A lot of what you do as a nonprofit leader (let’s face it – most of what you do) is highly complex and labor-intensive.  But here’s a great opportunity to do good in your sleep:  divest your organization’s assets from fossil-fuel interests, and invest them in green energy development.  Those leading this effort compare it – accurately, I think – to the high-impact campaign 30 years ago to divest in companies that helped sustain apartheid in South Africa.

This terrific article in the Huffington Post by Divest-Invest leaders Ellen Dorsey and Richard Mott, of the Wallace Global Fund, provides an excellent overview of the initiative’s brief history (begun in 2011 by university students disillusioned by governmental inaction, then given a big boost by environmentalist Bill McKibben), and addressing a few of the common anti-divestment arguments.

A few sentences that jump out at me: 

“No mission-driven or cause-based organization should hold positions in industries that pose a direct threat to its mission or to the public good.”

And –

“The claim that prudent financial management somehow trumps impact on mission is not just wrong on the facts, it stands the notion of fiduciary duty on its head, putting profit over values.”

But, the authors point out, you need not sacrifice performance to go green:  “The best analyses we have seen, in backcast studies by Impax, Aperio Group, and Boston Common Asset Management, all show essentially zero risk in being out of the top 200 fossil fuel companies.”

Indeed, there is a widespread belief (reportedly a hot topic of discussion at Davos last week) that fossil fuels are overvalued, so staying in fossil fuels might represent a significant risk.   

Governments are clearly not going to provide the trillion or so dollars annually required to transform global green energy options anytime soon.  But philanthropies, non-profits, and others, concertedly shifting assets away from fossil fuels and into green energy initiatives could have a huge impact – comparable, perhaps, to helping end apartheid.

I hope you’ll read Dorsey and Mott’s article, continue on to the Divest-Invest website, and give some serious thought to your organization’s portfolio.  Although these authors are addressing leaders of foundations with hundreds of millions of dollars under management – far, far more than most of us non-profit leaders – every little bit helps.  As you know, the ocean is just a zillion drops of water. 

I hope you’ll let me know what you think and do in response to this exciting call to action.

It can be tough for leaders of smaller organizations and initiatives to find exactly the right resources at the right time.  You don’t want to waste time developing and launching programs without a good chance of success, but finding reliable data about best practices can be difficult.  MDRC is an essential source of usable research if your area is any of these:

·         P-12 education.
·         higher education.
·         youth who have disconnected from the educational system.
·         low-income families.
·         families or individuals struggling with income insecurity.
·         ill health and disabilities that isolate people.

MDRC (originally Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, but now simply MDRC) was founded in 1974 by the Ford Foundation and several federal agencies.  In the last 40 years it has built to 250 employees in New York and Oakland, California, in partnership with several foundations, universities, and federal agencies.  MDRC’s tagline is “Building Knowledge to Improve Social Policy,” and there is no better source of high-quality research on the issues listed above. 

If you’re launching, assessing, or tweaking an initiative in any of these areas, I encourage you to explore MDRC’s large library of free publications to see if they can offer knowledge valuable for you. I hope you'll let me know if you find resources you can use.
A recent article in The Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) could spark a healthy revolution if enough people put its principles into practice.  “Social Innovation from the Inside Out,” by long-time social change practitioners Warren Nilsson and Tana Paddock, takes on the thorny question of what makes some organizations better than others at social innovation. 

Although many scholars and practitioners focus on expanding networks to maximize leverage, Paddock and Nilsson focus on internal dynamics – “inscaping,” they call it, with a nod to the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.  By “inscaping,” they mean paying close attention to intra-personal and interpersonal experience within the organization. 

The authors write, “When we’re trying to wrestle with the large and complex issues ‘out there,’ why would it help to dwell on the relatively small issues “in here”? Part of the answer may be that, in the end, there is no ‘out there.’ The cultural, economic, technological, and moral complexities that social innovators confront don’t respect organizational boundaries.   . . .  They are in the room.”

This simple observation is brilliant.  Clearly, there’s no escaping the personal at work; but how many organizations actively consider, respect, and incorporate the personal experience of their members? 

Paddock and Nilsson distinguish between work inscaping, which involves frankly exploring the personal experience of day-to-day work, and life inscaping, which involves sharing aspects of life outside of work.  They note that some organizations are very good at one or the other (many are good at neither), but that the transformative organization is good at both. 

Obviously, being good at either or both of these forms of inscaping might require considerable organizational change.  Happily, Paddock and Nilsson offer some very concrete strategies for beginning that change.  These include “role hacking” (switching roles for a day or two), encouraging divergent opinion and thought, personalizing feedback, and eliciting personal responses when planning or evaluating programs– not just emotions, but insights, doubts, and hunches.

Two important points of clarification:  “inscaping” is not group therapy, and it’s not a management-driven, top-down exercise.  It must be organization-wide to be effective.

What do you think?  Can you see your organization embarking on a process to enhance work and life inscaping?  How would you start? 

I’d love to discuss it with you.  Be in touch!