The Obama Administration and the non-profit sector

It's no surprise that President Obama, with a lengthy background in the non-profit sector, has made strong efforts to reach out to the philanthropic community. What may come as a surprise is just how exhilarated the philanthropic community is by the attention.

This year's Council on Foundations conference offered a revealing glimpse into the nexus of an administration eager to obtain the support of the non-profit world, and a community of increasingly politicized foundations who see bountiful opportunities for legislative achievements emanating from the current White House.

In seeking solutions to problems, U.S. government has also discovered the magic of contests, or challenges -- also known as open grant-making or open innovation. Whatever you call this new way of doing business, it represents a dramatic departure from the norm for the bureaucratic, command-and-control federal government. To be sure, the agencies won't abandon the traditional method of doling out grants to predictable bidders. But in the new era of innovation-by-contest, the government will sometimes identify a specific problem or goal, announce a competition, set some rules and let the game begin.

Anyone can play. The idea is to get better ideas, cheaper, and from more sources, using the Internet and social networking and all the Web 2.0 stuff as a kind of vast global laboratory.

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