Do foundations make mistakes? If so, why do we so seldom hear about them? And if foundations don’t talk freely about their errors, how can they learn from them? Robert Giloth, Vice President of the Center for Family Economic Success at Baltimore’s Annie E. Casey Foundation, has set about to remedy that deficiency by editing, with Colin Austin, a collection of essays entitled Mistakes to Success: Learning and Adapting When Things Go Wrong. Here’s how he describes the purpose of the volume:
“Two key challenges motivate the book. First, the overall challenge of solving intractable social problems like poverty is exacerbated by our inability to design and implement solutions that are effective and stick. We must admit that our progress has not been sufficient and that more innovation is needed. Second, our propensity for ignoring and hiding, rather than disclosing and reflecting on, failed approaches limits our ability for real learning and improved investments. . . We must ask ourselves whether we have an innovation problem or a failure-recognition problem, and consider what capacities, tools, incentives, and supports are needed to reflect more usefully about success and failure.”
The “learning from mistakes” approach was also in the news recently with the courageous launch of a new website by Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Canada, AdmittingFailure.com, as an accompaniment to its annual Failure Report.
The Bradley Center held a discussion with two pioneers of this approach and two philanthropy experts, moderated by Center Director William Schambra.