Who knew that I could learn new tricks?!
June 6th, 2007Okay - the title got your attention! I, along with fellow blogger Mark Petersen the Executive Director of the Bridgeway Foundation in Toronto, am participating in a week long Executive Education program at Stanford University for Philanthropy Leaders. This experience is nothing short of phenomenal. I have said to anybody within earshot, this is like going to a spa for the brain.
I am not trying to diminish the program's importance, but I am trying to convey its powers if you will. It is rare that any leader, let alone a leader of a foundation or other funding entity, can or will take the time to learn and be exposed to ideas, theories and proven concepts from world renowned leaders. The participants are just as impressive. They come from across the U.S. as well as from Jordan, Israel, Singapore, Denmark, Australia and New Zealand. It will take awhile for me once I return to really process this experience.
However, my aforementioned blogging buddy has already a written a few entries on this experience so I need to catch up! I recommend that you refer to his blog at http://markpetersen.wordpress.com/.
We have been exposed to the thoughts and ideas of Jim Phills and Chip Heath who are not only Stanford Graduate School of Business professors and authors, but the co-directors of the Center for Social Innovation which publishes the journal, Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) a highly read publication throughout our industry. Others who have presented thus far and engaged us in meaningful discussion - forcing us to think - include: Ray Fisman an economist from Columbia University, Tom Tierney, a renowned management and leadership expert who is the Chairman and Co-Founder of The Bridgespan Group, Bill Barnett, a Stanford professor who uses the unique blend of humor and brilliance as he skillfully guided us discussions regarding competitive and cooperative systems and Sandy Herz, an executive from the Skoll Foundation.
The key thing that has sunk in for me thus far has been the importance of the industry analysis which is borrowed from business principles and practices and has tremendous utility in the nonprofit sector. It is the discipline that teaches us how to analyze the industry in which we operate and focus in on factors such as rivals (which may seem quite out of place when considering the social sector), organizations/businesses/activities that may be considered as substitutes and/or complements, barriers to entry of that industry and much more. Considerations include the development of mission, vision, goals, positioning, etc.
Dry? Hardly! In fact, I can recall that when we were discussing the development of our strategies at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation two years ago that one of the trustees took exception to the fact that we had done an analysis of our competition thinking that we were trying to gain an upper hand in an industry that shouldn't be competitive. Well, I disagreed and we were able to move forward.
As the days progress I'll have more insights but now I am going to enjoy our next journey which is an exercise on Power and Relationships! So if the notion of competition in the nonprofit sector seems out of place, then imagine the impact of this morning's exercise! We have been "promised" some surprises!
P.S. - If you have never explored Stanford's campus, do yourself a favor and get out here to do so. It is simply gorgeous and an environment that nurtures learning. Whew - what a week thus far!