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Invoking The Pause–A Decade Later

Maggie Kaplan | Invoking The Pause | 17 November 2017

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Ten years ago, during TPW Cohort 6, I sought a new approach to focus my philanthropic giving.

After seeing “An Inconvenient Truth,” I bumped into a friend while dog walking in Sonoma. She was an environmental scientist who lacked the time and resources to examine complex environmental data about climate change in the Bay Area. It was clear this project was critical and potentially impactful for our region, and, at that moment, I realized I could help by offering her the “gift of time” to “invoke a pause” so to collaborate with a fellow scientist.

Providing these scientists funding in order to step away from their day-to-day routines and sort through this environmental challenge proved profoundly significant to their professional lives. And, the environmental impact created as a result of this pause was an important turning point in my philanthropic work.

That walk launched my ten-year old small grants program, Invoking the Pause, and set me on a path to support climate change work with an unconventional approach. I thought then, and know now, that giving people the time and space – on their own terms - to dig deep on big issues would give them the capacity and confidence to explore new ideas in collaboration with others.

My comfort-level with the entrepreneurial process of ideate, test, refine, and repeat began to grow, and reinforced my belief that cross-sector collaboration and idea generation “in the margins” was needed to accelerate climate solutions. The resulting collaborations, connections and innovations that emerged from the strategic pauses I funded was inspiring. And I soon learned from my network of grant partners that little risk capital exists in philanthropy to help innovators refresh and renew their thinking.

I now felt confident that my desire to support these climate changemakers was needed, but it wasn’t until year four that I considered hosting an ‘all-hands on deck’ retreat for the grant partners to come together to build networks, share knowledge and consider new collaborations across sectors.  Having just wrapped up our sixth such event, it is clear to me that when ideas, talent and capital flow organically through diverse networks, people begin to operate like the very systems they seek to save – interconnected, interdependent and highly efficient. 

Having said that, my tolerance for risk means that some of the grant partners I fund make little impact, while others deliver very promising results. I accept this and have created my own set of metrics to gauge my impact, focused more on the process, knowing that impact is more likely if I’m funding individuals who create ‘returns on collaboration/connection’ (ROC), and ‘returns on ideas/inspiration' (ROI). I hope – and believe – that by giving these fledgling ideas the time and space they need to develop makes them ready for the next stage of donors eager to fund these newly refined approaches.

I couldn’t have predicted this is how my philanthropy would unfold ten years ago, but I am so proud of what my grant partners have thus far achieved. Here’s to the next milestone!

Maggie Kaplan is a member of The Philanthropy Workshop and Founder and Executive Director of Invoking the Pause.

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