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Insight #9: Experiment, Learn and Evolve

This is the twenty-third in a series of posts that will examine ten insights Community Wealth Partners has uncovered through our research of and experience with initiatives that have created transformational social change.

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Every four years, our Presidential election and Inauguration afford us the opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come and what lies ahead. The second swearing-in ceremony of President Barack Obama was a reminder that we have the highest aspirations for our country, and higher expectations still of our leaders to get us there. President Obama’s message that “Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words [from the Declaration of Independence], with the realities of our time;” comes with the sobering realization that the kind of transformational changes we seek in our nation have not, and will not, happen overnight. Solving complex social problems calls for a disciplined process of experimenting, tracking and analyzing results, building upon the lessons learned from successes and failures, and evolving our strategies to the realities of the times. This also implies, as President Obama said, that it will take the focus and resolve of the people, over the tenure of many presidents, to work towards achieving transformational change.

What are the implications of experimenting, learning and evolving in the work we do? Consider this:

  • Like successful entrepreneurs in the for-profit sector, we in the social sector must be willing to be bold and take risks. Experimenting allows us to try bold solutions to big problems. And, we must be willing to accept failure and recognize that there is valuable learning to be gained from failure.
  • Discipline and data are both key to this process. Learning means having the discipline to measure results and humbly accept what data reveals. Adapting our strategies with the end goal in mind is critical to achieving social transformation.
  • There’s a myth that those trying to tackle transformational change have their strategy all planned out, while others argue that the strategic plan is dead. We believe that having a strategy is important, but just as important is having absolute clarity about what success looks like and being willing to evolve through the process of experimentation and learning.

Experimenting, learning and evolving yields to better outcomes and a good example of that was seen at Share Our Strength. When Bill Shore started Share Our Strength, he wrote letters to food industry celebrities and tried to raise money for hunger relief. Donations trickled in. Share Our Strength learned that professional chefs were more inclined to contribute time and talent to a fundraising event. After experimenting with a single event in Colorado, Share Our Strength evolved their strategy and launched the successful Taste of the Nation series which reached national success in over 70 cities. Taste of the Nation has raised millions of dollars for hunger relief.

Are you experimenting and testing new solutions? Are you learning from what’s working and not working in your strategies? Are you evolving and experimenting again? In subsequent posts, we will reflect upon similar powerful examples of how we can continue to experiment, learn and evolve to look ahead and affect transformational change.

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Amy Celep

About Amy Celep

As CEO of Community Wealth Partners, Amy Celep guides the organization’s strategic direction and oversees its more than 20 employees in their efforts to support partners in solving problems at the magnitude they exist. Amy was named to this role in April 2010, and since then has led the organization in developing and implementing a new strategy for greater impact, while achieving 50 percent revenue growth and securing a marquee list of partners. See Amy's full bio

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