Boston-based New Profit isn’t so much looking for the next big idea as it is looking for the next superstar social leader who can make a big idea a reality. It's a venture philanthropy organization, and much the way venture capitalists might find themselves wooed by an elevator pitch for a promising new start-up, New Profit portfolio managers (that’s venture-philanthropy-ese for program directors) are eager to hear compelling pitches for social change innovations.
This grantmaker is looking for compelling pitches with charisma, promise, and, well, bravery. “Really, it’s a person we are choosing over a particular outcome or vision,” explains Eliza Greenberg, lead partner for Portfolio Operations. “They need to have sound judgment, be bold, hungry, and passionate, and be a real magnet for resources.”
When I asked about the intention behind choosing New Profit’s current public health investments—Peer Health Exchange, Health Leads, and the newest, FoodCorps—Greenberg hedged, explaining that they didn’t really intend to go into Public Health at all. They put out an open call for LOIs, and “we found [Peer Health Exchange founder] Louise Langheier, we found [Health Leads founder] Rebecca Onie,” says Greenberg. “It wasn’t, ‘Oh my goodness we need to get into public health!’”
Though New Profit seems pretty open to whatever brilliant ideas come down the pike, exploring its current public health investments reveals some trends.
Current public health investments include the Peer Health Exchange, Health Leads, and FoodCorps, which just came on board in the latest round of LOIs.
Peer Health Exchange and Health Leads are strikingly similar in how they operate: Both recruit college-age volunteers, and both have the link between poverty and poor health in their crosshairs. Volunteers with the Peer Health Exchange, for example, teach a brief curriculum on good decision making and healthy choices in high schools that serve low-income populations. Similarly, Health Leads volunteers give advice and even prescriptions for healthy food and exercise as part of emergency medical care in hospitals in disadvantaged neighborhoods, seeking to break the brutal cycle of poor health caused by poverty.
FoodCorps, the newest health investee to join New Profit’s roster, is different. This nonprofit is part of the AmeriCorps Service Network, and was founded in the wake of President Obama’s 2009 signing of the Kennedy Serve America Act. It directs the activities of young people who receive a stipend from AmeriCorps (and are considered service members of that program) to work within a school district for a year, helping the school establish a garden, improving school meals, and teaching about nutrition.
In addition to its funding through AmeriCorps, FoodCorps has a number of philanthropic partners as well as corporate investors. And herein lies an important point: New Profit loves scrappy startups with smart and creative young founders, but it also invests in more established outfits.