When Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was first published it was considered pretty controversial. Years later the shock had subsided and it was no longer seen as contentious as it had been in 1932.
In a recent blog, Brad Smith of the Foundation Centre talks about the Brave New World of Good, where “the terrain of good is disputed by social entrepreneurs, social enterprises, impact investors, big business, governments, and geeks”, not just non-profit organizations and foundations. Brad is understandably excited by this – we all should be – as there is huge potential for development on a massive scale, in part because of the new models and solutions that a more diverse World of Good can offer.
Brad raises a note of caution, however, “…my greatest concern about the brave new world of good — its lack of transparency”. As he points out, non-profits and foundations may be part of the older world, but at least we have a sense of what they try to do, and how.
This speaks directly to our experiences at Keystone. Since 2010 we have had almost 70 International NGOs (part of the older world) take the Development Partnership survey, which uses partner feedback to hold the NGO to account. Of these 70, 15 that we know of have actually made the reports public, making it clear to the world what they do, how they do it, and if they are any good at it. This commitment to openness, transparency and improvement is not mirrored by the so-called “brave” new world – despite extensive marketing to over 300 social investors since 2009, only 7 funds have ever taken the Impact Investing survey.
This is not to say that the new world is not interested in improvement and transparency, but many are yet to take concrete steps in the right direction. As Brad concludes, “despite its enormous promise, we are left to understand this brave new world of good through spotty data, case studies, the occasional evaluation, and lots of anecdotes”.
Brad borrows the phrase a Brave New World, but the Huxley similarities do not stop there for me. Both share themes of control, transparency and technology, and both may be seen as controversial. But as the controversy subsided with Huxley, so too will it with Brad. Some may find it shocking that he has concerns regarding some of the new actors in this space, but the shock wont last, not unless these new players make a clear and dedicated effort to make themselves more accountable, especially to those they aim to serve. Until then, we won’t know who brave this new world truly is.