Buzzword 2010.2 "Sector Agnostic"

I declared Apps the first buzzword of 2010 a few weeks ago. Now we've got buzzword 2010.2 - sector agnostic.

I didn't coin this one. I give Ralph Smith of the Annie E. Casey Foundation credit for that, and it seems this blogger agrees. Smith used the term in a Nonprofit Quarterly article by Rick Cohen - here's the quote:

"Foundation philanthropy is increasingly sector agnostic. Many of us believe that foundation philanthropy is at its best when its resources are directed toward pursuing, finding, testing, demonstrating, and promoting solutions for the most pervasive and urgent social problems. In other words, foundation philanthropy is in the solutions business and can succeed only if and to the extent it is willing to pursue solutions wherever it finds them, regardless of whether they are in the public, private, or social sector. As a consequence, the assumed exclusive relationship between foundations and nonprofits has become much less so. Foundations are going to support and invest with a much wider range of partners than in the past."
I had written about the term in a post on the changing roles of nonprofits. That post generated lots of discussion - mostly about the term "sector agnostic" and its relevance (or lack thereof) to the work being done by readers and followers.

I've done a lot of writing about the emergence of new corporate forms for the production of social good and about impact investing. I've thought quite a bit about the "changing ecosystem of change" - new enterprises, new types of funders, new relationships. My latest book, Philanthropy and Social Investing: Blueprint 2010, provides an annual industry forecast and describes this landscape in detail. It argues strongly for how much these code-level changes matter to philanthropy.

While these changes have been brewing for many years, the response to the term "sector agnostic" was strong enough, broad enough, and deep enough to convince me that it deserves buzzword status.

I have to say I knew I was on to something about the importance of these "B corporation, L3C, Impact Investing stuff" when a colleague emailed me this link - Rush Limbaugh blasting L3Cs as the "perversion of capitalism." If imitation is the greatest form of flattery, then getting "Rush ranted" must be the clearest sign that something has gone mainstream.


rcohen51 said...

Lucy: Although I sent you the link, I didn't do that article in the NPQ special issue on the nonprofit infrastructure. Ralph Smith's comment came in an interview with NPQ editor-in-chief Ruth McCambridge. But these are important issues about the changing ecology of the nonprofit sector. As you pointed out in your previous column on this topic, the nonprofit sector hasn't been addressing these changes in the "cultural zeitgeist." I think, as we're discussed, the ramifications are potentially quite broad. As in most issues of "systems," the unintended consequences may be even more significant than the intended ones. Keep up the good analysis.

Rick Cohen

Anonymous said...

I really liked your riff on the sector agnostic concept…which (IMHO) I view as just a transitional framework until people move their thinking to focus on total value creation and ultimate intent as opposed to the defense of silos/sectors.

In in the end, form still follows function; it is simply all about picking from a set of options to best maximize the effectiveness of resources/tools needed to capture the total value potential of one’s vision…

It isn’t so much that people are actually “agnostic” as that coming from a previously narrowly defined orthodoxy they are now more fully aware of all the options, which calls into question their previous, formal orthodoxy. Ralph, in this case, comes out of philanthropy and so it appears to him that he is now “agnostic” since he has all these silos to choose from now and not any single one he is fully committed to, but he really is not agnostic at all—he actually believes in maximizing impact (the solutions part of his statement)the newly emerging, now popular orthodoxy—which for me is an intermediary framework moving toward one’s embracing the ultimate, holistic orthodoxy of value maximization and more complete integration as the purpose/intent of capital, institutions and personal trajectories….

In the end, we’re all dead and no one on the other side will ask whether we were a good philanthropist or investor; nonprofit manager or business executive—
they will ask what value we created over the course of our having lived…

Albert said...

I wrote a post on sector agnosticism in May 2009 ( Don't know when the Nonprofit Quarterly article appeared. I also don't remember having heard that exact term, but the concept was in the air long before that. In the early spring of 2009, Patrick Corvington (then at Casey) and I were working with folks from CompassPoint on the "Ready to Lead" report. That study revealed significant sector agnosticism amongst younger people entering the field. Ralph may have caught the meme from his co-worker Patrick.