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A Lever to Move the World

January 26, 2021

When Lever for Change launched two years ago to unlock philanthropic capital that might otherwise remain on the sidelines, I initially suggested the name “Archimedes” for our new enterprise, because it was designed to move large amounts of philanthropic dollars for social change.

An image of Dr. Cecilia Conrad smiling.

According to historians, the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes once said “Give me a place to stand and I can move the world.” Archimedes was referring to the lever, a simple machine consisting of a bar balanced on a fulcrum that can be used to move a heavy object located at one end by applying pressure on the opposite end. Unfortunately, the name didn’t stick.

Archimedes could have been talking about our work. Born of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s bold 100&Change competition for $100 million, we induce philanthropists to make larger grants than are typical in philanthropy—$10 million or more. We help donors find and fund solutions to the world’s greatest challenges, ranging from racial and gender equity to economic development and climate change. Even though we ended up choosing a different name, we remain motivated by the basic idea that, by standing in the right place, armed with our unique model, it is possible to move the world.

Our mission is to connect funders with solutions to the world’s greatest challenges. In the process, we strengthen projects to attract more funding and leverage opportunities to magnify their impact. In addition to customizing and managing open and transparent competitions, we match donors with nonprofits and social enterprises in our Bold Solutions Network whose solutions to significant social challenges were highly ranked after rigorous evaluation in one of our competitions. Through this Network, we help to strengthen their work, raise their visibility, and increase their potential to secure funding from donors.

In the three years since the MacArthur Foundation announced the inaugural 100&Change grantee—Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee’s early childhood intervention in the Syrian refugee region—a whopping $431 million in additional philanthropic capital has flowed to the top performing projects. That’s more than triple MacArthur’s original commitment!

In the past year, Lever for Change has worked with donors to launch six challenges with grant commitments totaling more than $180 million. Our goal for 2021 is to double that amount by finding additional donors to fund finalists and other top-ranked organizations in our competitions. By partnering with bold donors, we believe that we can unlock at least $1 billion in philanthropic capital by 2023.

Finalists and other Bold Solutions Network members are already attracting attention. Recently, Focusing Philanthropy committed at least $5 million of additional funding to implement Per Scholas’ winning vision articulated in the $10 million Economic Opportunity Challenge. The Pritzker Traubert Foundation, whose 2020 Chicago Prize competition has committed $13 million to six community-based projects, also has leveraged its philanthropy to generate more than $35 million in total investments. The Auburn Gresham project, honored with the 2020 Chicago Prize, received an additional $4 million from the City of Chicago. A Chicago Prize finalist project in North Lawndale received $7 million from the City. And, other funding partners are generously responding to the Pritzker Traubert Foundation’s pledge to match contributions to five finalists, up to $500,000 each.

This is a good start, but we can and must do more. Lever for Change competitions provide the opportunity for donors, nonprofits, and social entrepreneurs to think big. The projects in our Bold Solutions Network propose actionable solutions to compelling social issues. Now, we must mobilize the philanthropic capital and the partnerships required to make these projects come alive.

We believe in collaborative philanthropy, rooted in transparency, openness, equity, inclusivity, and humility. By joining forces with partners and empowering others to do the same, we strive to amplify the impact of our collective investments, accelerate the pace of progress and finally achieve the long-held aspirations of all our communities. We hope you will join us. Together, we can move the world!

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