Turning the Ship Upstream – Philanthropy and Social Change•
On Monday, philanthropic and nonprofit leaders policy makers and social entrepreneurs convened at Northeastern University for the 2013 Social Impact Conference, “Moving the Needle: Philanthropy’s Role in Policy, Advocacy, and Systems Change.” The speakers covered a range of social justice issues, from economic development and environmental sustainability to ways to organize young people and engage them in advocacy. What unified the speakers was their clear call to move away from ‘lone wolf’ leaders and toward greater collaboration among donors and agencies to achieve systems change. Keynote speaker Tamara Draut, vice president of policy and research at Demos and author of Strapped: Why America’s 20- and 30-Somethings Can’t Get Ahead, spoke about the role public policy played in creating the current level of inequality, and argued that changes to public policy – led in part by philanthropies – can shift the nation toward opportunity once again.
Opportunity Nation’s Senior Advisor Sarah Beaulieu and Fellow Frank Marino spoke at the conference. Sarah shared insight into Opportunity Nation’s campaign’s strategy to use policy as a lever for social change, urging the audience “to think upstream and make change for many” rather than focusing on small programs that benefit only a few people.
“Systems change is the intersection of policy and culture,” Sarah said. “We need to find ways to make people feel comfortable with change.”
Frank shared his experience as a student activist at Northeastern, where he organizes around campus workers’ rights and sustainable food issues. He called on organizations to engage young people to both inform and direct their missions rather than thinking of them only as participants.
Opportunity Nation is dedicated to identifying strategic pressure points that can make the largest impact. Finding an entry that can dramatically steer entire systems toward equity and sustainability is what another conference speaker, Anim Steel of Real Food Generation, called finding the “trim tab” – relating these crucial entry points to the tiny but powerful rudders of a giant ship. ON sees our work in coalition building, policy change and grassroots engagement as being our trim tabs to move the needle on economic mobility in America.