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The Mulago Foundation and impact

April 17, 2012

I’ve been invited to give a talk focused on failure and the (perceived?) lack of risk-taking in the nonprofit sector at this week’s Bmore Fail Conference. It’s certainly a weighty and contentious topic, and I’m particularly interested in how my talk is received by an audience predominantly made-up of for-profit entrepreneurs and investors. Without giving too much away from my (almost finalized) talk, I’ve highlighted someone from the nonprofit sector who will certainly resonate with this crowd: philanthropist Kevin Starr, managing director of the Mulago Foundation.

I discovered Mr. Starr and the Mulago Foundation a few years ago while reading Sean Stannard-Stockton‘s excellent–and now defunct–Tactical Philanthropy blog. Stannard-Stockton wrote about Mulago’s focus on impact on his blog and in the pages of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, writing,

What if foundations mostly gave unrestricted funding instead of dictating how grantees could spend their grants? What if foundations kept supporting grantees who performed instead of ending funding because the “grant cycle” had ended? What if foundations ditched the whole system of soliciting grant proposals and focused on proactively searching for great grantees? What if foundations expected grant reports to mostly consist of information the nonprofit was collecting anyway rather than specialized requests that sap the grantees resources?

Well, it turns out that sort of foundation already existed and I’ve been an admirer of Mulago Foundation ever since. I became an even bigger admirer after Kevin Starr penned a fantastic essay on impact investing and other forms of blended capital, noting,

In the real world of the poor, real change still means stepping up with money that you don’t expect to get back, while demanding maximum returns in the form of impact. When you find someone who can do that, just give them the money.

A brilliantly simple analysis. And I encourage you to give a listen to his talk on impact:

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