Failure As Catalyst


Lauren Weinstein

The notion that the work of social change necessarily means both scrambling to find funding and endless employee self-sacrifice has never made sense to me. While working at a handful of startups and nonprofits over the past decade, I’ve continually wondered why solving the world’s toughest social challenges remains financially undervalued and tireless to sustain. For example, when I first entered the social impact space, I spent my university years uncomfortably asking friends and family for donations to support healthcare centers in Managua, Nicaragua that relied on bi-yearly deliveries of suitcases full of unwanted U.S. prescriptions to operate.

More recently, I invested months in developing and implementing a much-needed (and wanted) program for vulnerable, rural communities in Nigeria to share feedback with their healthcare providers. But the initiative failed to secure the long-term funding necessary for it to continue mostly because it just didn’t jive with donor priorities at the time. Over and over again I’ve felt trapped within models that relied on handouts from individuals and the enthusiasm of donors for their survival. I became resigned to the belief that, as a service designer, I’d likely never lead work solely informed by genuine need rather than by funders’ interests.

However since joining The Australian Centre for Social Innovation(TACSI), I’ve been fascinated by the organisation’s ability to accumulate meaningful work through flexible funding models — models that allow leading academic researchers, social work experts, and experienced social impact designers to craft project briefs that truly address and solve problems, rather than just implement funders’ flavor-of-the-month solutions. But from my very first week at TACSI, its leaders stressed to me that the organization didn’t always have these opportunities; that only three years ago the organization found itself with dwindling funds, no projects on the horizon, and was preparing to close its doors.

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