The Power of Collaboration: A Case Study on Nonprofit Founder and Funder Partnership

In December 2014, The Surge Institute received its first grant from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies. This milestone marked the beginning of an enduring and fruitful partnership between the two organizations that continues to this day.

In a recent webinar hosted by The Center for Global Affairs at New York University (NYU CGA) and Aperio Philanthropy and moderated by The International Social Impact Institute Founder and CEO Liz Ngonzi, who is also an adjunct assistant professor at NYU CGA, Surge Institute Founder and CEO Carmita Semaan and Schusterman Co-President Julie Mikuta pulled back the curtain on how this influential partnership formed and evolved over time. Their insights showcase how nonprofit leaders and funders can collaborate to drive meaningful change.

Getting the First Meeting

Semaan credits her organic network for facilitating an introduction to the Schusterman team. Two Surge board members had existing relationships with Schusterman and made the initial connections. Semaan had also crossed professional paths with a Schusterman program officer through past work in education.

Leveraging these warm introductions, Semaan approached her preliminary meetings prepared to speak passionately about her vision for the organization. Though Surge did not neatly fit Schusterman’s funding priorities at the time, the funder saw promise in Semaan’s leadership and idea.

The Power of Authenticity

Beyond strong leadership and a compelling mission, Mikuta notes that alignment on core values cemented the partnership. “Ours are equity, impact, optimism, collaboration and humility. And I just saw that embodied in Carmita and the programs that she was creating,” she said.

Semaan also emphasized authentic relationship building, saying she and Mikuta “aren’t afraid to be candid with each other.” This ability to give and receive constructive feedback stems from a shared commitment to the work.

Cultivating a Lasting Partnership

While the first Surge grant was framed as a one-time investment, the funder’s consistency provided a crucial stamp of approval. “We want to stay in as a signal to other funders that this is somebody to back,” said Mikuta.

Semaan actively strengthened ties through frequent communication about Surge’s progress and challenges. She also wasn’t shy about asking for introductions to other potential funders. Over time, the two organizations developed an interdependent partnership marked by transparency and mutual understanding.

Key Takeaways for Nonprofit and Funder Collaboration

Semaan and Mikuta’s insights reveal best practices for early-stage organizations looking to secure startup funding:

  1. Leverage your network for warm introductions.
  2. Show up authentically and lead with conviction.
  3. Invest in evaluation and impact tracking from the start.
  4. Maintain open communication; treat funders like partners.
  5. Don’t be afraid to make bold funding asks.

Their case study also carries lessons for funders, including bringing vulnerability into conversations and remembering shared goals. By leading with purpose and passion, nonprofit and funder partnerships can drive collaborative social impact.

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Harnessing Technology’s Potential for Good: Key Takeaways from the 2023 Next Gen Tech Conference

On 10/10/2023, the 10th Anniversary Next Gen Tech Conference hosted by Silicon Harlem convened leaders exploring how new technologies can drive positive change. A panel on “Empowering Tech for Social Impact,” moderated by Ivo Philbert , offered an encouraging vision of technology’s vast potential along with thoughtful caveats about responsible development.

Moderator Sets the Stage for Discussion Around AI and Collaboration

A recap of the 2023 Silicon Harlem Conference panel discussing how innovations like AI and VR can drive social good, if guided by ethics and efforts to expand access. Key insights from leaders on responsible and inclusive development. Moderator Ivo Philbert (Vice President of Community Engagement, Partnerships & Communication for the Jackie Robinson Foundation) kicked off the discussion by explaining how the panelists had collaborated that morning to generate questions using AI, demonstrating how the technology could be applied to solve problems. The panelists entered information about their backgrounds and expertise into ChatGPT, which then produced panelist questions to guide the conversation.

As Philbert noted, this real-time demonstration of AI’s capabilities set the stage perfectly for a panel on empowering technology for social impact. By working together to formulate questions, the panelists modeled how AI can enhance human collaboration and creativity rather than replace it.

Liz Ngonzi on AI Expanding Access to Legal Services

Liz Ngonzi, Founder and CEO of The International Social Impact Institute, discussed how AI is expanding access to legal services in Uganda through Barefoot Law. By analyzing language and responding understandably, AI can bridge divides to deliver vital aid. However, Ngonzi emphasized human oversight is still essential.

Tricia Blake on Immersive Tech Improving Collaboration and Inclusion

Tricia Blake, Founder of My Third Bloom, explained how VR, AR and AI can improve collaboration and amplify voices. But we must ensure inclusive access and help communities build tech skills to fully realize the benefits.

Liz Dailey on Onramps to 3D Creation for Beginners

Liz Dailey, Co-Founder & Executive Director of CreateAccess. CreateAccess is a nonprofit that provides beginners and those with limited exposure hands-on access and education to build skills, confidence, and curiosity with 3D creation tools and technologies through scaffolded micro-courses and experiences with engines like Unreal. Liz described how 3D modeling makes education more hands-on and sparks curiosity and engagement. Getting learners to create projects boosts skills development.

Milan Kordestani on AI for Personalized Career Pathing

Milan Kordestani, Co-Founder and Chairman of Audo, discussed using AI to generate personalized career paths, opening doors to economic mobility. This is being applied to help incarcerated individuals prepare for jobs after release.

The Need for Responsible Development

Throughout the discussion, speakers were unified in their optimism around ethical uses of new tools to remove barriers, while emphasizing responsible development. The International Social Impact Institute aims to demonstrate such solutions in practice, leveraging inclusive AI to help purpose-driven organizations increase their impact.

The panelists highlighted that regulation and access to computational resources pose challenges to fully harnessing technology’s potential for good. Policies limiting development and deployment of emerging technologies combined with the high costs of cutting-edge hardware and infrastructure create obstacles, especially in underserved communities. The panel emphasized that we need to find creative solutions and influence policymakers to shape a regulatory environment that enables expanding access to technology for positive impact. Workarounds like developing AI and VR applications that can run on inexpensive smartphones put the power of technology into more people’s hands.

The key takeaway was technology’s immense potential for positive change if guided by human ethics and paired with efforts to expand access. As Ngonzi concluded, “There are humans behind AI, so we have to teach our young people to learn the skills around AI.”

Watch the Recording

If you missed the conference, click here to watch the livestream recording of the session and hear insights from these forward-thinking leaders on leveraging technology for social good. Click to watch the livestream recording of the session, advance the video to 2:45:20 to watch the full conversation.

If expanding access and opportunity through emerging technologies aligns with your goals as a leader, social innovator or change agent, please reach out. Let’s connect on how AI and immersive technologies may assist your efforts to drive sustainable progress. Learn more about The International Social Impact Institute’s services.