Social outcomes need broadest possible collaboration

Andrew Muirhead (left) and Kevin Robbie.

One of the wonderful things about working at SVA is the network of people from around the world we have the pleasure of meeting and working with. A recent visit from Andrew Muirhead, who leads the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN), was a case in point. Prior to taking up his role at AVPN, Andrew founded the venture philanthropy organisation Inspiring Scotland. He credits time he spent visiting Australia (and SVA) almost ten years ago as inspiration for that organisation, and was eager to return to share some of the insights he’s gained from the Inspiring Scotland experience.

One of the insights that stood out most clearly to me was the impact that different funding arrangements can have on how funded organisations think about and address the challenges they’re working on. For example, one of the reasons Andrew set up Inspiring Scotland (and the 10 year 14:19 fund that became their first project) was to bring a longer term lens to solving the multi-faceted challenges of entrenched disadvantage.

Andrew commented that when they first started inviting funding proposals from organisations, it became clear that one of the challenges of the project would be building the capacity of sponsored organisations to think that far ahead. In other words, the very act of offering long-term funding was changing the way organisations thought about and planned their responses to the social issues they were seeking to address.  Similarly, all 30 investors in the $200m fund agreed to a common evaluation model to assess outcomes. This enabled the fund, and the full gamut of the organisations it supported, to be uniquely coordinated in their focus and efforts.

The very act of offering long-term funding was changing the way organisations thought about and planned their responses to the social issues they were seeking to address.

Also significant was the rigorous research and planning work that went into developing the Inspiring Scotland model. This included a baseline study at the outset of the project to identify areas of intervention that were likely to have the greatest positive social impact. Andrew had the foresight to bring in New Philanthropy Capital to conduct this research, aware that they were already leaders in the field and able to provide a quality of analysis that would set the rest of the model in good stead. Funding for comprehensive due diligence was also very important, as establishing 10 year partnerships required an extra level of confidence that the right organisations were being chosen.

The impact of Inspiring Scotland has been impressive. A recent Gates Foundation- Cambridge University report into the model found that 91 per cent of ventures felt they better identified the outcomes and impact of their work, and 81 per cent felt they were more effective service delivery organisations due to Inspiring Scotland’s support. Averaging across nearly 60 ventures they reported improvements in all areas examined, many of which were ‘striking in their depth and impact’ according to the Gates analysis. Andrew commented:

‘Aligning the business life cycle of a social venture with the capital and resources they need at different stages is core to venture philanthropy. While funding is a key element of that, the human capital that comes with the collaboration, network building and business support can be even more critical.’

Above all else Andrew stressed the importance of ‘tri-sector’ collaboration in achieving social change, commenting that ‘unless all three sectors are on the same page you don’t get the best possible outcomes.’

At SVA, we completely agree!