How can Foundations best amplify social impact through innovation?

23 November 2022

Foundations have a long and rich history of supporting and driving significant and global “impact for good”. Tried and tested methods have left a legacy to be proud of, and new ones are showing promise as Foundations adapt to a rapidly changing world.

The pace of this adaptation needs to hasten dramatically if Foundations are to leverage opportunities and address the growing inequity in, and call for change from, our societies with urgency. Many people have been, and many more are being left behind, and the social challenges that Foundations strive to solve are on the rise. Innovative approaches, entrepreneurship, new models for finance, the voice and empowerment of lived expertise, collaboration, open innovation, data, and technological advances all offer great opportunities to adapt with speed and greater impact, and many Foundations are exploring how best to utilise them. The inclusion of a diversity of voices and thought, a gender approach to the issues and opportunities, support for climate resilience, are all being applied as lenses to help break the cycle of disadvantage, building Equality of Opportunity.

These new approaches require a greater appetite and capability for risk management, but the risk of not innovating is much higher at a time when old approaches are not driving change fast enough or providing the opportunity for economic self-determination.

Foundations are in the enviable position of being able to choose what role to play. Simplistically, should Foundations innovate themselves, fund others to innovate, take their place as the trusted connectors, and be the big risk takers? As one of very few capable of taking risk in today’s society, should they be bolder and play an even bigger role in addressing inequality at its heart – embracing humility, humanity, and connectivity; addressing the power imbalances and moving the narrative to one of opportunity; adding to advocacy by empowering lived expertise, broader expertise, and Community to drive meaningful, systemic change, collectively?

Imagine the legacy if Foundations could employ a range of innovative tools, all forms of expertise, collectively to build the enduring social solutions that the world needs. Imagine if we could leverage breakthrough ideas, technologies, new ways of thinking and combining ideas to democratise access to opportunity and unleash impactful social change.

"We can't always do what we've always done because what we've always done is not getting anyone anywhere". Lived Expertise Video interviewee

With these opportunities in sight, the Paul Ramsay Foundation commissioned research into how Foundations could accelerate the uptake of innovative approaches, with a view to inspire the sector and provide ideas for actions that could be taken at different stages of each Foundation’s innovation journey.

The project took an open, collaborative, and consultative approach, in partnership with Foundations, Innovators, Entrepreneurs, Lived Expertise, Funders, Investors, Founders, Thought Leaders, Ecosystem Connectors, Sector Leaders, Not-For-Profits, Public Servants, and Researchers. There are no silver bullets and many ways to innovate, hence the broad reach of participants was important to access a diversity of thought.

This report outlines the results of the research, providing a Framework to organise ways in which Foundations could apply innovation, an overview of some of the ways Foundations are adapting, and highlights Actions that could be taken. Recognising that Foundations are all on a journey, both simple steps and innovative leaps have been suggested.

As the role of Foundations continues to evolve in the face of an increasingly complex and connected world, this study illustrates and highlights the opportunities and tools for Foundations to accelerate social impact. At its heart is a call to open up and partner with all stakeholders engaged in driving social change. To “become integral to an ecosystem of possibility, breaking the cycle of disadvantage and building Equality of Opportunity collectively, inclusively, experimentally & rapidly” (Project Participant). To remember that humans and humanity are central – within the Foundation and inside communities. To understand it is a journey of learning. And to empower many to join in on the journey.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Watch "Who Knows? 10mins" by the Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) on Vimeo to hear from people with lived expertise in enacting social change through participatory innovation.

   Download the PRF report (short version)   Download the PRF report (long version)