Competitive Frontiers: Part 2 - Going Wider

The competitive advantage will be increasingly on finding and funding a more diverse set of non-traditional ventures.

Competitive Frontiers: Part 2 - Going Wider

In a previous post, I proposed that going earlier and going wider represent the two pillars of a differentiated and long-term strategy for identifying and supporting emerging social solutions and innovations. They represent competitive frontiers in our sector, and they are the first principles propelling Uncharted’s new strategy. In that January Insider, I focused on going early. This month, I’m discussing the merits of accelerating a more diverse range of solutions.

After 10 years of vetting and selecting early-stage social ventures, one meta-learning is just how similar so many social ventures look. The business models, the growth plans, and the operational structures are often similar. It seems like social ventures follow some unwritten playbook, partially stemming from funders’ dictates, partially informed by the success stories that have been heralded, partially driven by the limited options for customers and payers.

In biological taxonomy terms, I would say that >90% of applied ventures are of the same genus and species; they share the same social impact genealogy. While there have been great successes and outstanding impact created from these models, we’re missing out on genealogical intermingling and cross-breeding.

Research says that the most “innovative” ideas and the most “breakthrough” innovations have diverse genealogies and non-linear origins. (See this article on where "new" ideas come from and why African masks and Spanish indigenous art informed Picasso's work, and why Henry Ford said of his assembly line, "I invented nothing new. I simply assembled into a car the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work.”)

What does genealogical mixing look like in early-stage social ventures? Here are two examples:

  • Bridging policy and implementation. Palak Shah, the Social Innovations Director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance, says that the biggest opportunities for impact in her space are working to bridge policy and implementation. One of the best examples of an organization doing this is FreeFrom, a 2018 Uncharted venture working to dismantle the nexus between intimate partner violence and financial insecurity. They do this through their policy platform, programs, tech tools, and funds. They’re blending approaches, and they represent a unique blended genealogy of approaches.
  • Youth-led, tech-powered social movements. Many of our social entrepreneurs are building or harnessing technology, but few are building tech-based social movements and campaigns in the ways that youth activists are: decentralizing power and leveraging social media. Jaclyn Corin, a Parkland student who has been one of the many faces and leaders of the movement against gun violence, has said: “People always say, ‘Get off your phones,’ but social media is our weapon. Without it, the movement wouldn’t have spread this fast.” The student-led movement to end gun violence inspired Greta Thunberg to launch her own climate movement, which has spread largely via technology and social media. The decentralized, activist-led, tech-powered social movement is a genealogy of social change we need to learn from and graft into more social ventures.