Pam Foster introduces Co-Impact, an ambitious joint fund
Thank you to Pam for agreeing to be interviewed.
1. Can you please tell us a bit about Co-Impact and how this idea evolved to what it is now? What approaches and forms of social investment will you use: grantmaking, operations, grantees’ capacity building, advocacy work on issues supported, impact investing, etc.?
Co-Impact began with our founder and CEO, Olivia Leland, who previously served as founding director for the Giving Pledge. What she consistently heard from philanthropists during her time at the Giving Pledge was that they were investing significant time and resources to find, vet, and manage even one game-changing investment—which limits the number of such efforts being funded. She then spent the next three years speaking with hundreds of philanthropists and social change leaders and found that they too were spending vast amounts of time and energy piecing together disparate and ultimately insufficient funding, which greatly inhibits their ability to scale their work. Aside from a handful of extraordinary global initiatives, most giving is for $10 million USD or less, short-term, and focused on growing individual organizations rather than creating change at the systems level. In short, there were few effective mechanisms to match leaders looking to solve social issues at scale with the philanthropists interested in providing the right size and kinds of capital, and the partners needed to succeed.
Co-Impact addresses this gap.
We look to support initiatives that are poised to achieve breakthrough results at a national or regional level. Rather than scaling the direct service work of individual NGOs, Co-Impact supports systems-change plans that are designed and executed by coalitions that include partners critical to long-term success at scale, including community groups, government, other NGOs, and the private sector.
Co-Impact also looks for initiatives that take a “societal platforms” approach to scaling– that is, they are building the shared, universal infrastructure that will allow their approach to be used by many others in diverse geographies and contexts, and growing networks of partners that can amplify their methods. Many of these platforms may include a significant digital component.
Co-Impact will make its first system change grants in 2018. These grants will be informed by more than a year’s worth of due diligence and field research. Systems change grants will be up to US $50 million, flexibly structured, and will go to initiatives with proven leadership and results that are poised to scale even further. Co-Impact will also seek to unlock additional participation by governments and the private sector. We will also offer comprehensive non-financial support for things such as strategic planning, program management, technology, policy and advocacy, government relations, monitoring and evaluation, and leveraging additional funding.
2.What are the main motivations of the funders and was it difficult for them to accept losing a part of their sovereignty? What does it take to convince donors to pull resources?
We believe that collaboration is the key to solving some of the world’s most pressing challenges and that achieving systems change requires collaboration and partnership, long-term support for promising approaches, and a commitment from key actors to change the underlying conditions or systems that perpetuate social challenges. Systems change succeeds by bringing together local communities, non-profits, governments, business, donors, and others to drive lasting change beyond what any individual actor could possibly do alone—and this belief is deeply held by each of our core partners and what makes Co-Impact attractive for our funders.
3.Co-Impact has a total fund size of USD 500million – do you plan to grow this already ambitious joint fund?
Co-Impact begins with $500 million USD in planned initial funding from initial core donors plus co-investors to invest in high potential systems change projects in three critical areas—health, education, and economic opportunity—to improve the lives of underserved populations across the developing world. This figure is expected to increase as new co-investors and other partners join.
Co-Impact also looks for initiatives that take a “societal platforms” approach to scaling– that is, they are building the shared, universal infrastructure that will allow their approach to be used by many others in diverse geographies and contexts, and growing networks of partners that can amplify their methods.
4.What do you think donors can achieve when they pull funds that they cannot achieve alone? Are you planning to try to measure specifically the added value of your collaborative approach to philanthropy?
What’s unique about Co-Impact is that it’s about far more than just money. Co-Impact connects philanthropists and social change leaders from around the world who share a vision of driving change at scale; supports proven health, education, and economic opportunity initiatives that deliver enduring results for millions of people; and leverages capital and non-financial resources by inviting others to join, co-invest, and learn alongside, to magnify the impact of systems change initiatives.
Fundamentally, we will measure our success by how successful we are in driving large-scale results for the benefit of our target populations. And yes, we are also looking to have an impact on philanthropy, encouraging others to collaborate more and to invest in systems change efforts, so we will be measuring our impact there as well.
5.We know that actions from recognized names such as those behind this initiative are influential. Is it also part of Co-impact’s agenda to foster a culture of collaboration in the philanthropic field? In other words, do you think that, like the Giving Pledge for instance, Co-Impact could be a powerful way to inspire other philanthropists – in this case towards more collaboration and articulation?
Absolutely. Our hope is that over time, Co-Impact will inspire more philanthropists to come together to pool resources and expertise to support great social change approaches and drive results at scale. In fact, we believe that Co-Impact’s role in creating systems change is to connect philanthropists with each other and with social change leaders to develop, support, and invest in proven solutions that address broken systems and that are ready to scale even further.
We believe that collaboration is the key to solving some of the world’s most pressing challenges and that achieving systems change requires collaboration and partnership, long-term support for promising approaches, and a commitment from key actors to change the underlying conditions or systems that perpetuate social challenges
6.Do you know other pulled philanthropic funds and how is this one different from the others? Do you think this sort of collective approach is the future of philanthropy or should it remain a complementary approach to the main one, which remains essentially individual (epiphenomenon or new philanthropic paradigm)?
We have been inspired by efforts like Blue Meridian Partners, which is a partnership of impact-driven philanthropists seeking to change the odds for America’s children and youth living in poverty, and Dasra, which has been working toward building a “thriving ecosystem” that enables knowledge creation, capacity building, strategic funding, and collaboration to touch and transform the lives of 800 million Indians. We also draw inspiration from community foundations, public-private partnerships, and others for whom collaboration is a critical element of their success.
I think there is room for many forms of philanthropy, and would never suggest that this sort of collective approach should replace or even eclipse traditional, more individual, philanthropy. But what is clear is that this sort of effort is filling a gap in philanthropy and in the support of systems change efforts, and we believe it offers an important complement to other forms of philanthropy.
7.By serving as a platform which catalyzes resources from different donors and putting it at the service of civil society, we can consider that Co-Impact is part of the broad ecosystem of support to philanthropy which develops the quality and quantity of private resources for social good. Not only it is becoming part of this global infrastructure but its financial importance probably makes Co-Impact the main philanthropy infrastructure organization worldwide. Do you agree with this view and also consider yourself as part of this global philanthropy support ecosystem?
I absolutely agree that Co-Impact forms an important part of the global ecosystem of support for philanthropy, in that it builds a new, replicable model of collaborative philanthropy—a community of philanthropists investing deeply and over the long-term in systems change to improve the lives of millions by advancing education, improving people’s health, and providing economic opportunity. We are a partnership of results-oriented donors who want to give and learn together, and are pooling resources, networks, and expertise to drive lasting change at scale. We will consider it a measure of success if we can share what we learn so that others may build on what we’re doing here.
Beyond being a new model of philanthropy, Co-Impact is also at its heart a grantmaking organization, so contrary to infrastructure organizations like WINGS that are focused on improving philanthropy, most of our resources will be spent in the form of grants to systems change opportunities. This makes us different from infrastructure organizations – but hopefully adds value by demonstrating a model of philanthropy.
…what is clear is that this sort of (collective) effort is filling a gap in philanthropy and in the support of systems change efforts, and we believe it offers an important complement to other forms of philanthropy.
8.How do you think the global infrastructure for philanthropy should evolve?
Given the gaps that our founder and CEO’s research uncovered over the past few years, offering more models to enable partnership will be important, and we eagerly anticipate sharing lessons with other collaboratives. It is our hope that if this model proves successful, we’ll have created something replicable, so that others don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The global infrastructure for philanthropy – including WINGs, of course – can help support that evolution by sharing our learnings.
More specifically, the governance and infrastructure of a collaborative like Co-Impact can take several forms. We chose to go with a fiscal sponsorship model, and are very pleased to partner with New Venture Fund, which offers us a legal mechanism for receiving and disbursing funds, the institutional support to hire staff and engage consultants, and the reporting and operational backbone without having to build it from scratch. I personally believe the sector – especially internationally – could benefit from other organizations being able to support collaborations like this.