We are at a unique moment in time when, as traditional economic and social systems break down and the private and social sector begin to intersect, we have an opportunity to rebuild and recreate more inclusive systems. This movement is forcing the world to call for new models of growth and, more importantly, a new type of leader who can imagine, design, and build these new models. These individuals have the humility to see the world as it is, the audacity to imagine it as it could be, and the skills to execute on that vision. This is the concept of moral imagination. This hack focuses the importance of integrating this training into the private sector to create a corps of innovative leaders grounded in the foundations of business and steeped in the capabilities of moral imagination. We believe that if businesses put this training model into practice we can begin to build more inclusive economic systems which give all human beings on earth the dignity and choice they deserve.
The last two decades has witnessed a significant shift in the way social change is addressed as the public, social, and private sectors have begun to collaborate and learn from one another. Businesses are recognizing the value of increasing their social footprint whether through Corporate Social Responsibility Initiatives or expansion into low income and emerging markets. There are many examples of this movement in the business world from initiatives such as General Electric’s EcoImagination program which invests in environmentally sustainable products and services, Vodafone’s MPESA which is leveraging cell phone technology to give the poor access to critical banking products, and SC Johnson’s who is working with small scale farmers in Rwanda to improve production quality and gain access to international markets.
In addition, the non-profit sector is also beginning to integrate market based solutions into their vision of social change. This is creating more financially sustainable models and brings increased accountability and transparency into the sector. The best example of this is the growing field of social entrepreneurship. According to B Lab, a nonprofit organization that certifies purpose-driven companies, to date, there are over 30,000 social entrepreneurs representing $40 Billion in revenue.
More and more the public sector is recognizing the importance of learning from and working with nonprofit and business approaches to development. In the last five years governments and multilateral organizations have increased the integration of both the non-profit and the private sector into their policies and programming. The White House held the first presidential summit on entrepreneurship, which highlighted many social entrepreneurs. The US Government has created the office of social innovation, which recently launched an innovation fund to invest in social businesses in the United States. The International Finance Corporation launched the Grassroots Business Fund in 2004 aimed at supporting high impact businesses and providing the technical and management support necessary to scale.
As these industries continue to intersect a tremendous challenge has become apparent; there is a dearth of leaders that have cross sector experience, and the requisite business and critical thinking skills combined with the moral imagination to build sustainable solutions for social change.
This leadership challenge was recently cited in 2010 Harvard Business Review Article by Harvard Business School Strategy Professor Michael Porter entitled “Shared Value”. Porter states,
“Because of the traditional divide between economic concerns and social ones, people in the public and private sectors have often followed very different educational and career paths. As a result, few managers have the understanding of social and environmental issues required to move beyond today’s CSR approaches, and few social sector leaders have the managerial training and entrepreneurial mindset needed to design and implement shared value models. Most business schools still teach a the narrow view of capitalism, even though more and more of their graduates hunger for a greater sense of purpose and growing number are drawn to social entrepreneurship. The results have been missed opportunity and public cynicism.”
In addition to Porter’s article, Acumen Fund and many players in the social sector often cite the lack of leadership as one of the greatest challenges for the sector. In fact, the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE), a global network of over 140 organizations that invest money and expertise to propel entrepreneurship in emerging markets, made talent one of their key areas of focus as a result of this realization. As Tom Tierney, head of the nonprofit consulting firm Bridgespan wrote a paper titled “The Nonprofit’s Leadership Deficit”, “the nonprofit sector will need 80,000 new leaders by 2016.”
To date very few training grounds exist to build this new type of leadership and even fewer offer this training in developing countries where the training is most needed.
In light of the leadership gap we’ve observed, our goal is to find and train this new breed of leaders. We work with select leaders to ensure they possess the moral imagination to envision a world beyond poverty and the financial and operational skills to execute on that vision.
In most private institutions training in technical business skills is a core part of an individual managers training, but rarely do companies compliment this training with an experience or seminar that focus on imagination, systems thinking, and creative exploration (moral imagination). By giving leaders the skills and opportunity to apply moral imagination to the traditional tools and current systems, we believe we can unlock more sustainable and scalable social innovations.
Our proposal is to train leaders in private corporations around the world and expose them to our moral imagination training with the vision that they will have the ability to develop new models for change within and outside their organizations.
Below we highlight the core components of moral imagination as well as a case study of the impact this training can have if an innovator inside a company uses this training to re-imagine the role of the corporation in creating social change.
Moral Imagination: The humility to the see the world as it is and the the audacity to envision it as it could be.
- Self awareness. Courage and imagination come from a deep understanding of who you are and who you want to be in the world. This self knowledge gives you strength and courage to make tough decisions and stay your course, and enables you to identify personal strengths and weaknesses so as to constantly improve as a leader. [e.g. Good society seminar is a part of this training]
- Empathy. The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes so that you can create solutions with a customer-centric lens, work well within and across teams, and to connect with individuals from a diversity of backgrounds.
- Building relationships across lines of difference. The ability to find ways to connect with and learn from individuals across race, culture, age, socioeconomic class.
- Experimentation/failure/risk. Change worth making can only come from failing over and over again. Moral imagination must involve risk.
- Radical openness/Generosity. The courage and selflessness to give away share your ideas and knowledge and more importantly to help spread the ideas of others.
- Leadership on the edges. To deeply know the system in which you operate and have the ability to step out of that system and learn and then bring back to yours and innovate.
- Values driven action. The ability to deeply understand your values and the courage to act on those values regardless of the circumstances.
Stage 1: Understanding the Self
The training would begin with a focus on understanding the self, which is the foundation of our leadership model. If a leaders does not understand themselves they cannot grow, build, and innovate. We build this capability through seminars dedicated to asking difficult questions about societal structures and individual pursuits. The first seminar is modeled after the Aspen Institute’s “Good Society Seminar” which is a text based dialogue where the leaders discuss the great thinkers on topics such as equality, justice, liberty, and human nature. The purpose of this seminar is for the leaders to understand how they think about balancing equality and efficiency or liberty and community as well as gaining an understanding of how their view of human nature impacts how they lead.
The second aspect of self awareness is a leadership seminar designed to have the leaders understand their strengths and areas of development. They also look at managing across cultures and having tough conversations.
Stage 2: Understanding the “other”
The second stage of our curriculum focuses on building empathy and understanding the “other”. At the core of moral imagination is the ability to build relationships and develop understanding across cultural, socioeconomic, tribal, and geographic divides. We believe that understanding the “other” is what leads to innovation and helps develop the ability to see the world as it is, full of complexity and ambiguity. This work helps the leader step out of their mental models and opens them up to new ways of thinking and new systems in which to play and innovate.
This training is grounded in IDEO’s human centered design. It is complimented with experiential exercises like asking the leaders to spend a day in poverty in New York City with no money or cell phone and try to access social services. During this phase of the training we also do trainings on negotiations and trust building.
Finally the leaders get the opportunity to practice “leadership on the edges”. Leadership on the edges is the ability to step out of one’s field of experience to a new field and find innovative ways to combine two ideas or practices. This idea of combining two opposing ideas or concepts is an important skill that is essential for the interconnected and blended world we live in today. One example of this is the very concept of Acumen Fund. For example, we conduct trainings on social investing which is seeking both a social and a financial return.
Stage 3: Collaboration
The third stage of the process is bringing together one’s understanding of themselves as well as their ability to build relations across lines of difference and learn the art of collaboration. This stage is the foundation for imagination. True collaboration is built on imagining new ways of working together and developing new, inclusive, systems in which diverse groups can interact and thrive. During this phase we do projects that are focused on the leaders “creating” something together. For example in our regional fellows program the Fellows co-design a regional trip and an innovation conference. This experience takes them out of the didactic learning and to a new place where imagination, innovation, risk, failure, and collaboration are key ingredients to their success.
Stage: 4: Building Influence
Influence comes in many forms and each leader must understand their own style and way of doing this but regardless of how, it is a critical aspect of leadership. During this phase of the training we focus on training the fellows in storytelling, social media, videography, and new tools for building social movements. We also do seminars on influencing without authority, which is critical especially for a leader inside an organization. Finally we focus on “radical openness” which is a concept that is practiced by Ted, Wikipedia, ect. We believe that by giving ideas and being generous one can attain the greatest influence. The art of this practice is the how the leader balances humility and audacity.
Case Study: Jocelyn Wyatt, Co-Lead and Executive Director, IDEO.org (2007 Acumen Fund Fellow)
Jocelyn Wyatt was a 2007 Acumen Fund Fellow who underwent the Acumen Fund Fellowship Program which included training in business fundamentals and moral imagination, as well as a 9 month field placement in Nairobi, Kenya. Upon the completion of her Fellowship Jocelyn was hired by IDEO, a premiere design and innovation consulting firm. Jocelyn’s role at IDEO was to understand if IDEO could build a new business practice that focused on improving the work of businesses and non-profits serving the poor in emerging markets.
Jocelyn’s training at Acumen Fund prepared her for this role in the following ways. First, Jocelyn’s training in empathy helped her to quickly understand the unique human centered design approach of IDEO and her training in building influence across lines of difference helped her work within both the traditional for-profit sector at IDEO and also build strong allegiances with organizations (NGO’s and social enterprises) working the most challenging markets in the world. Jocelyn had the ability to speak both the language of business and also the language of social change, a critical skill that is rarely found in leaders today.
During her first few years at IDEO Jocelyn worked with Rockefeller Foundation to produce the Design for Social Impact Toolkit (http://www.ideo.com/work/design-for-social-impact-workbook-and-toolkit) focused on helping design firms around the world engage in social innovation work with non-profits and social enterprises. Jocelyn also worked on the Human-Centered Design Toolkit for organizations working around the world to engage in a design process to tackle poverty-related challenges. www.hcdconnect.org. This toolkit has democratized design thinking for many in the social sector, the toolkit has been downloaded over ,74,000 times. This toolkit has exposed many to the practices of IDEO allowing even the most remote organizations in the world to learn about human centered design to improve their work serving the poor.
Finally, Jocelyn’s training in experimentation and comfort with risk and failure allowed her to quickly prototype models of how design thinking could play a role in addressing the problems of poverty. Her original plan was to develop a practice inside of IDEO but through three years of experimentation she learned that to achieve the social impact and sustainability they sought she would need to launch IDEO.org, which was done in 2011.
IDEO.org is one of the first non-profit design firms in the world that is taking the principles of design thinking to the most marginalized populations in the world. This is truly a disruptive innovation that is merging the non-profit and for profit sectors with the aim of building more inclusive social and economic systems.
If organizations integrated training on moral imagination into their traditional training programs they could produce more innovative thinkers who could develop models that that brought more sustainability and social impact. This training would produce a core of leaders to fill the gap Porter highlights, thereby unlocking tremendous human creativity and imagination that can develop more inclusive business models.
The first step for any company would be to have this initiated by senior leadership or have a group of high performing leaders inside the organization ask to run a pilot leadership training. It is important that this type of training is valued by the senior leadership in the company. Companies that may be more open to this type of program are ones who are already built to incentivize innovative management practices (Google, Pixar, Cisco) or companies that are seeking our new opportunities for growth and innovation.
Since this is not a short term strategy, the pilot would be a year long program designed with the four stages of the curriculum (understanding self, understand other, collaboration, and influence) spread out over the course of a year tailored to the company but with similar training elements of the Acumen Fund Fellows Programs. The success metrics for the pilot should be co-developed with the senior leadership depending on the areas where this type of thinking is most needed. For example some corporations may use their team to develop more innovative models to access new low income markets others may see this as a way to build new internal leadership training programs, and others may want to use this to create a new strategy build on Porters model of “shared value”.
Based upon the success of the pilot it should be institutionalized and managed internally as a program for high performers.
This new model of leadership is a truly a team effort and a product of the hard work and imagination of the following people (and many more): Jacqueline Novogratz (CEO of Acumen Fund), Suraj Sudhakar (Acumen Fund East Africa Fellows Manager), Jo-Ann Tann (Business Development Manager), John MckInley (Acumen Fund Global Fellows Manager), Ramil Ibrahim (Acumen Fund Fellows Associate), Harry Dellane (Management consultant RHR International), Niko Canner (Management Committee at Bridge Water), Deepti Doshi (Mid Career Masters Degree at Harvard Masters of Public Administration), Peter Reiling (Executive Director of Henry Crown Fellows Program, Aspen Institute), Tim Brown (CEO IDEO).