Over the past generation, changing social norms have made the white-collar workplace a much more flexible environment. From the introduction of new technologies to the embrace of enlightened HR practices, many corporations realize they will do better if they empower employees to find work-life balance.
But lots of employees don’t work in offices, and many of them face grim realities as they try to balance the responsibilities of work and home. In work with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, we explored this new frontier of workplace flexibility. To find answers, we examined the social norms of jobs where flexibility would seem to be impossible – think forest rangers and psychiatric social workers.
We found that even in these places, some people were making it work – not just for themselves, but secretly for their peers. We dubbed them “stealth managers,” then suggested some ways Sloan might be able to mine their wisdom and bring work-life balance to everybody.
“We realized that the geniuses of flexible workplaces aren’t CEOs, management consultants, or even professors who have spent years studying the issue,” our report read. “Instead, they’re more likely to be front-line managers or shift supervisors.”
Philanthropic foundations should seek a role more active than mere funders – and more noble than banks.
In a project conducted on behalf of Boeing Corporate Citizenship, we concluded that a foundation’s most important job is serving as the steward of a theory of change.
“One of the things that is most interesting about foundations is the ways in which they can be conscious and systematic about a larger ecosystem,” said Salin Geevarghese, a veteran of several large philanthropies who we consulted as part of the work. “They can see certain gaps in society and make themselves the players to move into those gaps. It’s a role that is not completely in the public realm and it’s not completely in the private realm. There are opportunities for extraordinary contributions to society.”
This unique view of the whole should be what drives strategy at foundations, not some false idea of return on investment. Besides, if every decision they make also gives us all insight into their theory of change, every dollar spent by philanthropies will generate much more value for the common good.
Nearly all efforts to stop human trafficking are formal: economic interventions, laws and enforcement, or enlightened corporate policy. But slavery is kept alive by a complex web of social norms.
Untangling those norms and developing strategies to reverse them is our role on an international team convened by Julia Ormond, founder and president of ASSET, and Dr. Annalisa Enrile, of the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. The team includes advocates, economists, and corporate strategists from around the world.
The team was among hundreds that applied for the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change grant. From the application: “Together, we will develop solutions that use our economic and technological connectedness to expose slavery, raising markets to a new level of transparency. Then we will work to distribute the best tactics and tools for eliminating trafficking throughout global supply chains, creating a market economy to end slavery and ensuring that economic growth never comes at the cost of human freedom.”
Imagine if we could persuade the world’s 100 largest investment funds, which together control more than $25 trillion, to invest just one percent of their holdings in programs that build social stability and improve the quality of life in countries where they invest? That’s the audacious idea behind Bretton Woods II, an initiative of the Washington, DC think tank New America, where Jeff Leitner is a Fellow.
For his part, Leitner is developing the Social Sustainability Model to maximize the impact of Bretton Woods II investments. Development of the model includes two key steps: demonstrate to investors that investments in social stability will result in higher economic returns; and map the most efficient path for building social stability.
The first step – demonstrating to investors that investments in social stability will result in higher economic returns – is largely complete. The preliminary findings were definitive: “A nation’s social stability has extremely high positive correlations with both its economic competitiveness and the ease of doing business there. The correlations are 0.78 and .80, respectively, and remain positive across all geographic regions and nearly all strata of stability.”
The second step – map the most efficient path for building social stability – is underway. Leitner is partnering with the Paris-based OECD to survey several hundred experts around the world in development economics, political science and sociology, enlisting them to help sequence the United Nations’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Leitner was enlisted in this effort by former U.S. State Department official Tomicah Tillemann, with whom GreenHouse has worked to re-design international organizations and U.S. support of emerging democracies.
There is an entertaining story about GreenHouse, plans for a global network of high net-worth philanthropists, a professional intuitive, a renowned scholar and a ski chalet in the French Alps. But it’s the kind of story from which very little useful can be learned and that requires a leisurely evening and cocktails.
There are a handful of essential questions that every organization – certainly, every organization taking on social challenges – must answer regularly and honestly: Are we solving the right problem? Have we outlived our usefulness? Is it possible we’re pursuing the wrong core strategy?
But that’s much, much easier said than done. For one, the key actors in any successful organization have bought in to its strategy, necessarily giving up the objectivity required for rigorous self-examination. For two, tackling questions is dangerously disruptive, introducing discomfort and insecurity among staff, volunteers and boards of directors.
This is why GreenHouse principals launched Insight Labs as the first-ever philanthropic think tank. Between 2010 and 2014, we we enlisted more than 750 big thinkers from business, government, philanthropy, academia and the arts to tackle the foundational challenges facing 45 public, private and social-sector institutions.
The Labs became best known for our novel approach: invite a dozen or so subject matter experts to tackle a challenge in which they did not have expertise; keep the invite list secret from even the participants until the project was launched; and do most of the work in a three-hour flurry. It was most aptly described as “the love child of a think tank and flash mob for good.”
Our first effort was on behalf of what is now Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, whose nearly billion-dollar capital campaign had stalled in the wake of the 2008 recession. Together, we deconstructed the ground-breaking engagement strategy of Barack Obama’s first run for president, and mapped it to the potential, expanded role of children’s hospitals in society.
Over the next 60 months, we convened brain-trusts at the request of groups as diverse as NASA, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the U.S. State Department, the TED Conferences, Boeing and Starbucks. Our approach was explored in books and magazines, including Forbes and Fast Company.