Government as a Catalyst for Change and Scalingback

Stephen Goldsmith, deputy mayor of New York City, sees government as the catalyst for bringing effective nonprofits to scale. Its role will not be to provide direct services, he said, but to create networks and leverage resources.

Among Goldsmith’s many accomplishments in civic life is that he is director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School Of Government. And, as keynote speaker at the 2011 Social Impact Exchange’s Conference On Scaling Impact, innovate is exactly what he challenged funders and philanthropists to do.

He reminded them that scale has many definitions. It’s not just about getting bigger and bigger. It is also about going deeper, increasing advocacy, franchising successful models, and offering broader services.

To scale nonprofits, funders need to leverage their assets, find advocates, and empower their clients, Goldsmith said. To learn how to scale, they may have to turn to the private sector, which “gets” scale and can teach nonprofits how to do it. To benefit from the wisdom of the private sector, however, the nonprofit sector will have to be open to new models and will have  to coordinate and collaborate on performance standards.

Goldsmith uses two terms that I like very much: civic entrepreneur and network convenor.

The former is the topic of his latest book, The Power of Social Innovation: How Civic Entrepreneurs Ignite Community Networks for Good. Civic entrepreneurs create healthier communities through innovative solutions to public problems, according to the book. To me, it is the social entrepreneur working in and through the government.

“Network convenor” is the role he sees for government, as the catalyst for new models of collaboration, funding, and growth. The money is there, he said, but we need to rethink how we spend our tax dollars.

Now there’s a concept: Spending tax dollars to leverage the assets and effectiveness of nonprofits.

He cited the Social Innovation Fund as one example. SIF, if you remember, combined government funding with private funding and existing nonprofit organizations to grow community-based social programs.

Catalytic. Collaborative, not prescriptive.