The last few weeks have been brutal.  No way around that.  We are collectively facing an epidemiological pandemic and all of the challenges that “social distancing” place on our day-to-day realities.  Together, we are at war with an invisible adversary and remain unsure about what “normal” will look like once we flatten the curve.

Having worked in the non-profit sector for more than a decade, I have observed first hand the tremendous joy that giving time and money provides to an individual donor. I have been blessed to participate in raucous, engaging, and entertaining workplace gatherings in support of charitable fundraising.  I have been moved to tears by the generosity of school children collecting cans for food drives and selling handmade items so they can donate to others in need.  While my life has been changed immeasurably for the better by these experiences, the sustainability of the non-profit sector is challenged in the best of times and especially when we are faced with an external shock such as the coronavirus.

In pursuit of a new model to drive social impact, Tom and I joined several partners, and our founding Executive Director, to establish Social Venture Partners (SVP) here in Miami back in 2017. During SVP’s first three years, and first three investment cycles, our partnership has been challenged by the difficulties that non-profits have in adding new lines of business that can generate financial returns to fund their mission and expand their impact.  The realities of running daily operations and managing ongoing fundraising and donor stewardship needs often preclude our investees’ leaders from spending the time needed to pursue this innovation.

One of my fellow partners is Rahnuma Ahsan, a Professor of Social Entrepreneurship at Miami-Dade College—the largest community college in The United States.  Rah has always responded to this innovation challenge with the insight that massive societal change and social impact is only possible via the private sector.  While that viewpoint may be extreme, it is also revealing.

I thought of Rah yesterday, when I was watching CNBC and anchor Jim Cramer stated, “Business is the largest source of social change,” in response to Facebook’s commitment to offer $100 million in cash grants and ad credits to up to 30,000 small businesses in 30 countries across the globe.

Beyond the Facebook investment, the private sector has stepped up in a few notable ways to change society in the face of our new realities:

  • After only the fourth closure in park history, Disneyland donated all unused food inventory that would have gone to waste during the park’s temporary closure.
  • Bank of America is committing $100 Million to assist communities in the areas of medical response, access to education and food insecurity.
  • After the cancellation of The Players Championship, the golf tournament donated thousands of pounds of food to a great cause, Feeding Northeast Florida
  • Clothing retailer H & M has committed $500,000 to the work of the World Health Organization.

Certainly, this is just the beginning.  Guided by a sense of purpose, responsibility and opportunity, these large organizations have the capacity to make these decisions in an instant. They will need non-profit partners on the ground to ensure these cash and in kind investments are directed toward the community in ways that achieve maximum effect.  Social change takes the form of setting new norms for culture and society broadly and within the walls (IRL or virtual) of each organization.   More on the latter tomorrow!