As I think about 2020, here are some curiosities and opportunities I see in the world of social impact.
- Social impact / philanthropy can grow in its emotional intelligence. We are obsessed with the high-IQ, peer-reviewed, evidence-based approaches within issues and sectors like affordable housing, early childhood, workforce development, economic mobility, and so on. But what about working in the blindspots between those issues... in the “fluffy” EQ realms of loneliness, social cohesion, mental health, conceptions of identity, and cultural norms? These are unbounded spaces that cut across a foundation’s “focus areas” where the impact is less measurable and attributable, but I hope that we can swim upstream and explores these less-defined areas that are often the invisible forces shaping downstream issue-based success metrics.
- Populism in the world of philanthropy. Where is the foundation that models itself after the Bernie Sanders campaign? 2018 featured books like Winners Take All and Decolonizing Wealth, and people like Darren Walker are perceived as reformers within philanthropic institutions by working to divest endowments, apply equity lenses, and focus on inequality. But I’m curious if the values of populism, democracy, and equity in our contemporary zeitgeist will express themselves in different approaches to philanthropy that resemble the grassroots mobilization of populist political campaigns. Will we see a major philanthropy rise to power that is marked by the abdication of power by traditional power-brokers and led by the “beneficiaries” themselves?
- Climate change is a lens across all impact. In 2020, I hope more people apply climate lenses into issue areas that are not climate-explicit. We have social determinants of health; we need climate determinants of health. We advocate for 2-generation approaches to poverty that think decades ahead; we need those approaches to be informed by how our climate will look decades ahead. Climate is not just an issue area, it is a lens applied to all work.
- Getting capital off the sidelines. I have become obsessed with Donor Advised Funds (DAFs). Assets in DAFs are doubling every five years. In 2018, there were $121 billion dollars in DAFs, but most of that money just sits undeployed on the sidelines. Whoever is able to crack the nut of DAF mobilization will be able to unlock a tidal wave of financial capital.
- Bridge-builders in a post-truth world. We’re in a post-truth world and the silos we occupy reinforce convenient narratives that align with our worldviews. I am curious if we will get over our need to be right and start to fund the bridge-builders who are working across lines of difference to unite coalitions of the unlikely. Does it matter more to us that we can prove to climate skeptics that global warming is anthropomorphic, or are we willing to explore the cultural, political, racial, and geographic bridging that might be necessary before we can even begin to explore ideas about what is true? Sometimes speaking our truth is easier than listening to theirs.