The Social Impact Exchange launched its Annual Conference on Scaling Impact in New York City this week, with all due fanfare. The Conference opened with the business plan competition on Monday and ended Thursday. It is a unique cross-disciplinary event where over 400 foundations, philanthropists and philanthropy advisors (as well as other stakeholders) convene to discuss the latest ideas and trends. The Conference focuses entirely on innovative methods to support scaling and replication of high-impact nonprofit initiatives. Since Social TrendSpotter is releasing this blog a day late (Friday versus Thursday) and are LIVE in NYC, we thought we’d cover the highlights of this conference Broadway-style:

  • The Book of Mormon Impact: As we have described from past conferences, impact was the word. People often talk about impact, but then miss the opportunity to showcase true impact. We were particularly impressed by Linda Gibbs, Deputy Mayor of Health & Human Services for City of New York who discussed Mayor Bloomberg’s administration and its focus on reforming poverty. Rather than starting with ideas or making assumptions, it followed the “lean start-up” approach – review data, search for best practices, assess internal capacity, and then determine the best-possible solutions to pursue. Even more impressively, Mayor Bloomberg’s administration evaluated those implemented solutions and, if they didn’t work, admitted failure and moved on. If they did work, it took the next step of codifying the work and spreading the word of its impact to other cities.
  • Wicked Collaboration: Next to impact, collaboration was the second most popular word of the Conference. However, unlike many conferences, panelists from many types of public-private collaborations shared both the “good and wicked” aspects of partnerships. To maximize collaboration, panelists suggested partnering early and broadly, discussing shared and individual goals candidly, consolidating quick wins, and sharing credit. Panelists warned about the “Christmas tree effect” of trying to hang too many things on one collaboration and emphasized the importance of setting deadlines to ensure quick decision-making among members. While the panelists acknowledged that collaboration can be “wicked hard,” they also emphasized that, if done deliberately, it is well worth the effort.
  • Motown and New York, New York:  Another major trend from this conference was the re-emergence of place-based collective solutions in cities such as Detroit and NYC. Rather than focusing on a “one-hit wonder” of education, health, or income, many communities are weaving together a network of solutions across silos to create system change. We love this trend so much that we’ll be covering it in detail in an upcoming blog and article.
  • Mamma Mia! Philanthropy: We are enthused about a new mentality among leading foundations of “stepping into the vortex” as Kresge CEO Rip Rapson coined it. Rather than being on the sidelines, Kresge is at the heart of the much-needed change happening in Detroit. Kresge has moved beyond their role of giving away money and embraced their role as 1) vision setters and community builders (along with others in Detroit); 2) working to aggregate investment around creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Detroit; 3) serving as a guarantor of capital on high-risk, but high-reward ventures, including bringing a Whole Foods into Detroit; and 4) serving as the philanthropic chamber of commerce to attract outside private and government support to Detroit. We hope other foundations will follow their lead and leverage their impact in their own community.


As we reflect on the conference, we’re reminded of the famous Goethe quote – “Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.” Many of these ideas are worth acting upon. We hope you agree and will forward this along to others and make these ideas happen.

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