I was lucky to have the opportunity to see Hamilton in Seattle with my family last month, and I was blown away by much more than the incredible performance. What impressed me just as acutely was the fact that someone could read an 800-page biography of one of America’s founding fathers and come up with the idea to create a rap musical.
I imagine that when playwright and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda first raised this idea with funders and partners he was met with significant skepticism. But he persevered and ended up changing the way this country thinks about our history and what makes great art.
This for me is the epitome of seeing the world in a unique way. I am inspired by that kind of thinking, the clarity of purpose to do something unexpected and out of the ordinary, and the willingness to persist in the face of skepticism.
Panorama aspires to bring that same bold and ambitious approach to our work. When we launched one year ago, we decided to call ourselves an action tank because that’s what we are about: working alongside partners to drive action on major social issues. We help them create and execute strategies to solve ambitious global problems that impact real people.
You can find the term action tank in the dictionary, but it’s still a relatively new model.
Let me share one example to show what an action tank can do for social change. In my blog on why I launched Panorama, I mentioned our work with the Boston Consulting Group to analyze the costs and benefits when U.S. employers offer paid family and medical leave programs.
Since then, we have established The Paid Leave Project to help persuade American companies that adopting such policies is good for business and employee wellbeing. We produced a Playbook on how to implement paid leave, a policy template, a guide to navigating state laws, and a report on our learnings from hundreds of conversations with business leaders. In our second year, we will expand this work by encouraging employers to share return-on-investment data on paid leave.
So what have we learned about what is needed to make an action tank like Panorama successful?
We are issue agnostic. Rather than trade off deep expertise in any one field, you could say we specialize in problem solving. A generalist thinks holistically, makes linkages, and sees leverage points. That’s also why our team has been able to pivot among disparate issues such as gender equity, carbon capture, cholera vaccines, child violence, neglected diseases, and malaria.
Build Catalytic Coalitions
The mindset of a generalist is also crucial to our ability to help build coalitions around an issue. Rather than leading from the front, we pursue servant leadership, which is one of our core values. Our focus is on the mission as we pull together the right voices and resources to solve a problem. We are comfortable working behind the scenes, or out front, whatever approach will best help solve the problem. In this vein, we serve as the adviser or secretariat for funder collaboratives on a range of issues, helping the whole be greater than the sum of its parts.
If we identify an important issue we care about that is not being solved, we step in to fill the gap. Outbreak preparedness is ripe for such attention. When Ebola was raging in 2014-15, there were many reports and commissions identifying ways to ensure the world is better prepared for a disease outbreak. All that attention fell away when Ebola was no longer a threat, and most of the recommendations have been forgotten or ignored. Panorama is working to keep those issues on the front-burner, by tracking progress and encouraging funders to invest in what needs to be done.
We are also keeping a keen eye on issues of importance to women and girls. For example, the lack of safe and comfortable menstrual hygiene management practices keeps women and girls in developing countries from important activities like attending school. Panorama is bringing together people working on sanitation, education, health, and girls’ issues to begin a more coordinated effort around solving this challenge.
Apply Multidisciplinary Talent
For all of this work, an action tank requires a multidisciplinary team prepared to offer the right combinations of skills, depending on the problem at hand. This includes organizational design, resource mobilization, communications, advocacy, and stakeholder engagement.
I’m proud of the Panorama team for what we have accomplished with our partners in our first year alone, and I look forward to seeing where 2018 takes us as we pursue new ideas to help make this world a better place.