MFG Archive, Opinion

Welcome to the Markets for Good Conversation

We hope that this site will serve as the “virtual water cooler” for a sustained, thoughtful conversation about what is needed to improve the social sector’s ability to generate, share, and use information.

This conversation encompasses the spectrum of capital and enterprises devoted to social good, from philanthropy to impact investing. We intend to chronicle developments and advancements—from both collaborating organizations and adjacent efforts—to keep all who are interested in these issues informed and engaged. We want to surface ideas and insights about what’s needed in terms of products, technology, support, behavior changes, and resources. We aim to create a landscape of existing efforts in order to connect and accelerate them, and to identify gaps. Ultimately, we want to gather momentum and energize key stakeholders around the idea of a robust information infrastructure for the social sector.

Some may wonder how this all came about. Back in June 2010, leaders from 36 organizations playing a role in the global philanthropic ecosystem—among them GuideStar, CharityNavigator, GlobalGiving, Network for Good, Kiva, Idealist, GreaterGood South Africa,, GiveWell, GiveIndia, New Philanthropy Capital, and Betterplace—met at the New York offices of the financial firm Liquidnet. Over the course of this three day “Markets For Giving” workshop, a consensus view of how the social sector’s information ecosystem could look in the future emerged. It consisted of:

  • Beneficiaries at the center of efforts, with a cost-effective, scalable means for obtaining beneficiary feedback
  • Free flow of quality information throughout the ecosystem – information that is standardized, commonly accepted, placed in human terms, and with clear global standards
  • Nonprofits and social businesses using the information to improve their performance
  • Funders using the information to make more impactful investment decisions
  • A means to facilitate the collection, aggregation and exchange of information and resources

The group evolved and grew over time. “Markets for Giving” soon was changed to “Markets for Good” to include more types of organizations devoted to generating social impact. Over the next few years, members of this community met regularly by phone and in person. Updates were provided, ideas were exchanged, and pilot projects were launched. Several fruitful multi-organization collaborations emerged from these gatherings.

From this initial “Forum for Collaboration”, Markets for Good also became a “Coordinated Effort” by three funders—Liquidnet, the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—who jointly and individually made a variety of investments to improve the system for generating, sharing, and acting upon data and information about impact in the social sector.

While our three organizations have separate missions and separate budgets, there’s a lot of strategic alignment and we believe that the partnership plays to all of our strengths. We share a lot of the same goals: we want to make it easier for high impact nonprofits and social businesses to raise capital and to raise awareness about their work; we want to make it easier for funders of all sizes to be able to connect to causes and see the results and impact of their investments; and we want to ensure that community members have a voice and a channel to share their own valuable information. We believe better knowledge about what’s working will help unleash more money for good and has the potential to help improve outcomes for individuals and communities around the world.

We look forward to hearing from you. Our curator for this conversation is Eric J. Henderson, a veteran communications professional with deep experience in the social sector.


  1. David Witzel says:

    I attended the Markets for Good session at NI12. Thanks Brian and Victoria for the overview there.

    As I mentioned in the Q&A, while I like a lot of the objectives of this work, I am concerned about using “markets” as the organizing metaphor of this project. While markets are great for many things, data sharing is probably not one of them. We would hope that data would move at Internet-speed and the cost would be effectively zero (representing its marginal cost of distribution). To create markets in data will require creating false scarcity from which to generate rents. This may be good for individual actors but isn’t optimal for society.

    The market metaphor also reinforces competition and efficiency, both of which are complicated potential drags on activity in the social sector where we more often need to emphasize cooperation and look for abundance.

    Instead I think we should be thinking of a data commons which is cooperatively maintained and from which benefits are shared. The commons metaphor has the benefit of reinforcing a cooperative, rather than competitive, message which is a better match for most social issues. The issues the social sector is facing are far larger than an individual organization can cope with. If we really want to play to win, we have to cooperate far more effectively than we do.

    This isn’t to say incentives for participation are unimportant. Rather that the incentives need to be mixed and reach beyond immediate financial reward. It will continue to be important for external players (like Gates & Hewlett) to help jump-start the system.

    Moreover, we’re probably never going to be the better funded side of most of the issues we deal with. We need to look for other assets – think of a world of abundance rather than scarcity. This may not be “efficient” but may allow us to create powerful movements anyway. Open strategies that make it easy to co-create, accept new contributions of time, share knowledge and experience tend to be counter to most market behavior and may be “inefficient” but are hugely scalable important to success in the next generation of social change.

    Anyone up for “Commons for Good” instead?

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