September 28, 2017

How ten20 Foundation is doing philanthropy differently

Since transforming from service delivery organisation to catalytic funder, ten20 Foundation has been on a steep learning curve. ten20 shares its story and what its learnt about funding collective impact initiatives to bring about systems change.

ten20 Foundation has its roots in Melbourne-based, non-profit GordonCare which for 125 years provided child protection services for disadvantaged children and young people.

By 2012, it had suffered the classic funding challenges: it was reliant on limited government contracts and lacked funding for capacity building. And it was increasingly aware that existing responses to child vulnerability were not addressing the root causes of the problems – its work was a band-aid at best.

… the board decided to cease service delivery and instead focus on funding prevention…

Realising that the organisation was no longer sustainable, the board decided to cease service delivery and instead focus on funding prevention – to stop children ending up in the child protection system.

They brought on Seri Renkin as CEO; her initial priority was to liquidate assets, wind up affairs and restructure the organisation as a philanthropic funder. Caroline Chernov soon joined Renkin as Executive Director to assist in developing and implementing the new organisation’s strategy.

Changing from service delivery organisation to catalytic philanthropist

Seri Renkin
Seri Renkin believed they could do better with their resources by working differently.

How did the organisation make the bold move to become a catalytic funder to bring diverse stakeholders together to think differently in solving the complex social issues? How did it come to focus on system change by supporting collective impact initiatives?

From earlier experience in the sector, both Renkin and Chernov knew this was a rare opportunity to break away from traditional funding models and a chance to take a systems approach to social change.

“We were committed to systems change, and understood that the complexity involved in making that change would require a new funding approach,” Chernov says.

Renkin, now Managing Director, adds that they believed the organisation could do better with the limited resources it had by working differently. “This meant testing new investment approaches, including not only what we funded (collective initiatives or individual organisations), but how we did it and over what time frame,” she says.

… fund different initiatives that could learn from each other to find common themes and approaches to influence the larger ecosystem;

With their joint experience including at SVA in venture philanthropy and Children’s Ground, they were convinced that community-led, place-based initiatives were most effective in addressing the complex issues that lead to intergenerational disadvantage – and that the collective impact model was worth exploring in an Australian context.

Most importantly, for the system change they sought, they wanted to fund different initiatives that could learn from each other and find common themes and approaches to influence the larger ecosystem; scaling the new learning for impact.

And why the focus on early childhood? “We know that what we do for children in the early years is long-lasting,” says Renkin.

How the organisation transitioned

By April 2013, GordonCare had liquidated its assets and ten20 was established to catalyse, convene and support community-led, collective impact efforts. The name ten20 was a play on their vision to invest in and scale up new approaches in up to 20 communities over 10 years.

Funding was to be catalytic and finite – they gave themselves 10 years to spend down the assets.

Renkin says that funding was to be catalytic and finite – they gave themselves 10 years to spend down the assets.

Understanding the terrain

Caroline Chernov
Caroline Chernov: ‘We spent a lot of time scanning the environment… visiting and listening to communities..

To support the organisation’s transition into a new role, Renkin and Chernov talked with numerous communities, as well as other funders, researchers, NGOs and intermediaries in the early childhood area.

“We spent a lot of time scanning the environment – not just a theoretical scan, but visiting and listening to communities,” says Chernov.

They heard from the communities that the funding they needed was primarily for the backbone and coordinating leadership – to drive new ways of working across different stakeholders and to undertake the local reorganisation required for collective effort.

To better understand what was and wasn’t working in the collective impact approach, the pair explored collective impact initiatives in Australia (particularly through The Search) and internationally (for example Magnolia Place).

And to better appreciate the funding ecosystem for activities such as community engagement and development of child and family agency, they spent time with intermediaries such as The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI). “That informed us as a national funder how to support communities and that we needed to find local partners with the community engagement and mobilisation piece,” says Chernov.

Creating a focus – Opportunity Child

With a focus on community-led early childhood initiatives, Renkin says that ten20 realised it needed “to convene a new conversation with communities and other organisational partners and stakeholders about how resources could be better aligned to shared outcomes for children.”

… a national initiative that could link to work on the ground and be a neutral coordinator of learning and change…

That led to the incubation of a national initiative that could link to work on the ground and be a neutral coordinator of learning and change – separate from funding bodies and other agencies with a direct service delivery purpose.

Woodside Development Fund, the philanthropic arm of oil and gas company Woodside, was advocating for the same kind of systems change in early childhood development. The ensuing partnership helped ten20 develop its starting point.

In 2014, ten20 along with its key partners launched Opportunity Child a collective of communities and national organisations using a collective impact approach to bring about systems change to ‘significantly improve outcomes for children in Australia’.

The six communities that make up Opportunity Child

Connecting Community for Kids – Cockburn and Kwinana, WA
Go Goldfields – Central Goldfields Shire, VIC
Logan Together – Logan, QLD
NT Collective – NT
The Hive – Mt Druitt, NSW
Together in the South – SA[2]

ten20 committed $10 million over 10 years to the national initiative which targets the 65,000 children who start school each year ‘with big challenges in learning and in life’.[1]

The collective is currently based on six partner communities (see box) supported by eight national organisations from the non-profit, business and philanthropic worlds. Woodside provides funds to the Opportunity Child initiative in WA and has contributed significant funding to the national team.

One of the first actions was to work with the communities and a group of research organisations (including Murdoch University, Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY), Centre for Social Impact, and Telethon Kids) to devise one shared outcomes model for early childhood. (They had been about to fund separate and duplicating research efforts).

Opportunity Child came up with the goal to reduce Australia’s child vulnerability (for 0-8 year old children) from 22 to 15% as per the Australian Early Development Census.[3]
“This goal was agreed with the communities and is part of Opportunity Child’s alignment to the ARACY NEST[4] national goal,” says Renkin. “It’s an aspirational goal to align partners and communities to tangible results.”

… collecting data to identify the exact number of children who are vulnerable and to directly focus on these children.

The shared outcomes model is then tested within and tailored for the local communities, aligning local efforts with national results. “The knowledge that is gathered through local measurement and then shared and aggregated nationally allows communities to demonstrate what works in more collaborative service delivery, to adapt what they are doing for better results, and to stop doing things that waste time and effort,” says Renkin.

All Opportunity Child communities (though they are at various stages of the process) are collecting data to identify the exact number of children who are vulnerable and to directly focus on these children.

Funding focus

In addition to funding the national team to provide support, learning and evaluation across partner communities, ten20 has also provided five year discretionary grants to assist local backbone infrastructure and leadership.

Its first investment approach was to run an invitation-only application process. However, it now has a framework which enables it to co-design investment with the Opportunity Child communities that it has close relationships with and that meet the investment criteria. Each community must demonstrate the capacity, commitment and appetite to align to shared goals, participate in a learning system, create collective action and exert influence both locally and nationally. For more information on the community characteristics ten20 uses to select high potential communities, see Appendix 1.

This fund enables ten20 to quickly address unexpected challenges arising in partner communities.

In practice this has involved Capacity Building Fund grants of up to $100,000 to qualifying partner communities. These grants are made annually and involve regular engagement with communities about how they are tracking in their efforts.

A second funding pool, the Rapid Response Fund, is still a work in progress, says Renkin. This fund enables ten20 to quickly address unexpected challenges arising in partner communities. Qualifying communities can access up to $25,000 to help resolve issues that otherwise could sideline progress whether governance, strategic planning, or loss of staff in the backbone, etc.

According to Renkin, this approach aims to create sustainable funding by providing other funders a lower risk model in which to contribute to solving childhood vulnerability.

Lessons about being a catalytic funder

On the journey, Renkin and Chernov identify a number of learnings from their work.

1. Changing the conversation is hard work

Attempting to affect systems change is hard work – as you are driving behaviour and organisational change.

To change the way the system works, you need to change practices and mindsets at every level…

“Initially being a catalytic funder meant convening different conversations, daring to ask different questions and looking for ways to bring diverse stakeholders together to think differently in solving the complicated social issues in new ways,” says Renkin.

“To change the way the system works, you need to change practices and mindsets at every level, individual, organisational, in the local community, and policy and government. It takes catalytic organisations and catalytic people.”

“For the first 18 months, all I did was talk to other CEOs. The responses were: ‘Gosh that’s ambitious. Yes, we should all be doing that, but how are you going to do it; it’s impossible!’”

Chernov confirms that you have to have these conversations, no matter how uncomfortable they are.

[As philanthropists] we are uniquely placed because of our neutrality.

“Any organisation needs to understand where its organisational strategy interfaces into the collective; you may be constrained by brand, or vested interest in service program delivery. So it can be a difficult thing to do,” she says.

Renkin points out that it doesn’t have to be philanthropists who do this, “but we are uniquely placed because of our neutrality. Community is not threatened by us in the way they may be with service delivery organisations or government.”

2. Listening to community

Initially, ten20 leapt into one community relationship with a preconceived view of what the community needed to be able to work more collectively – particularly around digital platforms. The relationship subsequently failed.

Renkin reflects, “We failed to appropriately listen and understand where that community was at; as funders we let that community and ourselves down. We’re grateful to them for respecting our learning ground and being the guinea pig. It was a critical experience for us.”

… communities were ready to think creatively about how the funds could be better allocated across the communities…

As Opportunity Child got underway, being close to the communities enabled it to respond appropriately to build capacity by sharing, codifying and disseminating knowledge.

“We discovered that communities were ready to think creatively about how the funds could be better allocated across the communities on things they were all doing and duplicating,” says Renkin.

Mechanisms include regular peer-to-peer meetings of community leaders on skype, usually based around a knowledge theme; coaching/mentoring by practice experts working in the field to support practitioners to better drive collective impact; and once or twice a year the whole community gathers for two to three days for intensive co-design, sharing and networking.

“As well as codifying and disseminating knowledge, these gatherings are also movement building, and create a narrative about what they are collectively achieving and doing,” says Renkin.

3. Building local ownership and sustainability

ten20 has also learnt how to better support the local community to lead. In 2013, during the incubation stage of the Mt Druitt initiative in Western Sydney, ten20 played the roles of both funder and backbone organisation.

“We soon realised that we were best placed to leverage our funds to bring government funding in to build local capacity,” says Renkin.

Knowing when to exit in early stages is a critical success factor in building local ownership…

United Way Australia now provides the backbone function for the community initiative, with a partnership between ten20, United Way Australia and the NSW Department of Family and Community Services.

“Through this experience, we realised that we can catalyse backbone infrastructure, but it’s important for us to exit and let local people and organisations – the local stakeholders – step in and lead their change,” says Renkin.

“Knowing when to exit in early stages is a critical success factor in building local ownership and sustainability.”

4. Leveraging the investment

As a small entity with limited funds, Chernov also emphasises the importance of maximising their investment by leveraging funding from other players.

“A good example is Logan Together, the Queensland urban community where we leveraged our seed funding at a ratio of 1:20 which really gave them the platform they needed,” she says.

Logan Together was looking for philanthropic funding for its backbone organisation. ten20 committed $100,000 per annum for five years. This led to a significant commitment from the Queensland and Federal Governments, as well as other philanthropists such as the Dusseldorp Foundation.

They have also built on the learnings to improve service commissioning and funding access for collective impact work…

Chernov says that in working more closely together in Logan, philanthropists and government have started to develop a collective understanding of how they can better align processes and reporting to the shared outcomes in Logan. “They have also built on the learnings to improve service commissioning and funding access for collective impact work more broadly,” says Chernov.

“Over time, as Opportunity Child demonstrates progress and impact, ten20 hopes other social investors will be prepared to match its funds to align and contribute to achieving the shared goals for children,” says Chernov.

5. The capacity building required is the same no matter the social issue

After four years as funders, we are realising that the capacity building required to create the conditions for system change are actually the same no matter what the social issue, says Chernov.

How can we scale up the new funding models… to enable others to engage?

“We are all asking the same strategic question, whether we’re working in early childhood or juvenile justice. How can we scale up the new funding models that are critical to enable others to engage?” says Chernov.

“That’s why we are collaborating with a broader range of funders. Also, funding place-based systems change has revealed the importance of a local funding infrastructure that has a strong relationship to community and community’s needs.”

6. The role of philanthropy in terms of influence and advocacy

Experience has distilled their understanding of the way philanthropists need to work with other philanthropists, and with government and business.

One funder alone is not going to get the systems change needed…

“This underscores our interest in finding places or spaces where we can work with others in the system,” explains Chernov. “One funder alone is not going to get the systems change needed so it’s really important that we work nationally and locally with the other voices around this.”

“We see a role for a small group of funders to codify and disseminate the shared knowledge to influence funding policy that will create the conditions for communities to lead local innovation.”

ten20 is currently working closely with a small group of catalytic philanthropic funders and the Federal Government to explore new forms of aligned funding and support to those communities with high potential to generate long term change for children.

Both Renkin and Chernov believe that these public and private partnerships can initiate, and be a catalyst for, the collective funding required to achieve sustainable change in communities undertaking these collective initiatives.

What’s next for ten20?

As well as funding local initiatives, ten20 is addressing the broader systems change by working with US non-profit Harwood Institute of Public Innovation. Together they are looking at best practice in creating funding conditions to enable collective impact.

They have developed a Funder Roadmap which allows communities to pinpoint what ‘life’ stage they are at, and even whether they are ‘collective impact’ ready. It also enables funders to start conversations with communities about how they can support local efforts.

We…are placing increasing emphasis on partnering with other funders for knowledge capture and systems shift…

“We continue to fund and support conditions for local collective impact work, and in addition, are placing increasing emphasis on partnering with other funders for knowledge capture and systems shift around funding conditions,” says Chernov.

Renkin affirms, our greatest learning is that catalytic philanthropy must continue to play a role in seeding the conditions and capacity for early childhood systems change. “So, we continue to support Opportunity Child and remain focussed on addressing the broader funding barriers that prohibit, rather than advance, these emerging community initiatives in Australia.”


Notes

[1] According to the latest Australian Early Development Consensus in 2015, one in five children, or around 65,000 children, nationally are considered vulnerable in one or more domains of the AEDC.

[2] Opportunity Child’s six partner communities

[3] Australian Early Development Consensus in 2015 found that 22% of children were developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains.

[4] The Nest is a national action plan to mobilise, align and enable the efforts of those working to improve the wellbeing of children and youth in Australia (0–24 years)