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Monday, September 30, 2019

Incremental Innovation: Changing Who Decides

Photo by Raquel Martínez on Unsplash
Not all innovation is a revolution. As I have said many times, incremental innovation is a valid and useful element of an organization's overall innovation strategy. Sometimes a tried-and-true program simply needs some creative tweaks to get a lease on life.

I want to focus on one of these incremental tweaks today. A friend of mine just shared a Vox article on LinkedIn that was focused on a change World Vision recently made to their child sponsorship approach. World Vision is not getting rid of child sponsorship for some completely new approach. They are simply making a tweak. Here's how Vox describes it, "Under their new model, announced last week, people who’d like to sponsor a child take pictures of themselves. The pictures are then presented to children at a community-wide event, and the children select the people they want as a sponsor."

What happened here? By changing who decides on the connection, World Vision has changed the experience. Now donors submit photos and hope to be selected and children in communities around the globe look at various donors and decide who they want to be connected with. It is a small change, but it will have big consequences. 

With any incremental innovation you have to look at the pros and cons of the "tweak" and decide if it will be a net positive for the program or a negative. In this case, let's go through the exercise. One the positive side, you are affirming childhood agency and allowing children in traditionally powerless situations to have some choice in who they are associated with. The child gets to think through "where they support comes from" at a level that allows them to better understand what they are accepting and from whom. 

On the negative side, this tweak is introducing a consumer approach to generosity to a child who may have never thought about love and kindness through the lens of a marketplace of options. Instead of the child being able to accept the gift and enjoy the benefits, now we are asking them to pick between generous and loving people as if they could possibly know which one might be better. How could they possibly make a meaningful choice in that situation? 

As you can see, this small tweak to an existing philanthropy model has big implications on the donor, recipient and organization. We need to recognize the power of incremental innovation and approach it with care and intentionality. 

What do you think of World Vision's new approach to child sponsorship? I would love to hear your perspectives on this incremental change they have made. 

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