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Thoughts from the Field: Examples of Bold and Believable

This is the fourth 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. This post is in response to the recent entry ‘Insight #1: Be Bold and Believable.”

Attending the Social Impact Exchange Conference has made me more convinced than ever that bold and believable goals are powerful.  The conference brought together private and corporate funders, social investors, philanthropists, high-performing nonprofits, government leaders, and many intermediaries to discuss the importance of scaling as a tool for social change.

I was particularly moved by Patrick McCarthy, President and CEO of the Annie E Casey Foundation, who presented on Casey’s long-term dedication (over twenty years!) in reforming the juvenile justice system. Hearing about the dramatic results Casey is achieving with their work really energized me.

Through its work in Maine, Casey saw an opportunity to apply a new approach that would decrease the number of children in detention in the state. The Casey Foundation boldly approached the state government to suggest that they could help fundamentally change outcomes for children by changing the way the system operated. Without tinkering with the legislation—a far more common route for change-seekers—Casey successfully changed the program’s administration, implementing a review panel to determine detention. This minor administrative change had an enormous impact.

Before Casey began the work, over 750 children were detained in Maine. Today, the number is just over 70. In accomplishing this, the Casey Foundation was bold in its vision and pursuit of reform, but believable and practical in its solutions and rationale for change; real dramatic results followed. This was a perfect example of an organization working in a BOLD and BELIEVABLE manner to impact profound change.

While Casey’s accomplishment was one of several success stories that was shared throughout the conference, among the attendees, there was still a shared recognition that change happens much too slowly in the nonprofit sector. We talked about the need for a sense of urgency across all social issues and a strong will to implement solutions.

One conference participant pointed out that following penicillin’s discovery, the will to distribute it to every child was so strong that within a few years it was available across the country to children in schools and health provider’s offices. This provoked a conversation about why distributing penicillin would be seen as more important than access to food, books, quality education or a stable home.

In my view, it isn’t. In 1945, bold leaders seized the opportunity to build on a plan originally intended to mass produce penicillin for World War II soldiers. As the war came to a close, these leaders saw the opportunity to leverage that plan to mass produce penicillin for children across the country, changing the world forever. Today, we must learn from their example. We must look at problems with a bold and creative lens to see solutions and existing resources in ways we may have missed before. Doing so will allow us to make dramatic improvements in our efforts  to end childhood hunger in America, close the education gap, and keep troubled youths out of unnecessary detention.

After a lot of excellent conversation and new ideas, as is often the case, I left with new questions to address as well:

  1. How can the bold and believable paradigm engage communities to think differently about what we value and accelerate solutions that will enable us to solve social problems?
  2. How can being bold and believable help us create the will to implement solutions for change?

Tell us what you think by leaving a comment.

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Sara Brenner

About Sara Brenner

As President, Sara Brenner leads the firm’s consulting business. Sara helped develop and is implementing the firm’s new strategy to solve social problems at the magnitude they exist, while leading a sales team that grew revenue by more than 45%. Sara oversees the implementation of the new strategy-aligning products, impact measurement, and talent initiatives with a results-based culture to deliver exceptional value to partners. With over 15 years’ experience in consulting for nonprofits, for-profits and the government, Sara worked extensively in the health and human services including at the Advisory Board Company and The Gallup Organization. See Sara's full bio

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