For our latest community insights interview, we sat down with Brian Walsh, Head of Impact at Liquidnet. Brian is one of our founding members here at Markets for Good, and has been a contributor since the beginning. In this interview, we find out a little more about his work, how Markets for Good got started, and his ambitions for the community.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your career so far.
For the past 8 years, I have overseen impact for Liquidnet, a New York-based global financial services company that uses technology and a trusted global network to improve the performance of capital markets. As founder and Executive Director of our Liquidnet For Good program, I am responsible for putting the resources of Liquidnet to work to have a positive impact in the world.
You’ve been with Markets for Good since the beginning. Can you tell us a bit about your involvement with the Initiative?
I started Markets for Good to serve as a forum to bring together the people and organizations working to improve how the social sector operates. I saw that there were a variety of groups out there solving different dimensions of a complex problem: how might we improve decision making in the social sector by increasing the generation, sharing, and use of information? I believe that more informed decision making – with easy access to the right information at the right time – will help all those in the social sector generate more impact. Donors of all sizes would be able to make more informed giving decisions, nonprofit managers would be able to more effectively work on their mission while more efficiently raising money, and the people helped by nonprofits would have more of a voice. I’m a big believer in collaboration, and so my original intention was to convene some of the various players tackling different aspects of this issue, to explore what was possible to do together.
Markets for Good started out as a three-day workshop that we hosted at Liquidnet’s New York offices back in the summer of 2010. Leaders from 36 organizations playing a role in the global philanthropic ecosystem – including GuideStar, CharityNavigator, GlobalGiving, Network for Good, DonorsChoose.org, Acumen, GiveWell, GiveIndia and Betterplace – came together to co-create a shared vision for how our different parts might add up to a more cohesive whole. A few key aspects of this future vision include:
- “Beneficiaries” (the people nonprofits seek to help) placed at the center of the philanthropic ecosystem. We identified the need for cost-effective, scalable mechanisms to obtain feedback from the people nonprofits seek to help.
- The free flow of quality information throughout the ecosystem (that is commonly accepted, placed in human terms, with clear global standards).
- Nonprofits using information to improve their decision making and therefore their performance.
- Donors using information to improve their decision making and therefore direct more resources to more effective nonprofits.
- A global mechanism to facilitate the collection, aggregation and exchange of information and resources.
Throughout the workshop we heard from various speakers, including Jacob Harold and Paul Brest (then of the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation), Hope Neighbor (presenting the findings from the original “Money for Good” research), and Chris Hughes (who at the time was working on Jumo, a social network around nonprofit causes).
How has Markets For Good evolved since it began?
Following that initial workshop, over the next several years we continued to regularly convene different partners of the initiative. Liquidnet joined forces with the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to make a series of joint grants to support research (like Money for Good II) and pilot projects (like the BRIDGE project) to advance the work laid out in the initial vision. In 2012 we decided to expand the conversation beyond the initial partners into a public dialogue. At the SOCAP conference that year, then president of the Gates Foundation Jeff Raikes launched this Markets for Good website, which included the video laying out our vision and our concept paper and strategic story. We continue to convene various partners on specific issues related to Markets for Good, but we have been blown away by the active public engagement by the Markets for Good community: we’ve had over 400 blog posts by some incredible contributors.
What are your ambitions for the program in the coming years?
My hope is that Markets for Good continues to serve as a forum for collaboration for the people and organizations that care about improving social sector decision making and information flows. We need further investment in the systems and organizations that will make all of this happen. The initiative itself will only be a success if those who are a part of it are successful. I’m hopeful that innovation will come out of new research into what influences behavior in the social sector, new pilot projects and experiments into what information in what format at what time influences how people make decisions, and greater partnerships between organizations old and new will help us come closer to that ambitious vision we laid out back in 2010, of a social sector truly powered by information.
What are you working on right now that might be of interest to the Markets for Good Community?
I’m terribly excited about a new convening partner for the Markets for Good community, which will be announced soon.
Another initiative that I’m a part of is the Fund for Shared Insight, a multiyear collaboration among several major funders who are making grants to improve the effectiveness of philanthropy. This effort shares many of the goals of Markets for Good: we seek to help foundations be more open in sharing what they have learned, and we seek to better listen to the feedback from the people that nonprofits seek to help. I encourage the Markets for Good community to explore the Fund for Shared Insight, particularly our recently launched Listen for Good campaign dedicated to building the practice of listening to the people nonprofits seek to help.
If you were going to give advice to a new nonprofit organisation, what would it be?
Number one: be very clear about your purpose. Be very clear about the mission you are trying to achieve; try to understand the landscape in which you operate, and think about what unique value your organization might bring to the field. Social change is hard, and social change is complex – no single organization has the single solution to the problems that we face as a society. It’s important for any nonprofit, especially when they’re starting out, to understand the broader ecosystem in which they operate, and figure out how best they can play a role in advancing their mission. Who else might you work with? For me, it all comes back to collaboration.
Many thanks to Brian Walsh for his time. Be sure to follow what he’s up to on Twitter at @BrianWalsh.