Harvard Business Review counts Fair Food Program among “most important social-impact success stories of the past century” in new article on “Audacious Philanthropy”…

HBR: “We studied 15 social movements that defied the odds and achieved life-changing results to uncover lessons for today’s ambitious donors.”

In a remarkable article on strategic philanthropy in its Sept./Oct. 2017 issue, the Harvard Business Review identified the CIW’s Fair Food Program as one “of the most important social-impact stories of the past century” and a prime example of the kind of successful social change that is possible with the support of what they term “Audacious Philanthropy,” an approach to philanthropy that demands “disruptive, catalytic, systemic change.”  

The article — which places the Fair Food Program in the company of 14 other extraordinary efforts, including the Anti-Apartheid movement, the fight for marriage equality, Sesame Street, and the eradication of polio — examines what it calls “the inconceivable moon shots of their day before they were inevitable success stories in retrospect,” and identifies the elements that the 15 very different efforts have in common.   Here is the full list of efforts included in the study:

  1. THE ANTI-APARTHEID MOVEMENT:  The institutionalized oppression of South Africa’s nonwhites came to an end in the 1990s—more than four decades after apartheid first became law—thanks to a tireless campaign of social, political, and economic activism.
  2. ARAVIND EYE HOSPITAL:  Using a highly efficient surgical model and variable pricing, this hospital chain has reduced cataract blindness in Tamil Nadu, India, by more than 50% and serves all patients regardless of ability to pay.
  3. CAR SEATS:  By 2006, some 98% of U.S. children traveling by car were restrained in safety seats, reducing their risk of death in an auto accident by 71%.
  4. CPR TRAINING:  More than 18 million Americans a year learn this emergency procedure, administered to nearly half the people who experience cardiac arrest outside a hospital.
  5. THE FAIR FOOD PROGRAM:  Fast-food boycotts and other efforts led by migrant farmworkers significantly improved working conditions and increased wages for tomato pickers in Florida and other U.S. states.
  6. HOSPICE CARE:This system of specialized palliative care, started in the late 1940s, now supports 60% of dying patients in the U.S.
  7. MARRIAGE EQUALITY:  A focused initiative of the LGBTQ agenda, this social movement culminated in the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States in 2015.
  8. MOTORCYCLE HELMETS IN VIETNAM:  Helmets specially designed for tropical climates, along with a national helmet law and advertising campaign, raised rates of use in Vietnam from 30% to 95%.
  9. THE NATIONAL SCHOOL LUNCH PROGRAM:  By 2012, some 31 million U.S. children—more than half of all public school students—received free or reduced-price meals.
  10. 911 EMERGENCY SERVICES:  Nationwide access to a trauma response system and other emergency services via a three-digit phone number was made available in the U.S. in 1968.
  11. ORAL REHYDRATION SOLUTION:  Widespread adoption of a sugar/salt rehydration mixture by Bangladeshi households resulted in a 90% reduction in children’s deaths from diarrheal diseases.
  12. POLIO ERADICATION:  Following the development of a vaccine in 1955 and decades-long inoculation efforts, polio has been virtually eradicated globally.
  13. PUBLIC LIBRARIES:  Early investment by Andrew Carnegie, coupled with long-running advocacy by interest groups, has provided 96% of Americans with easy access to free libraries.
  14. SESAME STREET:  The first TV show to achieve early-childhood learning gains, launched in the U.S. in the late 1960s, is now viewed by more than 156 million children around the world.
  15. TOBACCO CONTROL:  The long-term antismoking effort, started in the 1950s, eventually reduced smoking rates by more than 60% among U.S. teens and adults.

The article, which you can find here, simply must be read in its entirety.  Here below, however, is an extended excerpt from its introduction:

Audacious Philanthropy


Private philanthropists have helped propel some of the most important social-impact success stories of the past century: Virtually eradicating polio globally. Providing free and reduced-price lunches for all needy schoolchildren in the United States. Establishing a universal 911 service. Securing the right for same-sex couples to marry in the U.S. These efforts have transformed or saved hundreds of millions of lives. That we now take them for granted makes them no less astonishing: They were the inconceivable moon shots of their day before they were inevitable success stories in retrospect.

Many of today’s emerging large-scale philanthropists aspire to similarly audacious successes. They don’t want to fund homeless shelters and food pantries; they want to end homelessness and hunger. Steady, linear progress isn’t enough; they demand disruptive, catalytic, systemic change—and in short order. Even as society grapples with important questions about today’s concentrations of wealth, many of the largest philanthropists feel the weight of responsibility that comes with their privilege. And the scale of their ambition, along with the wealth they are willing to give back to society, is breathtaking.

But a growing number of these donors privately express great frustration. Despite having written big checks for years, they aren’t seeing transformative successes for society: Think of philanthropic interventions to arrest climate change or improve U.S. public education, to cite just two examples. When faced with setbacks and public criticism, the best philanthropists reexamine their goals and approaches, including how they engage the communities they aspire to help in the decision-making process. But some retreat to seemingly safer donations to universities or art museums, while others withdraw from public giving altogether.

Audacious social change is incredibly challenging. Yet history shows that it can succeed. Unfortunately, success never results from a single grant or silver bullet; it takes collaboration, government engagement, and persistence over decades, among other things. To better understand why some efforts defy the odds and what lessons today’s philanthropists can learn from successful efforts of the past, we dived deep into 15 breakthrough initiatives, ranging from broad access to end-of-life hospice care to fair wages for migrant farmworkers in the U.S. to a lifesaving rehydration solution in Bangladesh (see the exhibit “Audacious Social-Change Initiatives of the Past Century”). Our research revealed five elements that together constitute a framework for philanthropists pursuing large-scale, swing-for-the-fences change. Successful efforts:

  • Build a shared understanding of the problem and its ecosystem
  • Set “winnable milestones” and hone a compelling message
  • Design approaches that will work at massive scale
  • Drive (rather than assume) demand
  • Embrace course corrections

The role of philanthropists in these historical success stories varied. By and large they underwrote the efforts of others. The hands-on work fell, as it does today, to NGO leaders, service providers, activists, and many others on the front lines of social change. The common thread in these success stories was that philanthropists understood the importance of the five elements and were willing to fund any or all of them as needed. They acted as sources of flexible capital, identifying gaps left by others and directing their resources accordingly. Sometimes only minor support focused on one of the five elements was enough to tip the scales… (read more)

In connection with the broader study, the authors published a closer look at the Fair Food Program itself, which is linked within the above article (and which you can also find here).  Here’s a brief excerpt from that more detailed study of the success of the FFP:

… Yet with incredible persistence, a breakthrough strategy, and targeted philanthropic support, these impoverished and oppressed workers have succeeded in systematically bringing many of the nation’s largest restaurants and grocers—from McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell to Walmart, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s—to concede to their demands for better wages and working conditions, and force the exploitative farms to comply. For these workers, the result has been a 50 to 70 percent increase in their take-home pay, along with substantially improved and independently monitored working conditions in the fields… (read more)

Be sure to head over to the Harvard Business Review website and check out this exciting new article today!