The jockeys of tomorrow. Source: Andy Jones, The Tampa Tribune.

The jockeys of tomorrow. Source: Andy Jones, The Tampa Tribune.

Twitter is a lovely thing. Scrolling through our feed, I came across this amazing article over at Nonprofit with Balls (yes, you read that right) on the challenge of inclusive leadership. While the nonprofit sector is a diverse place, its leadership profile looks shockingly white, affluent, and male.

Vu Le describes one of the most important challenges facing our social sector today: Creating leadership that is reflective of our communities. We sometimes get stuck on the issue-area focus, or the big idea, when really, as Vu says,

“You don’t bet on the horse, you bet on the jockey.”

Amen. On the racetrack of philanthropy, however, even though we talk about leadership, less than 1% of philanthropic funds are focused on leadership. That’s a pretty horrific investment prospectus.

As we’ve been diving into our strategic planning process, we’ve been thinking about these jockeys of social innovation–the people who propel the ideas to success.  I’ve been astounded by the deep nature of impact our grantees have within communities. I firmly believe the reason we have grantees with 100% success rates is because of the leaders we take a bet on and back vigorously. They are authentically invested in communities. They are embedded and have skin in the game. They don’t give up because that’s not an option. But most importantly, they want to help inspire the next generation to take their future by the reins.

Our board has focused on three core questions during this exercise:

  1. How do we reach deeper into communities to support community-based entrepreneurs who are not served by philanthropy?
  2. How do we better give our social capital to people embedded in communities to help them become more resilient social entrepreneurs?
  3. How do we ensure that our grantees become the leaders that influence the tipping points of poverty?

What I’ve learned about the magnificence of DC Social Innovation Project is that inclusive leadership is baked into our design. Nearly all of our grantees are people of color or women although this is a characteristic we don’t screen for. That’s because we are focused on finding people who are under served and thus underrepresented in philanthropy. Our high-risk value proposition is that we make a bet on an idea–and an innovator–that is unproven but full of potential. We find people who are reflective of their communities–people who see a need and step up to fill it. We serve people who want to lead and change their communities. One block at a time, one child at a time, one creative idea at a time.

In a world obsessed with only one axis of scale (volume), we have cracked the scale everyone claims to care about (depth). And the secret to our success is people. People like Elijah Moses, Marisa Stubbs, Malcolm Woodland, Julie Kirkwood, Yasmine Arrington, and Keith Beverly. We are supporting leadership inside of communities. One innovator at a time. That is our 100% focus.

We are proud that we are not the 1%. You have helped get us to the place where we can lead by serving others inside of communities. And we are excited to double down on that commitment in the year to come.