by Valentina Ko
On 13 August, 2019, APC, with Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN) co-hosted a workshop with Professor Paul Brest, author of “Money Well Spent” and Faculty Codirector of Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society as well as former President of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation on Effective Philanthropy Strategies. The workshop, titled “Helping Funders Evaluate Non-profit Program Strategies”, focused on programme strategy and evaluation. In kickstarting the session, Professor Brest gave an overview of the different steps to solving a social problem. He stated that solving a problem is a process and required strategic steps along the way. These steps include
- Identifying the problem and intended outcome
- Developing a strategy to achieve the outcome
- Implementing the strategy
- Evaluating the strategy
- Scaling the Programme
As part of the workshop, Professor Brest went through the steps of strategy and evaluation using two different problem as case studies. The first was solving homelessness in San Jose, which Professor Brest would emulate and give examples on. The second one was on Global Road Safety, which would be an activity for the room to complete. The room was broken up into groups of 2-3 to discuss to their problem as Professor Brest explained each step along the way. At the end of each step, Professor Brest got the room together to share-out and talk about what they identified as factors for successful programme outcomes.
By focusing on a problem, members were able to apply theories that were being presented into practise and experienced the exchange of ideas. Through approaching the problem given to each group, collaboration happened as each group shared in a diverse manner as each member would offer their own perspective of why they cared to solve the problem, bringing about a myriad of solutions. The group further discussed during the share-out session, each other’s ideas and what they learned from it, contributing to more exchange and learning amongst each other.
APC members were then encouraged by Professor Brest to reflect on how philanthropists identify problems with the question: “What would success of solving a certain problem look like?” Success is embodied differently when a diverse group of people get together. With different perspectives but focusing on the same principle, collaborative philanthropy is able to help define a problem from all angles and help with finding plausible causes of the social problem that one would like to solve. Professor Brest stressed that finding the cause of a social problem is an integral part of the solution process because one derives the strategy or the Theory of Change (TOC) according to the cause to help philanthropists achieve their goals. If the definition of a cause is wrong, the responses to the TOC will not have the effect to make the solution successful.
At the end of the session, Professor Brest brought up the topic of outcomes vs. impact, and had the room reflect on the question: “What would happen if we did not implement our strategy”. APC Chairman Stanley Tan then brought up the idea of “gaining traction with our strategies” and that “philanthropists should have done more anyway to ensure that solution will be solved”. Professor Brest agreed but added that correlation does not equal causation and challenged us to think about what happened in between that led to this outcome. This will help in the scaling process so that philanthropists know what combination had allowed the design to work and will be able to make a better prediction of what to anticipate.
While this is the first event that APC has in conjunction with AVPN, many members voiced positive feedback on the workshop conducted by Professor Brest and that there were many insightful takeaways from the session. The most important lesson that members walked away with is the importance of collaboration. The group activity allowed philanthropists from different backgrounds to envision different paths to success for the same problem through learning. As APC CEO Laurence Lien stated, “APC focuses on the principles of philanthropists; the key is not just what we want to do, but for our member to learn effective practices”, which we hope the workshop with Professor Brest did for our members as well as other attendees!