The 3C’s and Innovation

Rodney W. Nichols, past President and CEO Emeritus of the NY Academy of Sciences, is Senior Advisor to the Alliance.

Just as students must master the 3R’s, non-profit organizations must master the 3C’s of curiosity, competition, and compassion.  It’s easy to glibly roll out these words; ever so much harder to master the fusion of these attributes essential for success.

Curiosity means not only the capacity to imagine better social circumstances—a mission of change—but also the wit to conceive how to make change happen. Competition always winnows the better ideas for that process.  And it is Compassion—the capacity to empathize with the people who need change, who are to be served – that drives almost all nonprofit activity.

Conscience calls for society to support education, food, housing, and health care. But when countries undergo economic upheaval –as is widespread these days – there is justifiable question of whether the social imperatives of conscience can be reconciled fairly with the relentlessly unsettling rigors of global markets, demanding higher productivity.

The chronic challenge is to ensure that constructive economic change is humane. That is where gifted social entrepreneurs have an opportunity to lead, to combine the 3C’s in continuously adapting paths to responsible progress.  Realizing this progress requires open economic and intellectual marketplaces, competitions based upon merit, and a civil society building momentum for effective social change.

The Alliance For Global Good’s new Innovation Fund was born from this philosophy.  The Fund aims to support social change with genuinely reliable sustainability.

Presently, many non-profits are so stressed in maintaining their operations that insights, born of curiosity about change in those operations, may seem a luxury.  But as the Nobel prize winning ethologist Konrad Lorenz remarked, “It is a good idea to discard a pet hypothesis every day before breakfast. It keeps (you) young.”   One such hypothesis—that nonprofit support must come primarily from philanthropic giving—seems ripe for the trash pile.   The Innovation Fund asks what changes, what new ideas, can bring new streams of income and higher impacts in the programs?

An exemplary innovation was charted by Sweet Beginnings, part of North Lawn Employment Network, a non-profit in Chicago whose leader Brenda Palms-Barber, spoke at the AFGG’s conference in Washington DC in November.   North Lawn’s mission is to provide transitional job training for the formerly incarcerated.  To earn revenue beyond the traditional support from governmental and philanthropic sources, the employees of the organization produce honey and honey-based products for retail sales.

Another example is Changemakers, an initiative of the Alliance’s Program partner, Ashoka.  This effort creates open source participation in a “collaborative competition” to identify innovative solutions on topics that have ranged from clean water to geo-tourism. The results are impressive.

The Kauffman Foundation blazed the remark: “Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought” on the cover of its 2009 Thoughtbook.  Leaders and staff in every nonprofit must create the means to seize the future they see.  Curiosity opens up options for change that will serve missions.  And competitions sort out best options.

Earned revenues by nonprofits – as the Innovation Fund’s competition aims to stimulate – acknowledges that siloed sources of revenue perpetuate a perception that economic activity has no place in the world of social change  As a young non-profit staffer, surveying the field, but thinking beyond accepted thought,  said in last year’s revealing survey conducted by Changing Our World: “I am in business school working for my MBA.…  {C]reating sustainable revenue streams and thinking more like for-profit agencies would go a long way toward advancing the field.”




Proud to announce our newest partner


Leonard Kaplan’s creation of the Alliance for Global Good was the expression of his passionate philanthropy.  It’s also the logical outgrowth of all that came before it.  Together with his wife and philanthropic partner Tobee, and through a family foundation later renamed TOLEO, they gave unselfishly of resources and time to improve their community and the world for more than twenty-five years.

Tobee & Leonard Kaplan

Tobee & Leonard Kaplan

The Alliance’s focus on five areas of giving—health, education, environment, poverty, and world relations—is mirrored in Leonard’s past.  He has made major gifts to Duke University Medical Center and the Duke Comprehensive Cancer and Heart Centers, to the Lineberger Cancer Center at UNC Chapel Hill, to the Cardiac Rehabilitation program at Moses Cone Hospital, and had a leadership position at the Greensboro Cardiac Rehabilitation Program.  In 2004, Leonard and Tobee built the new building for the Women’s Resource Center in Greensboro. He created scholarships for residents of Guilford County to attend North Carolina colleges and universities, and was a founding donor of Elon University Law School.  Critically, in partnership with the Kellogg Foundation, Leonard helped create the Center for Organizational Leadership, a philanthropic studies program (which was one of first nationally to educate non-profit executives).

“Everyone wants to leave something to their grandchildren.”

“The money won’t matter if the world they live in is so far gone,” Kaplan says. “The opportunity now is to take some of what might become their inheritance, and use it soon to make the world a better place.”

Addressing poverty, Leonard made possible the building of two houses for Habitat for Humanity, and by providing food for hungry people both close to home in Greensboro, and as far abroad as the former Soviet Union.   The Kaplans were staunch supporters of Trickle Up, which provides grant financing to women in the developing world who want to start their own microenterprise.

Leonard gave not only of his wealth, but also of his time and expertise, taking on leadership positions in many organizations and campaigns such as the Greater Greensboro United Way DeToqueville Society, and as a Core Member of ACTION Greensboro, a nonprofit dedicated to improving public education, revitalization of downtown Greensboro, and leveraging economic development.

Active in their community of faith, the Kaplans built a new building for the Greensboro Jewish Federation, and for the Hillel youth organization at U.N.C., Chapel Hill.  He served on the board of the Jewish Foundation of Greensboro, and on that of the national Hillel organization, and was a founder of Camp Ramah Darom.

Viewing giving as a responsibility of affluence, Leonard led by example, and encouraged others to do the same.  He created Wealth & Giving, an educational program designed to inspire the largest wealth holders in this country to be more generous.  The Alliance continues that work by promoting and providing donors with opportunities for effective and efficient giving.

Read more about the Five Guiding Principles.