February 11, 2020

Measurement can be messy, especially in the impact space! As we’re witnessing an explosion in efforts to deliver social change, we’re also experiencing how difficult it is to track performance toward these worthy and lofty social goals.

Beeck Center leader Nate Wong moderated a discussion with leading impact measurement expert Alnoor Ebrahim and Miriam’s Kitchen CEO Scott Schenkelberg on Tuesday, February 4, 2020 at Georgetown University based on the release of Ebrahim’s new book, “Measuring Social Change: Performance and Accountability in a Complex World.” The rich conversation covered both theory and practice, recognizing how difficult it is to translate strategy to reality. This conversation was part of the Georgetown University’s Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership class taught by Professor Kathy Kretman.

cover image of Measuring Social Change
Get the Book [Stanford University Press]
Three key takeaways are:

  • To start, we need to actually confront our assumptions of what are “good” metrics. While there’s a strong emphasis on long-term outcomes, “there are certain kinds of outputs where short term outputs make a great deal of sense (video),” Alnoor exhorted the audience in response to Nate’s question. Think about ambulances. Service delivery times are incredibly important – they are a matter of life and death… literally. So it’s more of a question around what do these metrics help drive? It’s more about strategy, performance, and accountability.
  • To measure social change, it first starts with the organization’s strategy and their theory of change. Organizations like Miriam’s Kitchen can shift strategies, in this case from a niche to an ecosystem strategy, but it takes a very different type of approach and skills. It requires radical collaboration. Miriam put a bold mission forth to end chronic homelessness in Washington, D.C., which dramatically reconceptualized how they operated. Instead of focusing on meals and programs, they needed to orchestrate the over 100 other players around joint goals and coordinated action. “I was skeptical at first (video),” Miriam’s Kitchen CEO Scott Schenkelberg admitted. “We were really good at delivering outputs, think of our meals for the homeless and holding onto our select sphere of influence. Going out there and saying that we can end chronic homlessness, that’s a big scary statement… When I say that we are going to end chronic homelessness, we better end it, or else it’s a really big failure. People said it’s going to take time Scott; here are the things that we need to do, Let’s explore this process by which we can do it so.”
  • The measurement strategy is only as good as the system that it sits within. As Ebrahim points out (video), “The funder ecosystem is highly fragmented, and there is a challenge for funders to be doing more in terms of collaborative fundraising, so there’s sufficient pools of resources to sufficient pools of executing organizations to address social problems at some sort of scale.” Making this move will entail shifting funders to articulate coordinated theories of change with a shared sense of objective measures. It will also take incentives for coordination and collaboration among implementers.

Ebrahim is a professor at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, whose current research addresses two core dilemmas of accountability facing social enterprises, nonprofit organizations, and public agencies: How should they measure and improve their performance? How should they address competing demands for accountability from diverse stakeholders?

The event was sponsored in part by McCourt School of Public Policy, Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership, Beeck Center, Georgetown College, and the Social Responsibility Network (SRN) of Georgetown College.

Read more about the event from the Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership – Measuring What Matters: Strategies for Measuring Change in the Social Sector

This is one of the many events that the Beeck Center hosts throughout the year, everything from workshops to open houses to author events like this one. They are an excellent opportunity to bring together members of the student and broader social impact communities for spirited conversations on important issues. Previous guests include Ann Mei Chang, author of “Lean Impact,” and Anand Giridharadas, author of “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World.”

Join us on March 31 for our next author event, as Henry Ramos discusses his new book, “Democracy and the Next American Economy.”

January 15, 2020 | By Nate Wong, Sheila Herrling & Audrey Voorhees

As public trust of business and markets wanes, there’s an ever important call for everyone to play a critical role in reforming the system “so that it delivers prosperity for the many, rather than the few.” The Beeck Center has been observing the trends in the corporate social impact (CSI) space for the past few years as mainstream rhetoric has shifted from a shareholder to stakeholder-centric view of capitalism, most importantly seen in the recent United States Business Roundtable announcement

The question remains, where does the CSI movement stand and where do we go from here? As a “grasstop” player, the Center links grassroot and institutional efforts poised for action, and puts our energy toward the messy infrastructure work that can accelerate and sustain positive social impact movements like corporate social impact. It’s what we’d call “Impact at Scale.”

CSI Defined: The increasing recognition that corporations need to rethink their role in society and embed social purpose into their business model in order to manage risk, maintain market share, and secure competitive advantage. For those more bullish, you could be more specific that purpose will drive higher profit.

We set out to explore the topic – who is doing what – and to identify gaps in the CSI landscape that require concentrated action to accelerate impact at scale. My colleagues Sheila Herrling and Audrey Voorhees conducted this analysis to consider potential roles for the Center, but believe it serves as a “global public good” for all interested parties to help move this movement forward.  

Analysis highlights include:

  • The CSI movement arguably began over 12  years ago… with at least 11 key flashpoint events that have been foundational in building momentum, but there is still more work to do to tip the movement. 
  • 22 actors stand at the forefront of accelerating this movement and their efforts are worth looking out for.
  • There are 4 major gaps standing in the way of mainstreaming this movement that require attention.

We have 7 gap-closing ideas. Dive deeper here.

Our hope is that this will ground people’s understanding no matter where you may sit in the space – a corporation finding its position relative to others, a policymaker navigating the shifting system, or an academic seeking to teach business through a more current lens – and empower coordination.

With all of the Beeck Center’s work, we pair learners and expert practitioners. Watch MBA candidate and Student Analyst Audrey Voorhees’ capstone presentation as she shares her own journey and some of the research highlights.

Engage with us. 

This is our first pass at creating a comprehensive landscape analysis of the corporate social impact movement. As a community of practitioners driving impact at scale, we want this analysis to provide value along the learning continuum, from initiate to expert. How does this analysis resonate with you? And the market? We’d love your feedback.

The potential for corporates to drive social impact is scale is enormous. If partnerships can be leveraged, strategic alliances formed and critical gaps in the movement filled, this movement just might tip!

Sheila Herrling is a Fellow at the Beeck Center, where she pursues initiatives in impact investing and measurement, inclusive entrepreneurship and social innovation at scale.

Audrey Voorhees is a Student Analyst at the Beeck Center. She is currently pursuing an MBA at the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business.

Nate Wong serves as the Interim Executive Director at the Beeck Center, where he leads the Center’s pursuits and thinking on social impact at scale across its major portfolios. He previously helped launch social impact units at Boston Consulting Group and Deloitte Consulting LLP.

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August 30, 2019

On August 6, 2019, the Beeck Center’s Fair Finance team and a Georgetown Law professor toured seven projects in Opportunity Zones in Baltimore City. These projects included vacant lots, refurbished rowhomes, and newly developed mixed income apartment buildings. At the conclusion of the tour, the Hotel Revival in Baltimore hosted a community dinner with Opportunity Zones Investor Council members, local faith leaders, and community organizers where Beeck Center Student Analyst Donovan Taylor presented his personal story and why social impact is invaluable to him.

The following is a transcript of Donovan’s speech.  

When I was 12 years old, my mom used to wake my sister and me up at 9 am to take us to church in East Baltimore. On Hillen Road, Lake Montebello was surrounded by beautiful single-family homes and lush grass. Driving down Harford Road toward North Avenue, things were a little different. There were brick row houses, concrete, and check cashing expresses. As my mom turned onto North Caroline St, the neighborhood was inundated with abandoned buildings, liquor stores, and potholes. The tension in the air was palpable. This community is juxtaposed with Harbor East’s cobblestone streets, extravagant fountains, upscale restaurants, and Whole Foods less than a mile away. How could anyone find purpose or joy in a world plagued by so much inequity and suffering? Baltimore is struggling to survive. In 2017, 342 people were killed in this city compared to 290 in NYC, a city with nearly 14 times the population. The issue of gun violence affects many families personally, including my own. In May 2014, my uncle was shot in the face and killed instantly, and the police still don’t know who’s responsible. 

Since 5th grade, I attended a summer program for talented Baltimore youth called Bridges at St. Paul’s School. St.Paul’s is a prestigious private school in the Baltimore suburbs with a huge campus that was once a slave plantation. I remember being absolutely amazed that students could drink from water fountains and had central air in their classrooms. Baltimore City Public Schools are struggling to meet the needs of the next generation of students, including providing a comfortable learning environment. In the winter of 2018, Baltimore made national news as a photo of preschool kids in heavy coats in their classroom went viral online, exposing just how poor conditions are in some Baltimore City schools because the city fails to provide adequate heating. If you’ve been exposed to gun violence, you must figure out ways to cope and heal from this trauma. If you don’t have access to healthy food, you will deal with an increased risk of obesity, hypertension, and heart attack. If your zone schools are underfunded, you have limited opportunities for upward mobility. In some of these communities, people are dealing with all these issues. Some people from outside of Baltimore can sit in their prestigious office and write these communities off as “rat infected, rodent infested mess(es)” that no-one wants to live in. But, Tupac lived in Baltimore for a part of his life and I believe it was in these communities he got the inspiration to exclaim “long live the rose that grew from the concrete.” My grandfather calls us “God’s miracle people” because even though we’ve been through so much, we always find joy and the will to press forward.

This is a critical point in our society. Our generation has seen the impact of fear and hatred on a global scale. We’ve seen a few people amass great wealth and power, while some parents abroad are forced to feed their children dirt patties. Today, we have an opportunity to change the world for the better. We can choose to see the value of these communities and equip them with the tools to recover from decades of apathy and exclusion. 

Impact investing is a relatively new perspective on investment through which social and environmental outcomes are just as important as financial returns. In the US, impact investors manage over $255 billion in assets. Opportunity Zones are a federal tax incentive that allows investors to defer taxes by investing their capital gains in low-income communities. Through the combination of impact investing and opportunity zones, with a clear focus on community empowerment, the narrative can be changed. The next generation deserves to live in a world free from the pain and trauma of today’s youth. The children of Sandtown should live in a community that they are proud of and afforded the same opportunities as those from Roland Park. Your passion and dedication to investing in Baltimore Opportunity Zones will lead to real change in communities that are desperate to be heard and healed. It is important to exemplify the adage “nothing about us, without us” and actively seek to understand community need. There are invaluable insights that residents can offer in this work that are equal to those of ivy-league educated professionals. To continue with the words of Tupac, these community members, these roses, are grounded in the reality of their lived experiences. Therefore, it will take the collaborative efforts of all to create a more equitable society. That rose in the concrete should live without fear that a stray bullet will kill it. That rose should have access to the best food, housing, and education available. That rose deserves the highest respect for embodying resilience and surviving the impossible. Eventually, that rose will no longer struggle from the weight of systematic injustice and the concrete will no longer exist.

Donovan Taylor is a Student Analyst supporting the Fair Finance team, and this fall will return to Georgetown University, where he will be a senior majoring in International Business and Management. Follow him on Twitter @donovantaylor01.



August 29, 2019 | By Jillian Gilburne

It takes grit to advocate for change in the public sector. The process of making a meaningful social impact can be lonely and slow; the levers of political power too rusty, and the egos manning them too large.

For students and young professionals just starting out, the prospect of such a hostile work environment can be overwhelming. Without the proper support system, confidence, and resources, many simply give up on challenging the status quo. And who could blame them? Pushing boundaries, breaking molds, and working interdisciplinarily are not nearly as simple and glamorous as we’re often raised believing. 

In fact, it was my pursuit of a community and support system that brought me to the Beeck Center Student Analyst program this summer. I wanted to join a team of innovative optimists working to scale social impact and support efforts to bring young technologists and designers into public service, and I found it. But I quickly realized that there were hundreds of other students across the D.C. area interested in developing innovative solutions to complex problems that I hadn’t met yet. In the spirit of collaboration, I started making plans for a Summer of Social Change Intern Convening. 

Community building, especially within the public interest technology space, is one of the core premises of the Digital Service Collaborative, the project I’ve spent the summer working on. We know that when thought leaders and practitioners come together to problem solve and collaborate, morale strengthens and we generate better ideas. But what about those of us who are just getting started in our professional careers or just beginning to understand how we fit into the public sector innovation ecosystem? While reading about the work being done by practitioners in the civic tech space is useful, it’s also important to develop a newcomer network — a group of co-collaborators and sounding boards who understand what it’s like to just be starting out. 

This is especially important for students entering the civic technology and social impact fields. Because we are usually working at the intersections of multiple disciplines, we don’t quite fit in anywhere. We are technologists, designers, discourse fixers, legal and policy wonks, activists, and economists bonded by a desire to make government and its related institutions work better for the people they are intended to serve. So, it’s important for us to find others who understand or sympathize with the mission. 

On a Tuesday afternoon in the Idea Lab of the Georgetown University Library, the Beeck team gathered 18 interns and young professionals from 10 different organizations and 11 universities to identify and address some of the most frustrating roadblocks to being a young person in a social innovation space. These organizations spanned sectors and included leaders in government transparency, human-centered design, election reform, funding social impact projects, and recruiting tech talent into the public sector.  

students talking around a conference table

Beeck Center Student Analyst Jillian Gilburne facilitates our Summer of Social Change Intern Convening on August 6, 2019. Photo by Céline Chieu.

We started by sharing methods and techniques that we’ve used to support our change making efforts in the past — mentoring, storytelling, challenging ourselves, and looking out for people whose voices are often ignored. We realized early on that regardless of where we came from or which organization we worked for, we had all developed similar toolkits for assessing complicated problems. 

The similarities didn’t stop there. As we started talking about the successes and hardships of our summer work, we encountered more of the same. Topics included changing perceptions around public sector work, navigating hierarchies and bureaucracies, helping non-technical bosses understand technical constraints, and figuring out what a career in social impact might actually look like. 

students writing sticky notes

Convening participants capture the highs and lows of their summer work on sticky notes. Photo by Céline Chieu.

Together we shared our concerns about finding mentors, pitching new ideas to skeptical co-workers, and feeling understood. We also offered up anecdotes about and suggestions for how we had dealt with similar problems in the past. For example, many of us had struggled with selling new ideas to upper level management. If we pitch an idea that is too half-baked it will be disregarded as infeasible, but if we wait too long, our internship will be over before it ever comes close to being actualized. In the end, we left with some good advice and a better understanding of how our interests might fit into the larger public reform ecosystem. 

I normally hate networking events but I really enjoyed talking with the other people I met today! It was really reassuring to hear that other people have a lot of the same problems I do. — Convening Attendee 

Obviously, we were never going to fix everything in an afternoon, but when working towards something as nebulous as social impact, simply coming together as young people to talk about our experiences and support each other can go a long way. So, thank you to the Beeck Center for creating a space for the social impact interns of D.C. to come together to develop new relationships and to debrief after a summer of changemaking. As the summer comes to an end, I can’t wait to see how the Beeck Center will continue to help interns and early career professionals from across the city and the country come together to strategize by hosting more of these convenings throughout the school year. 

And as I return to Northwestern University for my senior year, after a summer of researching how we can better support newcomers to the public interest technology space, I have plans to host a series of interdisciplinary salons where students and faculty come together to discuss how their field might approach a particular problem to ensure that technologists, designers, and policy leaders alike know that social impact is an option for their work.

Jillian Gilburne was a Summer 2019 Student Analyst supporting the Data + Digital team, and this fall will return to Northwestern University, where she will be a senior majoring in Communication Studies, Political Science, and Human-Centered Design. Follow her on Twitter @JillianGilburne

Interim Executive Director Nate Wong shares his vision of the Beeck Center’s mission.  

Solving complex social problems requires a joint effort across partners. Impact at scale goes beyond growing the efforts of any one organization or program, instead demanding collaboration within a system of players and groups. As Nate Wong takes the helm at the Beeck Center with founding Executive Director Sonal Shah’s leave of absence, he shares the Center’s reinvigorated mission and program goals. 

The Beeck Center’s mission is simple yet ambitious: we exist to help scale social impact globally. This goes beyond replicating the success of a single organization or program. Impact at scale requires cross-collaboration and ultimately behavior change. Societal problems are increasingly complex and cannot be solved in silos. Business, government, and social programs alone will not be able to fully address these issues. We need models where collaboration can flourish, and a new way of training people to adequately solve these intractable problems, using the tools of interdisciplinary and experiential education.

The Beeck Center solves these two needs as an experiential hub located at Georgetown University. To spur greater impact, we hold up scalable models where multiple sectors are solving societal problems. We do this through our two portfolios, fair finance and data + digital, which house our projects that we incubate and eventually scale out of the Center. Using our perch at Georgetown University, we serve as a truth-teller and impact broker to showcase truly emergent impact models and the leaders making an impact through their work. We also are a training ground for students, teaching them the importance of a human-centered, interdisciplinary problem solving approach. Through our experiential programs connected to our real-world problems and our world-class problem solving practitioners, we prepare students with the tools to truly make an impact now and into the future.  

I am excited for the fall not just because students will be coming back to campus, but also because we will be showcasing the full breadth of what we have been incubating over the past few months. A few highlights include:

  • New models for how local governments can better collaborate and use the power of people-centered design and technology to better improve services like foster care or disaster relief. 
  • Emergent collaborations around how investors/ developers can responsibly deploy capital to designated locales called Opportunity Zones.
  • Piloted navigation tools to help students better navigate the impact space by cataloging key skillsets and mechanisms for the 21st century leader.

This is an exciting time here at the Beeck Center, and I’m looking forward to sharing updates throughout the year.