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March 4, 2019 | Cheryl L. Dorsey

Hacking the Bias in Big Bets

Echoing Green President Cheryl Dorsey authored this article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Read an excerpt below, or view the full article here.

The nonprofit playing field is far from level when it comes to funding opportunities for organizations led by people of color. In fact, only 11 percent of social change big bets made between 2010 and 2014 went to such organizations. (See “Philanthropists: Look Beyond Your Inner Circle.”) The rise of large, syndicated funds only increases the chance that this dynamic will persist (or even worsen) unless we proactively address biases in the system.

At Echoing Green, we consider ourselves social-sector angel investors. Our program supports early-stage organizations that work at the intersection of social innovation and social justice. We feel privileged that leaders of color and proximate leaders (leaders personally familiar with the communities being served), who together are working on issues in their own communities, are overrepresented in our fellowship program. This overrepresentation is critical, not only because it serves as a tool to encourage equity, but also from an impact perspective, in part because arguably the social innovators who are closest to their communities have the ideas, talent, and authenticity to effect the greatest change.

Consider Kennedy Odede, a 2010 Echoing Green fellow and cofounder of Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), who grew up in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi, Kenya, where he experienced the realities of extreme poverty. SHOFCO is now the largest grassroots organization in Kibera, providing critical services, community advocacy platforms, and education and leadership development for women and girls. Odede was equipped to launch and propel SHOFCO because he understood that the power, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit of the people of Kibera needed to be the driving forces accelerating the organization’s impact. Proximate leaders like him are better able to address community problems and identify solutions because they have experienced their community’s challenges themselves.

Our aim at Echoing Green is to expand access to funding for all social entrepreneurs regardless of who they are or where they are from. Achieving our objective calls for hacking the bias that exists in the nonprofit sector.

Several interrelated challenges make this goal difficult to achieve. The first stumbling block is a denominator problem. A 2017 study from Building Movement Project found that the percentage of people of color in nonprofit CEO roles has remained under 20 percent for the last 15 years. The study also suggests that this is not because of lack of aspiration or readiness by diverse candidates, but rather that the playing field is uneven.

A second issue is what I refer to as “compound bias”: multiple, overlapping, systemic barriers that stand in the way of unleashing more big bets for organizations led by people of color.

One such barrier is that people of color are less likely to have relationships with big-bet donors. Organizations run by people of color are also more likely to be under-resourced, so they are often not even on big-bet donors’ radars. Research also confirms that funders are vastly more likely to invest in people who share the same ethnic, educational, and career backgrounds. This homophily, in this case, “like funds like,” is a significant barrier for organizations run by people of color.

 Continue reading this article on ssir.org.

2010 Echoing Green Fellows Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner Odede. Photo credit: Audrey Hall
Go Deeper

This article is supported through the Inclusive Leadership Initiative. With support from the Citi Foundation, Echoing Green has expanded its work with leaders who represent and work with communities of color. Together, Echoing Green and the Citi Foundation are supporting the next generation of leaders who are helping create economic and social opportunities for young women and men of color across the United States.