THE BLOG
09/20/2013 10:04 am ET | Updated Nov 20, 2013

Bring the Maverick Out

Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.

My boss is a maverick -- in 1997 he gave the first billion-dollar donation and inspired philanthropists like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. However, he didn't immediately fund on the ground direct services; he invested in building a platform to connect people, ideas and resources to solve global problems. At the United Nations Foundation, Ted Turner taught us to believe that innovation through risk-taking can save lives when barriers are lifted. Bringing non-traditional philanthropists together as innovative global partners, we pool expertise, and insights to help the United Nations tackle the world's biggest challenges. Through investors, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists, we have the ability to create transformational partnerships that embrace innovation and scale up proven solutions.

But when philanthropists have a choice to pay for high risk infrastructure versus direct service -- it takes experienced mavericks like Ted to teach us all the right choice.

Almost seven years ago, we were making heavy investments in new bed net technology to prevent malaria. I was very nervous to ask our leadership and board to give up $350,000 in those bed nets to pay for the overhead and infrastructure of creating a public campaign to raise awareness on malaria prevention. I was scared not just to present to these tough folks, but also because I was basically asking them not to fund bed nets to women that would potentially prevent them from losing their children. Ugh -- but, the vision was to build a public campaign that would raise funding for three times as many nets.

Not only was this a risk to lives -- but it was a reputational risk. This would be an Internet-based "marketing" campaign hoping the public would get behind us. So began -- Nothing But Nets. It is a relief to say that thanks to our board and Ted taking that risk in funding infrastructure and staff versus direct service, that $350,000 resulted in almost $50 million in nets and so many more lives saved. This is what the brave new world of treating charity more as a 'business' looks like to us.

New innovative models are applying market-based solutions to make philanthropy smarter, more effective, and leaner in order to deliver higher impact results for all parties. From venture philanthropy applying venture capital finance and business principles to social causes and philanthropic goals, to social entrepreneurship and the emerging sector of social business beginning to blur the lines between for-profit and nonprofit, today's philanthropic approaches are not just philanthropy as usual.

Among refugees, UN agencies took malaria from being the number one killer of refugees to the fifth utilizing this new innovation. -- Elizabeth Gore

The UN is one of the only organizations that can take innovation to scale globally. Guided by a shared vision for a better world, this new platform for global progress allows investors to be the champion of change they want to see. For example, when the Long Lasting Insecticide Treated bed net was created, the UN was able to work with its partners to deploy 350 million nets across the world and cut malaria deaths in half within eleven countries in just two short years. Among refugees, UN agencies took malaria from being the number one killer of refugees to the fifth utilizing this new innovation. The approach combines innovation that delivers results for the world's most vulnerable with financial investing that demands accountability, cost-effectiveness, and measurable returns.

Let's make tough choices -- build infrastructure and take risks. I dare all of you -- bring the maverick out in your philanthropy.

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