In the most recent issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review, the article “Making Big Bets for Social Change” opens with the story of how, in the late 1990s, the founders of the Gap, Don and Doris Fisher, committed US$15 million to improve public education in the United States through the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP)—an amount that was approximately three times KIPP’s annual revenue at the time. Today, KIPP is educating more than 70,000 students in 183 schools across the U.S., and 82 percent of KIPP alumni have gone to college. Now that was a big bet that paid off in spades.
In fact, late last year, I started noticing that “big bets” were popping up all over the place. The Ford Foundation committed US$500 million to fight inequality, while Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, and other billionaires united to create and fund the Breakthrough Energy Coalition to invest in clean energy. I read David Gelles’ excellent New York Times article about Unilever’s full-on commitment to sustainability, which was published just before COP21 in Paris, where governments, corporations, and civil society groups convened to take an important and powerful stance to combat climate change. And with the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals, we are at an exciting turning point to potentially end poverty, hunger, and inequality.
What an auspicious way to end the year—and a bold way to begin the new one. We’ve been so inspired by this momentum that our theme for the BSR Conference this year is “Be Bold.”
We know that the challenges ahead in building a sustainable future are immense and require collaborative, creative thinking from all sectors of society. And we also know that we won’t achieve these goals unless we think big—and think bold.
Bold thinking doesn’t necessarily always come easily to those of us working on social change issues. We may feel constrained by financial resources, as we work to deliver on global programs of the utmost importance with limited budgets. We suffer at times from the “we’ve tried that, and it didn’t work” school of thinking—as many of the challenges we work on have existed for decades.
This year, let’s leave these thoughts behind. As Pascal Finette of Singularity University challenged us last year from the plenary stage, “Free yourselves from the world of scarcity. Allow yourself to think in a world of abundance. What if?”
We hope you will join us in New York from November 1-3 at BSR16 to help us answer that powerful—and empowering—question. What if we had all of the resources at our disposal to create social equality, fight climate change, and create a sustainable future? What if we successfully collaborated across sectors, industries, and geographies to solve these challenges?
At BSR16, we’ll hear compelling stories from companies, foundations, big thinkers, and creative doers who have made big bets in the service of building a better world. We look forward to welcoming you there for a week of networking, learning, and celebrating. As the ancient Roman poet Virgil noted, “Fortune favors the bold.” This year in New York, we’ll make sure that we have fortune on our side.