All Organizations Must Be Learning Organizations

\r\n\r\nThis post is a response to "How Might We Celebrate Learning through Evaluation?" Learn more about the conversation here.  \r\n\r\nThe Skoll...

This post is a response to "How Might We Celebrate Learning through Evaluation?" Learn more about the conversation here.

The Skoll Foundation supports social entrepreneurial organizations through its Skoll Awards program and its networking and marketing initiatives. Our strategy involves investing through core-support, connecting the organizations with key stakeholders, and celebrating their accomplishments.

Through a utilization-centric framework, we approach evaluation with the primary focus on intended users and intended uses. Asking questions about who will use the findings and how those findings will be applied helps us maintain focus on learning toward informed decision-making. Our approach to evaluation is a blend of what Sally outlined here-reflective validation as well as active examination-where learning emerges on multiple fronts and informs different audiences.

With 60 organizations now in the Skoll portfolio, we have begun to get enough qualitative and quantitative impact data to measure impact three levels: individual, portfolio, and programmatic.

At the individual level: effective business models; scaling strategies; program impact and organizational sustainability. What are the solutions that best work in specific issue areas? How can these solutions be best supported and scaled? What are the barriers to success?

At the portfolio level: the characteristics that elevate mezzanine-level social entrepreneurial organizations to progress aggressively toward achieving large-scale change.

At a programmatic level: the processes of evaluation that are most efficient and can inform our strategy going forward. Are we asking the right questions? How is our support maximized? With the recent financial crisis and its impact on our endowment, we are paying greater attention to how our limited resources are deployed. What is the Skoll leverage to our grantees? Should we be offering other services that result in greater impact?

Understanding our award winners and assessing their work allows us to be more effective in our "connecting" and "celebrating" activities. We strongly embrace the power of storytelling and the opportunity to inspire others to actively engage in advancing the solutions. There are several tools that we use to share our learning, targeting multiple audiences. The Skoll World Forum at Oxford offers a platform to share innovative solutions with a select group of influencers. The delegate mix includes social entrepreneurs, donors and investors, policymakers, and representatives from the private sector. We have found that creating this space for shared learning has as a multiplier effect because delegates take what they've learned and apply it in ways that we, as a foundation, don't anticipate. We also have seen the forum lead spontaneously to cooperation among social entrepreneurs to leverage one another's networks, capabilities and services, which also extends impact.

To promote wider awareness and public education around the impact of social entrepreneurs, we fund film and media projects through partners like PBS and Sundance that present solutions through storytelling. We also create short films for our grantees that profile their model and impact, which they use to educate donors and partners-again, expanding the intended use and intended users circle.

To succeed, all organizations must be learning organizations. Foundations are no exception. As we grow our portfolio, we are introducing new tools and processes to help us improve our understanding of our grantees-what works, and what doesn't. It's the only way to ensure that the money we spend is truly delivering large-scale change around the world.

Lakshmi Karan works at the Skoll Foundation.

via International Monetary Fund / Flickr and Streetsblog Denver / Flickr

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