Be Fearless Spotlight: A Bold Investment Strategy Allows For Fearless Risk-Taking at FHI 360

This Spotlight is a part of a special blog series curated by the Case Foundation featuring Be Fearless stories from the field. Follow along with us as we meet people and learn about organizations that are taking risks, being bold and failing forward in their efforts to create transformative change in the social sector. This Spotlight is authored by Patrick C. Fine, Chief Executive Officer of FHI 360.

Every day, bold actions—large and small—inspire and shape the future. Girls in northern Nigeria defy threats from violent extremists to go to school; transgender women in Cambodia stand together against intolerance and discrimination that fuel HIV; and young refugees struggle to build new lives in foreign lands. FHI 360—a nonprofit human development organization dedicated to improving lives by advancing integrated, locally driven solutions—takes its inspiration from such daily acts of bravery and strives to be bold and Be Fearless in addressing problems around the globe.

We learn from the examples we see of people facing unimaginable hardship and with courage, initiative and determination overcome the challenges in their path and create new opportunities for themselves and their communities. Their stories inspire us to tackle the toughest problems and to be bold in the solutions we try. The issues facing our global community can’t wait, and they aren’t getting easier. We need to leverage all possible solutions, however unconventional, to meet these challenges.

The FHI Foundation—the foundation arm which exclusively supports the vision, spirit and mission of FHI 360 through strategic investments—was built on a unique impact investment model that has enabled FHI 360 to expand beyond its early focus as a small family planning organization and become a global force in human development. Once an organization with an annual operating budget of less than $3 million, FHI 360 now has expanded into more than 70 countries and all U.S. states and territories, with more than $600 million in revenue, a $150 million Foundation endowment and more than 4,000 staff around the world.

This approach—a foundation incubating projects at a non-profit organization—allows us to experiment early and often, allowing for a more creative approach to address some of the world’s most complex human development challenges. Moreover, it has enhanced FHI 360’s stability, resiliency and relevance by placing it on the cutting edge of development trends and critical issues faced by underserved populations around the world.

For example, in 2001, the FHI Foundation invested US$1 million to demonstrate the viability of antiretroviral therapy (ART) programs in resource-constrained settings in Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda, providing critical evidence that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) needed to expand ART delivery to countries devastated by the epidemic. By 2006, FHI (now FHI 360) was implementing comprehensive HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment programs in 40 countries. As of September 30, 2015, U.S. government funding through multiple partners and organizations was supporting life-saving ART for 9.5 million people.

Today, FHI 360 continues to stimulate new ideas and incentivize innovations. With its Catalyst Fund, the FHI Foundation provides annual grants totaling $500,000 to FHI 360 staff to develop approaches, tools or products that address human development challenges. The Catalyst Fund competition brings together FHI 360 staff from different regions, sectors and specialties, many of whom may not traditionally work together, to allow for a space for staff to reach beyond their bubble and develop forward-thinking approaches to promote the health and well-being of individuals and communities. Funded initiatives are delivering innovations such as the use of drone delivery to increase access to medical supplies in rural Kenya, the development of a mobile-based test-prep app to help students prepare for exams in Myanmar, and a web-based application to help monitor child learning and health progress in classrooms globally.

While some organizations allow risk to become paralyzing, even in the face of an immediate crisis, the FHI Foundation/FHI 360 relationship proves what can be accomplished when urgency drives the quest for solutions and when financial stability allows for the freedom to make bold moves with high stakes, even when the outcome is uncertain. A mixture of private and public funds, a strategic investment model and a commitment to tackle the world’s most challenging problems head on, ensure FHI 360’s continued success and the continued benefits to those we serve around the world.

We believe that the time for bold action is at hand. Yet, we will only succeed if we work together and if we push ourselves to ask the uncomfortable questions, to learn from failure and to dare to challenge the status quo. We must be willing to see and do things differently, to develop new skill sets, devise new structures and conceive new partnerships. We must anticipate, adapt and enthusiastically embrace change to maximize our impact in the world.

Feeling inspired? If you’re ready to begin your own Be Fearless journey start by downloading the Case Foundation’s free Be Fearless Action Guide and Case Studies.

Fearless Focus: Mario Morino

In our journey to Be Fearless and champion a fearless approach to tackling social challenges, the Case Foundation team will spotlight leading changemakers across sectors that have embraced fearlessness. Our spotlights will provide personal accounts of why these changemakers adopted a fearless approach, how they overcame hurdles, and how taking risks, being bold, and failing forward led to quicker results and deeper impact.

This week, we are featuring Mario Morino, Chairman of Venture Philanthropy Partners (VPP) and the Morino Institute, and author of Leap of Reason: Managing to Outcomes in an Era of Scarcity. Jean and Steve Case along with the Case Foundation are founding investors and long-time supporters of VPP, a philanthropic investment organization that helps great leaders build strong, high-performing nonprofit institutions in the DC region.Since co-founding VPP in 2000, Mario has been a leader in applying venture and growth principles to the nonprofit sector to build stronger, high-impact organizations. Previous to VPP, Mario was a software entrepreneur and civic business leader in the DC region, and more recently in Northeast Ohio.

What do you think it means to Be Fearless in approaching social challenges?

A fearless leader has the courage to periodically look in the mirror to face that difficult question, “Is our hard work truly adding up to great results for those we serve?” And if the answer is “no,” a fearless leader acknowledges shortcomings, reaches out for help from others, seeks relevant information on how to improve, and then takes bold (even painful) steps to get on a more impactful course. In my work with Venture Philanthropy Partners (VPP), with other nonprofit organizations, and in my business career, I’ve made more than my share of mistakes, sought help, and then course-corrected. But let me offer a better example of fearless introspection which I learned about this past year. In the early 1990s, Youth Villages (YV) CEO Pat Lawler kept hearing through the grapevine about young people who seemed to be on a good path after discharge from YV’s residential treatment facilities and yet had ended up in prison or in other forms of crisis. This prompted Pat to start collecting more information to find out what was really happening to those kids. The results were disappointing at best. Instead of hiding the bad news from stakeholders, Pat and his team openly acknowledged that they were falling short of their aspirations and then spent several tough years reengineering the entire program model. Today, 82 percent percent of the kids in YV programs across the country are rising above their challenges. They are finishing school, earning a living, and contributing to their communities. That’s literally twice the rate achieved by comparable programs. And Pat’s program costs one-third as much as competitor programs.

Tell us about a time when you and your organization were Fearless.

In all candor, I don’t see myself as fearless, as I’ve had the luxury of time and resources to be able to take thoughtful, measured risks (at least most of the time). For instance, I never viewed co-founding VPP as being fearless, nor did I see the choices we made in our philanthropic investments as fearless, since they were grounded by deep analysis. Having said this, in my business and philanthropic life I have consistently done what some would regard as bold or even on the edge: I have sought to recruit leaders to my boards, advisory groups, and management teams who know more than I do and from whom I can learn. For example, recruiting Carol Thompson Cole to serve as VPP’s CEO would feel pretty risky to some organizational founders. Carol is an exemplary leader who commands deep respect and could steal a founder’s thunder. But to me, being able to recruit outstanding talent-talent that could (and should) take me out of a central decision-making role with the organization-is essential. I believe leaders of organizations have to be fearless in recruiting and/or developing the strongest talent they can for the boards and organization-even when that talent is better than they are.

What did you learn & what advice would you give other organizations facing a similar decision point?

I think the hardest thing to do is to question your own performance and that of your organization. It sounds trite, but being honest with yourself is critical. It’s easy to say you want to recruit strong talent to your board and organization until you are confronted with the fact that these same strong people will have strong views and opinions, modes of operation, etc., that are different from yours. That’s when the rubber meets the road. As long as you are philosophically and culturally aligned, are you ready to step back and give others the latitude to speak out, to differ, and to lead? Much easier said than done. There’s a follow-on, which is to have to courage to admit when a people decision you made was wrong and then act to rectify it. As one of my bosses and advisors told me, if you hire someone and they leave or they don’t work out in the first year, it is squarely your mistake. You either didn’t do the right due diligence up front, or you inadvertently set the person up to fail.

What inspired your organization to Be Fearless?

I don’t mean to dodge your question, but as I said earlier I don’t see myself as fearless. Writing columns, giving speeches, and supporting others doesn’t exactly take nerves of steel. But running a community health center, intervening with gang members, negotiating with a drug dealer to stay away from your school-now that takes a fearless leader! Therefore, I feel much more comfortable speaking about nonprofit leaders who, for very compelling reasons, are truly fearless in their work-and they have to be to succeed. What always inspires great nonprofit leaders to be fearless is the passionate, unyielding desire to do the most they can for those they serve. Great leaders can’t sleep at night when they don’t know whether they’re on course to achieve the results they seek. They’re obsessed with finding ways to do better for those they serve. And as a result, they are willing take big risks to get there.

Learn more about Mario Morino here. Read more about our Be Fearless campaign. Know someone that we should spotlight for Fearless Focus? Let us know here in the comments or tell us on twitter @casefoundation using #befearless