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Experiment, Learn & Evolve – Pivoting to Success

This is the twenty-fifth 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.

To achieve transformation, an organization should not be rigidly fixed to a particular strategy or model. It is crucial to be open to learning and evolving, that is, to respond to stakeholder and market feedback in order to continuously improve your approach for achieving results. This can involve a focus on data, as exemplified by the Harlem Children’s Zone which launched an employment program to help break the cycle of poverty in Harlem. As the program developed, the data showed that the program was not advancing their mission in the way they originally expected. With this data, they made the hard decision to eliminate the program. Such learning and testing can also come on a strategic level—when an organization decides to “pivot” and change its entire model to better achieve success. Pivots are seen frequently in the business world—some of the most successful businesses today, including Apple, PayPal and YouTube, are now in totally different areas than where they began—but the concept can also be applied to the social sector. 

Why and how does an organization strategically pivot? It requires a relentless devotion to ends rather than means—a comfort with moving in a totally new direction to achieve the goals one seeks. Beyond that, it requires a focus on observing the effectiveness of your current strategies and using that data to inform what approach you truly need to take. Perhaps the greatest difficulty in pivoting is that it requires a recognition that your current way of operating may be ineffective.

What are examples of successful pivots?

  • Chegg.com: A highly successful company that specializes in textbook rentals, it started out as cheggpost.com, providing free classified ads to college students. In their early years, the founders noticed that the most popular activity on the site was buying and selling textbooks. So they tried an experiment: the company purchased 2,000 textbooks on Amazon and launched a dedicated rental site. The site took off and now rentals are the foundation of the company’s business model. In adapting its approach, Chegg was able to even more effectively make life easier and cheaper for college students across the country.
  • Share Our Strength: Share Our Strength has always been focused on alleviating hunger and poverty. For much of its history, the organization focused on grant-making—giving out funds to sustain the work of anti-hunger nonprofits. Eventually, they realized that in order to truly achieve their goal of “no kid hungry” in this country, they needed to become more hands-on. As a result, they became much more involved in building partnerships among hunger organizations (as well as governments and citizens), rather than solely granting out donations.

If you are open to learning and evolving just as these organizations were, you’ll be able to navigate complex environments with success and achieve transformative results.

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About Justin Gupta

As senior associate, Justin Gupta supports strategic client partnerships by developing a broad range of solutions for clients through analysis and research, designing major client deliverables, and supporting overall project management. Justin has assisted organizations in the childhood hunger, education, and community development fields to develop sustainable impact strategies. In addition, Justin has core expertise in business planning for social enterprises as well as in measurement and evaluation. See Justin's full bio

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