What Is Return on Impact? Venture Philanthropy as a Business Model Focus

By John Karony John Karony has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on April 14, 2022

Several weeks ago I participated in a number of panels and interviews at the SxSW Grit Daily Media House, and most especially during our SafeMoon Saturday event. From the event, I’m observing a growing and deepening conversation around the uses of blockchain and crypto technology for impact.

Multiple times as I talked about our vision and business model focus on venture philanthropy, the concept of “philanthropy with an ROI” and “return on impact” came up. I spoke about it there but would also like to expand on the theme for the broader Grit Daily audience now.

What is the tie between the Blockchain and Impact? 

 In the same way blockchain democratizes exchange of value for anyone in any region, it also creates a platform for innovation that is available and transparent to all. With the blockchain and crypto, we have the perfect foundation for a Defi (decentralized finance) ecosystem that makes it possible to store and exchange value from something as small as a smartphone. This creates a much broader and more equal playing ground for innovation to happen in the form of green energy, clean water, and resources needed for regions not ideally served by traditional models.

But it gets even better when you consider the things the Blockchain does that are most instrumental for social impact: The efficiency of development removes the friction points for organizations. Collaboration comes easier. Exchanges of value are less impacted by exchange rates and the traditional logistics of money exchange.

The development of all kinds of products, but especially the products that answer basic life and health needs can now be produced and deployed more quickly, creating a cost savings we can pass to users instead of to profit. This is where the magic lies: The Blockchain removes friction, of every kind. And by creating Impact in a “for profit” model that produces an ROI, your business is a self-perpetuating mechanism that doesn’t just “do good” but sustains itself and has the ability to grow while also expanding the impact far and wide.

It’s a matter of focus.

Think of Impact as your operational North Star. How much impact will the outcome have on people’s lives? Were you able to raise the standard of living by even a little bit? This is how every venture philanthropy business should measure success.

Human-based development helps 

Human-based innovations support the highest possible returns on Impact. When a vast number of humans are aligned on a singular purpose, they bring knowledge, ideas and resources to the table that can accelerate your goals even faster.

This doesn’t mean you make decisions by committee vote. It means that you listen to your community. Use them as a perpetual test bed. Having a community that spans the globe and is highly diverse will propel your success even faster. You don’t necessarily need to conduct focus groups or extensive market research. You can “Dox” yourself in discussions of technology to understand what the varied sectors in a diverse community will prefer. This will advance your impact far better and faster than any traditional plan. It will also help you to advance the power of the community by converting “hype” into “trust” as you listen and address the highest needs and best ideas they bring.

In our own company, this allows for participants to virtually (or sometimes literally) sit down with the CEO and Founder themselves to talk about their highest needs that technology could allow them (and us) to solve more quickly.

Crypto technology solves several core problems

Mark Cuban asked during his SxSW presentation, “what is the problem (Crypto) can actually solve?”

Quite a few! We’ve just described the way the Blockchain lets you see who’s using data, what data and when. You can obtain stores of data yourself. A smartphone can hold the stored value of wealth, money and opportunity in a way that lets you transact globally. For some countries, it’s even your only access to banking. I’d say the problems it solves are huge – and this makes its potential for social impact tremendous as well. (Interestingly, and in contrast to this Kevin O’Leary recently announced he has invested 20% of his net worth into Crypto. Clearly, he “gets it.”)

As Crypto makes the power of community an even stronger benefit for Impact organizations, the Crypto Culture is becoming more open and more accessible to the Crypto Curious, too. It started out as a niche. Now it’s becoming mainstream.

A word on Competition and Risk 

In our own company, we don’t compare ourselves to others. We’re playing an infinite game. Compare what is “now” to what is possible 10 years from now. That is our competition. That is your competition as well – the comparison to yourself today to your 10-year future self.

Finally, a word on the element of risk. In my opinion, and especially in pursuing a Defi ecosystem and outcomes to improve lives, you should take the risk of experiencing some errors and detours. At every stage, look at the possible outcomes, determine the outcome you’re seeking, determine the next milestone – then pivot and adapt quickly. Don’t get fixated on the plan. The only way through a storm is “through it,” so be prepared to pivot and adapt to the situation at hand. Much will change every day. The plan allows you to survive first contact, but it’s being able to pivot and evolve quickly that gets you to the metric or milestone you seek. Then you rinse and repeat.

If your endeavor improves even one life, it will have been a success. But imagine the possibility of improving the futures of millions or even billions of lives? Return on impact, through venture philanthropy, will be a critical key.

By John Karony John Karony has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

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