Monday, April 04, 2011

Reason for foundations

Invention, Innovation, Entrepreneurship, scaling up. All topics the Foundation that I work for deals with on a regular basis. But I would like to devolve from the topic for a second and discuss the reason for foundations....

I took a post modern philosophy seminar two years ago with an Argentine friend who finished his doctorate at the New School in NYC. In the class, we read French philosopher Jean Francois Lyotard and His book the Post modern Condition. He writes about the production of knowledge in the post modern times as well as the science and use of technology. Mainly, Lyotard is criticizing the lack of new ideas being produced by the “commercialization” of universities and the use of scientific knowledge in the social sciences. This got me thinking of how knowledge is created and used and spread. I found the idea of producing knowledge related to our discussion for “rationalizing foundations” in society.

For example, as in other areas in the hard sciences like technology, they need funds to do research. In many cases, the money somewhat defines what is studied. Businesses fund R&D to invent new products, so then to sell and make more money. The money spent as an investment for the outcome of the product that could be potentially produced. Therefore money drives the thinking. Not that the “thinkers” (researchers) aren’t working but they may steer their ideas to where the funding sources are. This is the same as researchers at universities looking for grants to do their research.

Likewise, to make a social movement you have to feed it. Foundations generally work as fuel for social movements or ideas that drive the movement. Social Movements can be called a public good—they do not belong to anyone specifically but are beneficial hopefully to all of society. Social moments (case studies of grant agreements if you want to all them that) can create good public policy. Because of the scarcity of resources, often times this social engineering needs to be fueled with funding. They also can drive good policy because the set examples of where business and government’s fail to provide goods for a society (i.e. government or business failures). A good foundation would find a need, through a group of candidates and fund them, publish them, generating the knowledge and send the idea to a larger funder. Hence the generation of knowledge.

So don’t think a funding operator or foundation representative is an administrative job. It could actually the most crucial person in the funding or knowledge creation cycle.

The Social Edge

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