Commercial thinking is critical to creating lasting change
A world that doesn’t need foundations – that is the dream that drives Clare Woodcraft, CEO of the Emirates Foundation.
“We are working to eradicate a problem, to create solutions that can be spun off into self-sufficient businesses,” said Woodcraft. “That is how you get long-term solutions. We can deliver social value through our businesses and get to a place where we no longer need foundations.”
Under her leadership, Emirates Foundation has transformed from one that was a short-term grant giving organization to one that is focused on solving a social problem – permanently.
“The idea is to focus your efforts so that every dollar spent helps make true, systemic change,” said Clare. “Before we were giving to all sectors. It is very difficult to measure social impact, to determine what is working, what is not.”
Using the model of Venture Philanthropy, the Foundation conducted market research to understand the gaps in the market and then to determine how to fill them. Based in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, they explored the economic challenges of the country, along with the country’s goals and the underlying core strengths.
The research showed that by focusing on the youth of UAE, the Foundation could help create a sustainable future for the country.
Today the Foundation has six programs, all focused on inspiring, empowering and guiding youth to create a thriving nation.
“Even the approach to fundraising is different,” said Clare. “No longer are we going into a corporation and asking them for money to support our causes. Now we are bringing something of value to the table and asking them to partner with us for mutual benefit. We build a value proposition around their corporate objectives, showing our common goals and how we can create more social impact together. These are true partnerships — we are offering them a service, not just asking for money.”
Foundations experimented with variations on the classic grant-giving model for years, but as budgets got squeezed, philanthropists began blazing new trails in funding models designed to yield social impact, as well as a financial return on their investments. Clare has taken this model and created a foundation with programs that can solve the social issue, but also generate enough funding to ultimately be self-supportive.
“Our goal is to create programs that fix a social issue,” said Clare. “What do young people need? What does the market need? Can we create a product or service that closes the gap? Then we test solutions and find the right balance using business-based concepts. That doesn’t mean we are turning the philanthropic sector into a commercial entity,” she added. “What is means is that there is a call for philanthropic funds to be spent wisely and more systematically so that they create long-term change.”
“In today’s world, businesses can’t just focus on the bottom line. Millennials want companies that are focused on meeting a purpose beyond the profit. They want to be a part of a business that delivers not just to the shareholder, but the broader stakeholder base.”
At Emirates Foundation they measure results with solid metrics tied to each program – how many did they deliver services to, were services delivered cost effectively, were participants satisfied, was the issue solved?
“The mindset of the organization has changed,” said Clare. “We are much more entrepreneurial – more like a private sector company. We have great traction with our corporate partnerships and funding from the private sector too. They trust us to create value – and we are.”