Earlier this month, I corresponded with Robin Katcher to get her reflections on the Innovation Challenge workshop and impressions of the ensuing experiment process. Robin is a senior program advisor at Management Assistance Group. She brings profound love and humor to her work strengthening organizations, leaders, and networks in the social justice field.
AW: How would you describe yourself in three sentences?
RK: A loving, committed, generous social justice actor who contributes by partnering with leaders, organizations and networks as they make change.
A wife, mom, lesbian, Jew, and white middle class American woman who seeks to hold her power, privilege, and perspectives with authenticity and love and with a deep awareness of structural racism and inequality.
A crazy supportive fan of Strong Families, Forward Together, innovation, and learning.
AW: Why did you come to the Future Forward Innovation Challenge?
RK: I came because Evelyn invited me and believed I could make a contribution and I trust her. I came because some of the early thinking that sparked the challenge emerged through the Network Leadership Innovation Lab and sessions we did with Eveline and Moira, their joint action learning project and sessions with funders including Holly. I came to learn and deepen my appreciation and application of design thinking and innovation. I came because the challenge addresses a widespread and critical issue across the nonprofit sector that presents a serious barrier to long term success for all of us and it’s an area ripe for innovation. I came because I know that both Rebecca and Eugene are brilliant and talented and I want to learn with and from them.
I came the workshop because the challenge addresses a widespread and critical issue across the nonprofit sector that presents a serious barrier to long term success for all of us and it’s an area ripe for innovation.
AW: What did you bring?
RK: I brought: a desire to learn with and from others, a willingness to contribute, a creative open mind, experience with movements and networks, experience with organizations trying to develop new approaches and new thinking, some limited background and a ton of curiosity around design thinking and innovation, experience trying to raise money for innovation from foundations, a background in having run an organization that mixed a fee-for-service enterprise and foundation supported program work, some thinking around complexity and the opportunities and challenges that creates for leaders and philanthropy. Oh and a sense of humor!
AW: What did you get out of the challenge workshop? As you think back to May 18 and 19, what has stayed with you? How did the workshop live up to or fall short of your expectations? Who have you talked to about Future Forward? What have you shared?
RK: What sticks with me was the process we went through to develop innovative ideas, the exciting mix of thinkers in the room, and the real organizational challenges that arise as busy leaders try to carve out time and resources to experiment with innovative ideas.
It lived up to my expectations. I loved it! I think the struggle for me has been to stay engaged after the session and understand how the experiments are evolving. I would have loved to have a few more conference calls that provided a touch stone for how the current experiments evolved and what was learning. Failing to have a more concrete notion about how and when at the meeting made it harder for me to show up and figure out how to spend my limited time once I got back. A follow up call would have also accomplished that for me.
I already talk up Forward Together every chance I get. But it was nice to be able to do that with two friends and colleagues who are involved in running story telling projects for entertainment. They both offered to be interviewed and thought the idea of using story telling and the art of crafting stories as a tool for social justice was really interesting. How to make revenue over costs for such a project is less clear but there are some ideas.
What are your hopes for the project going forward? For Forward Together? How would you like to be involved? What would you like to ask other participants?
I would love to have a conference call or a one-on-one with someone to understand more deeply where we are with experiments, what has been learned, and what the next iteration of the work will be so I can find an appropriate space to plug in and contribute.
My biggest question is — how’s it been going? What has the experience been like for you? What have you learned so far from your experiments? How might I support your efforts?
AW: What advice or questions do you have for the experimenters? How would you challenge them? Why do you think experimentation is an important approach for this type of challenge?
RK: Experimentation is key! My biggest question is — how’s it been going? What has the experience been like for you? What have you learned so far from your experiments and from taking on being an experimenter? How might I support your efforts?
I would say don’t be afraid to try and fail. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough. I would also encourage folks to reach out to potential for profit partners to see what might be developed together and if that might reduce expenditures and still ensure revenues. I would also ask what learning is emerging around what it might take for nonprofits to experiment with revenue generating enterprises.
AW: Any other reflections or questions?
RK: Thank you for asking and including me. Please let me know specifically what I can do to support the current or next round of experimentation.
Robin Katcher (left) and Moira Bowman at the Innovation Challenge Workshop in May.