February 10, 2014 | Thoughts

Connecting Cause, Cash, & Context

For the last seven years, I have been the Executive Director of Spark, the world’s largest network of Millennial philanthropists. We invest our philanthropic capital in grassroots, women-led solutions around the world. As technology costs have fallen, I have watched as mobile technology has drastically changed my work. In places where there is no doctor, Spark’s grantees use phones as mobile medical clinics. In places where women can’t open bank accounts, cell phones are used as financial hubs for women to set up savings accounts. Recently, I returned from Turkey where nonprofits use text alerts to track sectarian violence.
Many tools and opportunities exist to address the world’s most challenging issues. The obvious question remains: how do we leverage our resources to improve lives on a broader scale? First, two fundamental shifts must occur. Philanthropy needs a new financial model, and technology solutions must be integrated with content expertise.

Disrupt Philanthropy:

There is too little risk capital in traditional philanthropy. Typically, nonprofits must have impact metrics to receive institutional philanthropic investments. Moreover, traditional philanthropy is less likely to fund hybrid organizations that straddle the line between for-profit and not-for-profit. The existing philanthropic structure can stifle ideation, iteration, and ultimately, innovation. That model of funding doesn’t work for technology. Software solutions are affordable and scalable. Additionally, the upstart costs for technology nonprofits continue to plummet. If we want to leverage these tools, we have to change the way we invest in their development.

Integrate Content Expertise with Technology Solutions:

People are using technology to do good, but they are not always tapping into content expertise. I once sat in a pitch with engineers who developed a literacy app for women. Sounds good, right? It wasn’t. The app required an Internet connection and women in their target country didn’t have access to web-enabled phones. Because the engineers weren’t from their target market and they couldn’t afford to do customer research AND build the app, they built the wrong tool. Entrepreneurs need more than money. They need context and connections.

I am co-founding Fast Forward to connect cause, cash, and context. I want to see human advancement accelerated.

Join our effort by following Fast Forward. Together, we can accelerate good.