as more and more of us move to cities.

Broad government representation

The event welcomed all three levels of government and, given the state of our federation in Canada, this is virtually unprecedented. This monumental task was achieved in part by the leadership of the Government of Alberta, who organized a pre-conference session with other political and bureaucratic staff from across the country. I am especially appreciative of the efforts of Dr. Eric Hoskins of the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment and the Hon. Jason Kenney of Employment and Social Development Canada for taking so much time out of their intense schedules to join us. Obviously the issues we discussed are resonating in political circles.

Corporate representation

It was also wonderful to see so many players from the corporate world join us. In one of the sessions I attended on corporate social innovation, the attendees were lined up along the sides of the walls and out the door. We often talk about the fact that social change requires multi-stakeholder engagement, but we spend a lot of time talking only to ourselves and to those who agree with us. With this conference we have broken down many of these silos and there is some discomfort in our wake as we transition to a broader, more inclusive approach to social change.

Social finance

One area where those silos are blurring is in the field of social finance. My colleagues in the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing worked with the Trico Charitable Foundation to bring our extremely popular Social Finance Forum to Alberta. Started in 2007, under the visionary leadership of Tim Draimin, Tim Brodhead and Bill Young, among others, we were able to engage Sir Ronald Cohen in our work in Canada, which was fledgling at the time, and to keep him engaged in that work as we moved forward. It was terrific to welcome him back to Canada—via Skype—and to have him share his deep knowledge and unique perspective with the corporate, political and social enterprise leaders at this pre-conference event.

On a personal level—and because I am privileged to attend so many of these events—I rarely expect to learn anything new. However, I, along with many other seasoned practitioners, walked away inspired by the wisdom of everyone from Al Etmanski and Mary Gordon to llse Treurnicht (more bias), the Hon. Paul Martin and Pamela Hartigan.

Allyson Hewitt with Wayne Chiu, head of the organizing committee for SEWF 2013 and chair of Trico Foundation

Allyson Hewitt with Wayne Chiu, the head of the organizing committee for SEWF

They consistently recognized a place for us all in this movement. They talked about the role of social entrepreneurs at the systems level, about disruptive, bridging and receptive innovators, and about “entrepreneuring.” They challenged our complacency, they offered hope and they offered a way forward—and that is well worth the price of admission.

To everyone on the organizing committee in general and to the remarkable leadership of Wayne Chiu and Daniel Overall of the Trico Charitable Foundation, congratulations on a job well done! As for the rodeo, well my friend, that was the proverbial tasty icing on the well-baked cake. Yahoo!

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on the MaRS website. It has been reposted here with permission from the author.

Creating the Future: A new method for enabling change

Let’s start at the end

When asked to reflect on their learnings from the Creating the Future workshop they had attended, participants stated just that: when thinking about creating change, start at the end (envision what you want) and determine how to get there (work backwards to achieve your end goal).

This was the simple yet powerful message of Hildy Gottlieb, co-founder and chief boundary pusher of Creating the Future. Hildy also declared that creating the future is something we do every day—except when we’re thinking about creating social change.

For example, if Hildy asks us what time she has to leave to get to the airport, we all know what to ask her. What time is your flight? Pearson or Billy Bishop? Will you be checking baggage? We know what has to be done in order for her to accomplish her end goal.

We need to transfer these skills to the world of creating change. We need to practice them in this new context, or—as a member of the audience stated—we need to practice this way of thinking and being in the world. Our real job should be to determine what favourable conditions would enable us to get to where we want to be, and then take the actions required to create those favourable conditions.

This is what I enjoyed most about the evening. Hildy took the complex challenges we are facing and gave us tools to make the change we desire to address those challenges.

What were some other lessons?

  • Take the time to get to know each other. We started this session by giving people a chance to “describe their meandering journey.” The buzz in the room as people shared their stories, before the session even really got started, was inspiring and suddenly the room felt opened to new possibilities.
  • There is real power in asking good questions. This is a great lesson, especially for those of us who are perceived to have the answers. The best thing we can do for you, anyone can do for you, is to ask you really good questions that challenge your operating assumptions. Then reflect on those questions honestly and make yourself vulnerable to what the answers might reveal.
  • Be aware of the stopping words. Phrases like “if only” can see us focusing on the obstacles, barriers and challenges that stop us from progressing, despite the fact that human progression is part of our DNA. Hildy encourages us “not to invite fear into the room” but rather to focus on the conditions that need to be established to create social change.

Hildy took us back to a time when we were programmed for survival—when as hunters/gatherers we knew surviving was good enough. By reflecting on this history, she asked the room to realize how some of us still believe we are doing well if we just “keep the doors open.” We don’t allow ourselves the chance to think big, to create substantive change, when our focus is rooted in survival.

4564135455_4c14304e481She gave one example that resonated with many in the room: the misplaced focus on strategic planning. We spend untold funds and resources in one area while many plans are parked, others dismissed, and yet others referred to, if only occasionally. Still we get no closer to social change. It’s not that we don’t know what to do, it’s that we don’t do it. No strategic plan will get us where we need to go. We need to focus on areas that will lead us to make change.

But we don’t have the systems in place to do that. Let’s look at governance. Right now, board members are brought on for their expertise in finances or legal or other skills linked to accountability for adherence to certain rules. They look back to see what an organization did over the past month/quarter/year. The focus is misplaced on this kind of accountability, not on what the organization is doing to make real chance or create real social impact.

More often than not we end up saying we need more of the same, such as, more food banks as the answer to reducing hunger. We need to a challenge our own assumptions, to questions the stories we tell ourselves as this leads to our actions and the results we achieve. We need to question what we believe is possible and what we believe about each other. We need to get beyond a sense of scarcity and limited resources to considering how we can work together to grow the pie.

When you are stuck in a place of disagreement—go bigger. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who agrees we should have more homelessness or hunger in the world, but each of our ways of solving these problems differ dramatically. When working with groups from different perspectives—which is required when making real change—we need to get beyond details and back to the world we are trying to create.

We often believe that getting to the root causes, instead of the focus on symptoms, is the secret to success. But Hildy warns us that this approach can also be narrow and unfulfilling as it sometimes leads us to focus on finding the thing or person to blame instead of focusing on creating a thriving community. Ecosystem and community are the real solutions. It is messy but nothing is working if we don’t open the context.

So who is Hildy Gottlieb? In addition to her current work on Creating the Future, which is described as “a learning and teaching laboratory for accomplishing social change”, she is also a social scientist, an activist, and a prolific writer and speaker. Her writings can be found in the Huffington Post, and the Chronicle of Philanthropy. She is the author of several books on the nuts-and-bolts of creating social change—the most recent of which is The Pollyanna Principles: Reinventing ‘Nonprofit Organizations’ to Create the Future of the World. She claimed the word “Pollyanna” before the others could use it against her. That works for me.

Having begun her career in the world of politics, she quickly found her calling in building successful businesses with Dimitri Petropolis, her business partner for over 20 years. In 1993, Hildy and Dimitri founded their first social enterprise, consulting to community organizations across North America. Since that time, the team has founded three more social enterprises—the first two Diaper Banks in the world, and now Creating the Future. Hildy has received numerous awards for her work and the entire team at Creating the Future won an award from the Awesome without Borders Foundation, for their efforts towards Radical Openness which sees them using online tools, like Google hangout, for their board meetings.

If you are interested in more information on Creating the Future, or in supporting them in their 10-year mission to learn what practical tools it takes to change the world, please sign up here.

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on socialinnovation.ca. It has been reposted here with permission from the authors. Co-authored by: Allyson Hewitt, Geraldine Cahill and Dave Kranenburg

Lessons from the Honey Bee Network

You are a drug developer selling into India; what would you do if you had to choose between developing a drug that would cure 80% of the people with a certain condition for $1/day or a drug that would cure 99% of the people for $200/day?

This was one of the questions posed by Dr. Anil Gupta, Professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Executive Vice Chair of the National Innovation Foundation (India), and Founder of the Honey Bee Network, when he visited MaRS for an event co-hosted by SiG@MaRS, the Queen’s Business School Centre for Responsible Leadership in collaboration with TiE Toronto.
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Jack Layton: a true change maker

By now you have heard or read the call to action from Jack Layton in his last words to Canadians: “my friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we will change the world.”

Photo by Peter J. Thompson

A profound sentiment from a true change maker and leader. Every day at SiG we are privileged to work with Canadians, young and old who not only believe in a better Canada, they are actually working towards it. These Canadians often choose to make a difference through social entrepreneurship, Jack chose to do it through politics, and others like David Pecaut (someone who I can’t help but think of when I read the tributes to Jack) choose to do it through community building.
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Change that really works

Adam Kahane, a Canadian by birth, has been working globally on big system challenges for over 20 years; think sustainable food system, truth and reconciliation issues post apartheid in South Africa, and climate change.

He recently shared his learnings on a webinar organized by Social Innovation Generation (SiG).

Key lesson: Change Labs are initiated by a group of people who understand that in order to address a complex issue they have to work together. They have the fundamental realization that no one individual, organization or even government, can solve complex challenges on their own.
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Women and social entrepreneurship: Redefining success

The following excerpt is taken from See Change Magazine’s Celebrating Women in Social Entrepreneurship edition, March 8, 2011

Are women uniquely positioned to take on complex leadership challenges? I believe we are, but it won’t be easy. As a student of women’s studies in the 1980s, I really thought so many of our battles had been won, and there is no contesting the fact that significant progress has been made, but every now and then we are struck by reports from journalists, police officers or the judiciary condemning women who are victims of rape or sexual assault. We are reminded that we can’t take anything for granted, that our positions as leaders must continually be earned, that there are many who would ascribe to us a certain role in society – not necessarily a role we see for ourselves.  We need to name these and confront them. We need to take the power that will allow us to redefine success.

International Women's Day 2011

There are many tools and resources available to support social entrepreneurs but there is still a lot to do. We need to create an enabling and regulatory and legislative framework; we need to increase access to capital (from grants to loans and even equity); and we need to promote a world that understands sustainability as having embedded financial, social and environmental components.
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