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Stanford Social Innovation Review | Winter 2004

Foundations often find themselves frozen in the face of social issues—they know a change is needed, but they might not have the answers and they want to avoid imposing an agenda on others. But by demonstrating adaptive leadership, by creating and sustaining a learning culture with stakeholders, foundations can create the conditions wherein solutions can be unearthed.

Top Takeaways

  1. Given foundations’ insulation from political and market forces, they are uniquely positioned to foster change on social issues and take what may be unpopular positions in ways that other institutions cannot.
  2. Leadership is not prominence, resources, or position of authority—it is the activity of mobilizing people to tackle the toughest problems and do the adaptive work necessary to achieve progress.
  3. Adaptive leadership requires experimentation, and the ability to deviate from the plan as learning takes place.
If foundations are to achieve significant social impact, they must do so by leading. And they are well positioned to take on that role.