Open Sesame - Building Blocks #1 and #2


Excerpted from The World We Want here is additional information on the first two building blocks of what I call Open Philanthropy.

"Think of LEGO™ blocks. Countless structures can be built from LEGOs because the pieces all connect using a common set of posts and holes...LEGO has built the system, you decide what to do with it. Compare this to jigsaw puzzles - another system of interoperable pieces waiting to be assembled. But puzzles have only right outcome. Philanthropy has been funding jigsaw puzzles. We need to shift to LEGOs - funding basic interoperable building blocks that communities can fit to their situation.

The parallel to LEGOs blue rectangles and yellow squares for philanthropy will be the assumptions we bring to the work and they way we expect our investments to catalyze broader change. ... These seven building blocks of open philanthropy are:
1. Facilitate adaptation, don’t hinder it 2. Design for interoperability, local specificity will follow
3. Build for the poorest
4. Assume upward adaptability
5. Creativity and control will happen locally
6. Diversity is essential
7. Complex problems require hybrid solutions

“The lessons of alphabets and choreographic notation shape the first building block of open philanthropy, facilitate adaptation, don’t hinder it. Building blocks are not mandates. They are the pieces that must be put together in order to do something. Alphabets build languages with millions of words. Philanthropy can organize its work around practices and principles that lead to success, rather than funding models or pilot programs. Think about the ways Dr. Paul Farmer had to re-design his clinics when he shifted from Haiti to Peru - the societies were very different, but the principles of trusting poor people to inform the health care delivery system stayed the same.

The second building block, design for interoperability, local specificity will follow requires exchange mechanisms that operate everywhere. In order for ideas to be locally adaptable, they first need to be available. This opens us up to ideas from unusual places or sources, new applications of old strategies, or the cross-fertilization and re-purposing of tools from one arena to another. Ashoka's work in re-purposing financial products to the social sector is a good example, as is re-designing the KickStart water pump for the different soil structures of Kenya and Tanzania.

In terms of philanthropic investments we see analogs in those that have made possible the Public Library of Science, which puts scientific research findings into the public domain for anyone to use. The data are available for anyone to analyze, try new methodologies, and draw new conclusions or challenge those claimed by others. Similarly Open Access Journal projects, public databases of cultural research, and self-generated knowledge sources such as those used by Jews around the world to trace genealogy are all magnificent community tools that function because they operate off of clear, transparent, and accessible common protocols.


Think of it as using the same kinds of cultural systems that let two or three enthusiastic sports fans get 100,000 other fans to stand and “do the wave.” The rules of the wave are universally understood – it takes only a small (and very vocal) catalyst to get one going because three key protocols are in place: 1) people know how to do it; 2) they’re in the right place to do it, and 3) peer pressure. The crowd is always free to stop or morph into doing the Macarena. The protocols of doing the wave are universal yet every crowd of spectators controls how it plays out at a given event.

This is almost a direct contradiction to most philanthropic practice, which attempts instead to teach selected sets of schoolchildren the Macarena rather than tapping into the exchange system that exists every time a crowd gathers at a sporting event."


More information is in The World We Want. Postings on building blocks #3 to #7 to come.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Trying to find resources on the value of changing from a membership based nonprofit to non-membership organization