Posted by: Knightbird | October 2, 2011

Funding Innovative Initiatives

When I was a boy in Cordova, my mother listened to radio station KLAM. It was our only source of music. When I spend a summer living with my Dad in Metlakatla, I stayed in a bedroom that had a Victrola, with really thick 78 RPM records and a hand crank. After moving to Seattle, I listened to KJR and was excited when transistor radios came out. I could listen to music anywhere within range of the radio waves. In college, I had a stereo and bought 33 LP’s. Layla and Days of Future Passed were 2 of my favorites. The Sony Walkman came next, and we could listen to music on cassettes even when the radio station wasn’t broadcasting. And we could listen to music we liked. Compact Disc’s followed and the Discman wasn’t far behind. MP3 Players came next. Now I have an iPhone G3 that holds more music than I could play. I have a Bose noise cancelling headphone to replace the crazy little buds that we used to have to use. Innovation has evolved during my lifetime.

The funding for innovation can be difficult. Remember 8 Track tapes? Innovations may be short lived but profitable. If we fail to continue innovating, our companies fade away and die. When something becomes a commodity, anyone can make it and the competition for price becomes brutal. Funding innovation in non-profits can be very difficult. Yes, we do have a funding base, but then you run into “best practices” that may not in fact be best practices. I have been talking about suicide prevention frequently during the last year. There are a host of best practices for suicide prevention, but when I did the research, the figures for suicide haven’t declined in 10 years in Alaska despite substantial federal and state investments. What I have observed is that the non-profits who have high rates of the problems that are currently in focus (meaning press coverage), and have good political relationships with the funders, are most likely to secure funding, because they are implementing best practices. Even non-profits with hefty fund balances (retained profits) are funded if they have good PR and funder relationships.

The solution we are seeking is being pursued through our implementation of a “Blue Ocean Strategy.” Based on research by Kim and Mauborgne, this strategy requires finding value for customers (surprise, a lean concept). The goal is to reduce or eliminate what customers perceive as low value and replace it with high value. Done right, the funds necessary to help fund the strategy come from existing resources. Stop delivering low value services and target higher value services. This still comes fraught with problems with funders who don’t necessarily like innovation. Federal and State funding comes with a requirement of results and deliverables. Unfortunately, the deliverables are easily manipulated and reported.

In our search for Blue Ocean, Chugachmiut has pursued a Restoration to Health Strategy, based upon findings in the Adverse Childhood Experience Study. Our goal is: (1) heal the parent and grandparent generation traumas; and (2) teach the skills necessary and critical to preventing the intergenerational trauma onto the children’s generation. I have started to blog again about the ACE Study and its potential application to Alaska Native adults and children. I will write more about out strategy there.

But for funding the strategy, we will rely on our lean thinking to provide the most value laden service we can. We will reduce the level of services that are not working and provide little value, and substitute services that should have a greater impact and more immediate results.

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