MIForum Jan ’13

Matter VenturesJanuary 25, 2013 / Stanford University

Funders, technologists, media makers and social innovators came together for a daylong meeting to explore the next stage of media and technology funding, followed by a reception and tour of the d.school.



Welcome Vince Stehle, Judith Kleinberg and Wendy Hanamura

Watch the livestream (15:30 – 32:00)

Our Media Impact Forum explored the challenges and potential of innovation in media and technology to improve society, and what opportunities we’ll have to use media and technology for social change in the next four years.

Four years is a good time frame for a discussion of innovation. A year is too short to accomplish significant change and a decade is an eternity. But four years is an increment of time that offers a sense of possibility and many examples of accomplishment before us.

Before we got too futuristic, we reminded everyone that at times, the future begins with the past. In this case, with Mr. Rogers.

We heard about the achievements of groups like VolunteerMatch, which launched a major investment and expansion effort in 2001; the work of MedicMobile and other Social Innovation Fellows at PopTech in 2009; the enduring power of documentary film such as The Power of Two; and newly launched Matter Ventures, focusing on disruptive innovations in the public media sphere.

Now, in the middle of this decade, we’re explored the intersections of storytelling and journalism, metrics and management, and risk-taking and failure. Big themes for the day converged around social innovation, sustainability, design and impact metrics.

For a quick view on the day read our storify, as well as Beth Kanter’s storify.


The Long View:  Investing for Sustainable Social Returns, Measuring Impact Jay Backstrand, Greg Baldwin, Beth Kanter     

Watch the livestream (32:00 – 1:02:15)

In the spring of 2001, VolunteerMatch pursued an aggressive growth capital campaign, with support from strategy consultants at The Bridgespan Group and a core group of committed funders. VolunteerMatch was seeking to create a highly disruptive and self-sustaining volunteer referral and management platform that would provide everybody with a great place to volunteer. Twelve years later, the service has grown into the pre-eminent volunteer referral service, sustained through a thriving corporate service division with a deep commitment to performance metrics. Check out the “Where’s the Action” real-time map to see how metrics are at the heart of Volunteer Match’s operations. From a funder perspective, part of Volunteer Match’s success and sustainability was the ability to truly partner and collaborate with their philanthropic supporters, and keep those supporters throughout strategic business changes. Another key factor was philanthropy’s willingness to invest significantly at the outset, rather than making smaller, “wait and see” investments.

This kind of innovative philanthropy was a perfect segue to a film, and project, about innovative design. We showed the trailer for Extreme by Design, a film about the Institute of Design at Stanford, and its work to bring innovative design thinking to the most pressing problems in extremely impoverished communities. Watch the livestream (1:03:00 – 1:05:10)

Identifying Innovation and Nurturing Social Entrepreneurs Leetha Filderman, Josh Nesbit

Watch the livestream (1:05:40 – 1:40:30)

PopTech is best known as a lively festival of ideas that takes place each year in Camden, Maine. But it is also home to the PopTech Social Innovation Fellows Program, which each year brings together a highly selective group of emerging social entrepreneurs pursuing solutions to some of the world’s most vexing social and environmental problems. In 2009, PopTech Fellows responded to the compelling presentation on violence prevention by Gary Slutkin, founder of Cure Violence (formerly CeaseFire), by organizing a collaboration to create PeaceTXT – a mobile phone-based violence prevention program.

PopTech works to find innovative people who are making the next big thing, but need the community, resources and opportunities to develop their work before presenting to more traditional sources of support. Everything big starts small, and PopTech has shown how nurturing social innovators pays off in big ways. Appropriate and thoughtful design within the social impact frame is a key component of PopTech’s success. We saw how Josh’s projects include design thinking, making them accessible and iterative, thus successful.

Another of Josh Nesbit’s 2009 Fellows classmates was Emily Piliton, and her big idea was to bring design thinking to a high school class in rural North Carolina. Her project, Studio H (password: bertie), chronicles how she and her partner sparked a real sense of hope and community in a place most people couldn’t wait to leave. By bringing design thinking for social innovation to high school Emily ignited innovation in a community that has been written off by its residents. Watch the livestream (1:41:50 – 1:45:00)

New Media Technology Tools and Platforms – Demos

Youth Radio Mobile Action Lab Kurt Collins and Asha Richardson

KCETLink Wendy Hanamura

Watch the livestream (1:58:28 – 2:19:33)

Youth Radio – Mobile Action Lab – Youth Radio is a media training and production powerhouse that each year trains over 400 young people and provides jobs for 200. The Youth Radio app lab brings young people together with professional designers and developers to create mobile apps. We heard about the development of Vox Pop, a phone-to-radio app that lets young people listen, record and broadcast their voices to the world.

KCETLink – KCETLink is the recently merged combination of KCET, the nation’s largest independent public television station, and Link Media, an independent non-profit media company that operates the Link TV national satellite network and online international news portal. We saw a terrific demonstration of the LinkTV World News App, an iPad application that showcases top world news culled from more than 125 video news outlets, eyewitnesses on the ground, and more than 50,000 global news sources.


Morning Breakouts – break from the livestream

Measuring Impact – Laura Efurd, Vice President and Chief Community Investment Officer, Zero Divide, leading a discussion with Beth Kanter and Greg Baldwin.

This conversation focused on how you define, and then track, success. Some key topics included:

  • Defining what your are measuring
  • Defining Success
  • Resources necessary – skills, capacity, funding
  • Trending data
  • Qualitative & quantitative – how do you tie together?
  • Measuring unintended consequences
  • Social impact & profitability
  • Market share – how to define Impact what is net impact (are you just reaching people who would have already volunteered or reaching a new market?)
  • What is the standard benchmark of success?
  • What do you want to measure beyond the numbers?
  • Ask ‘so what?’ and keep asking ‘so what?’ until you get to the bottom line of what you want to measure
  • Become data informed
  • Start with quantitative measures what is this data telling you? What is the story they are telling? Add qualitative measures to help tell the story.
  • Look at who is the audience for the report. If it is someone looking for data start with the numbers if it is someone looking for the emotional element start with the story
  • Create a culture in the org to capture information – measure outcomes/impact directly related to sustainability example of the earthquake comic book
  • It has to be a part of overall process within an organization


Supporting the Social Entrepreneur – Vincent Stehle, Executive Director of Media Impact Funders, moderates a discussion with Leetha Filderman, Josh Nesbit and Jay Backstrand.

The breakout session on supporting social entrepreneurs was a wide ranging discussion, delving more deeply into the grant-making approach of funders focusing on social entrepreneurs, as well as a broader discussion of how story-telling can build support for innovation. Afternoon session leader Neal Baer noted that one of the key strengths of Josh Nesbit’s morning presentation was his ability to convey his experience through a moving story. This observation led to an extended discussion among many participants, extolling the value of weaving communications into every organization’s programs. Leetha Filderman, President of PopTech, explained that communications is an important and intrinsic aspect of everything they do at PopTech, where they employ a documentary filmmaker as a member of their staff.

At the same time, VolunteerMatch founder Jay Backstrand, offered the cautionary note that an early-stage social enterprise needs to focus on execution and can’t always devote a great deal of time to communications.

Jessamyn Lau, Program Leader for the Peery Foundation, talked about her work focusing on support for a portfolio of social entrepreneurs. In addition, she described a collaborative philanthropy project Peery is supporting, known as Big Bang Philanthropy, where funders commit at least $1 million per year to promising programs that present scalable solutions to problems associated with profound poverty.

Geneva Overholser, Director of the USC Annenberg School of Journalism and member of the Board of Advisors for the Knight Fellowships at Stanford, noted the important parallels for social innovation and today’s journalists.  And her observation helped to highlight the connections between discussions in the morning and afternoon sessions.

Turning the Page in Journalism – Solutions Journalism Network David Bornstein, Mary Lou Fulton, Jessamyn Lau

Watch the livestream (5:45 – 36:40)

New York Times columnist David Bornstein discussed his Solutions Journalism Network with Jessamyn Lau, Program Leader for the Peery Foundation, a Palo Alto-based family foundation, whose mission is to strengthen youth and families to build lives of dignity and self-reliance. Moderated by Mary Lou Fulton, Senior Program Manager for the California Endowment, this conversation focused on the need for journalism to move beyond criticism and documentation of our problems, but to also point to solutions. Increasingly, the public is seeking information within a solution framework, which is driven by journalistic integrity and investigation, but one that offers insights about ways to solve our most pressing social problems. As David Bornstein noted, the world can’t change if it doesn’t know what’s wrong, but it can’t fix the wrong without solutions, and journalism has a big role to play in both types of information.

We can look at documentary film as the earliest form of solutions journalism and Girls Rising – a new documentary film and advocacy campaign focusing on educating girls around the world – is a very good example. Highlighting the power of storytelling to solve a crisis (more on that in the next session) the film uses social media and community-building both online and on main street to cultivate action. This shift to what we can do is a big change in modern storytelling and it will be a major element of documentary film projects going forward. Watch the livestream (37:15 – 40:30)


Evolution of Storytelling – Harnessing Inspiration, Focusing Action Neal Baer, Annie Leonard

Watch the livestream (40:45 – 1:15:20)

Storytelling, as we heard throughout day, is all the rage. This session offered master class with two experts: Neal Baer, one of Hollywood’s pre-eminent writers and producers, who has dedicated his career to weaving social impact stories into mass media programs; and Annie Leonard, co-director of the Story of Stuff Project, and creator of one of the first breakout viral video hits. Neal and Annie talked about the deep impact of stories on the way we learn and the different ways we can use stories in social campaigns and movements.

Neal Baer discussed how he never thinks about teaching or entertaining when he’s creating a storyline, but whether it inspires. Weaving social change stories into his shows expands the reach of information through “oh my god” moments – and those stories have made a big impact. That theme of inspiration hit at the literal nerve of the session, because stories impact our brain function and wiring in phenomenally powerful ways. Annie realized, after leading with data for 20 years of environmental activism and thinking that stories were “fluff”, became a storytelling convert in seeing its power of change. Knowing the narratives that resonate most with us – like the hero (us) who vanquishes the big threat (environmental degradation) – helps storytellers weave critical information into compelling and highly successful campaigns that change behavior.


Matter Corey Ford, Jigar Mehta, Willa Seldon

Watch the livestream (1:15:45 – 1:48:45)

Matter is a new media accelerator where the values of public media meet the mindsets of Silicon Valley entrepreneurship. Corey Ford, CEO and Partner, discussed the organization as it embarks on its first class of start-up projects. Joining Corey was Willa Seldon, partner at The Bridgespan Group and former board chair at KQED, which is a limited partner in Matter. This session brought us back to the ‘everything big started small’ idea, coupled with ‘fail early and often,’ and ‘try things.’ Matter is working to incubate the next media platform or tool in the public interest. Rather than organizational or platform preference, Matter is all about being needs focused but solutions agnostic, in order to back ventures that build a more connected, empowered society. Corey explained the need to experiment, and that traditional channels or formats are irrelevant to finding the next great media idea. It’s all about a culture of innovation, and finding the right people to move forward. Matter is working to create that kind of culture and we’re looking forward to seeing what develops.

To close out the session and further our understanding of how design thinking at Stanford is creating all kinds of innovative collaborations, Jigar Mehta, Director of Operations at Matter, presented a demonstration of 18 Days in Egypt, a piece of work that he developed during his experience as a Knight Journalism Fellow in Stanford’s d.school.

Innovation Review Dave Glassco, Steve Katz, Ben Moskowitz, Carol Varney, Vince Stehle

Watch the livestream (1:48:39 – 2:37:00)

This portion of the day featured a rapid-fire round of interviews with leading media and technology organizations and outlets. We heard from the Bay Area Video Coalition on its work with the Mozilla Foundation to train young people in the latest technology tools and skills, while at the same time helping Mozilla to test out the latest techniques to keep the Web an open and creative space. The Participatory Culture Foundation, also working with the Mozilla Foundation, has created a variety of tools and platforms to enable mass participation and engagement in open culture and information, including its Amara translation service. And Steve Katz, Publisher of Mother Jones, demonstrated how the longtime progressive magazine has become a new media powerhouse through investment in technology. Check out some of the media from this session:


Afternoon Breakouts Responding to the vibe in the room and the sense that there were so many issues and questions participants wanted to raise, we shifted our plan and held the afternoon breakouts as one big session.

Future of Journalism and Storytelling – New techniques and perspectives in journalism, entertainment and public interest communications.

Future of Journalism and New Media Technology – New approaches to journalism.

Neal Baer, Jim Bettinger, David Bornstein, Corey Ford, Mary Lou Fulton, Jessamyn Lau, Annie Leonard, Jigar Mehta and Willa Seldon.

Watch the livestream (12:38 – 53:25)

Covering a wide range of issues discussed during the day, this large Q&A brought together the threads that wove throughout the sessions – metrics, innovation, trial and effort, solutions journalism, storytelling, technology and design thinking for social good. Conversations ranged from solutions journalism in regional papers and nonprofit news models that have multiple revenue streams to metrics and data-driven work, innovation in public media business models and content distribution and creation on mobile and web.